From the moment you’re welcomed to Norfolk Island with a cheery “watawieh!” it’s clear that you’ve landed somewhere that will intrigue and enchant.
That warm greeting is delivered in Norf’k, one of the world’s rarest languages, a lilting hybrid of Old English and Tahitian. Developed in the 18th century by the Bounty mutineers, it’s still spoken by their descendants today.
Norfolk Island’s appeal is multi-faceted. For a start, it’s about the only South Pacific island that Australians can freely visit right now, courtesy of its status as an Australian external territory.
And rest assured, Norfolk Island – which sits about 1500 kilometres off the east coast of Australia –has all the elements of a sub-tropical “overseas” island holiday, including white sandy beaches, coral reefs, towering pine trees and a distinctive culture.
A rich, turbulent history
Polynesians were the first to live on this remote speck in the ocean, and after Captain James Cook claimed it in 1774, British convicts and soldiers landed between 1788 and 1855. Many reminders of the island’s rich history remain.
The descendants of the Bounty mutineers, their Tahitian wives and children came to Norfolk from Pitcairn Island in 1856. Their legacy is strong, with descendants making up about one third of the island’s population of about 1800.
Bounty Day – 8 June – is the most significant date on the Norfolk Island calendar, a public holiday on which islanders celebrate the arrival of their ancestors with a re-enactment of the landing and a colourful procession.
The UNESCO World Heritage -listed Kingston and Arthur’s Vale Historic Area encompasses many convict-built structures and ruins, ensuring the hardship the island’s early inhabitants endured is not forgotten.
To make the most of learning about Norfolk Island’s history, buy a pass that gives you access to the four Kingston heritage buildings: The Pier, the HMS Sirius Museum, the Commissariat Store, and No. 10 Quality Row House. Each highlights different aspects of the island’s past, and the pass is good for multiple visits any time during your stay. It also includes a car tag-along tour and access to the Research Centre for those who may want to trace ancestors.
Night life with a difference
The long-running play Trial of the 15 tells the story of Norfolk Island, from the days of Polynesian visitation and European discovery to the misery of convict life and the arrival of the Bounty descendants. The play has been running for more than 20 years and has been seen by more than 50,000 visitors.
Spooky lantern-lit walking tours through the Kingston cemetery are run at night – and while you’re outside at night, be sure to look up to see why Norfolk was awarded the coveted status of Gold Level Dark Sky Town by the Australian Dark Sky Register.
These are some of the starriest skies on the planet, and one of the best ways to view them is on a guided astronomy tour.
Norfolk Island was also home to renowned Australian author Colleen McCullough, and fans can tour “Out Yenna”, the secluded house where “Coll” lived for the last 35 years of her life until her death in 2015. Guided tours take in the ground floor of the house, revealing the quirky tastes of Norfolk Island’s most celebrated modern-day resident.
Visitors get a glimpse of where her best-selling books were researched and written, as well as some ‘insider’ tales of her life.
Making the most of the great outdoors
But there’s much more to Norfolk Island than its history; this is also a place for making the most of the great outdoors. Islanders have made the most of its natural assets, developing a great range of soft adventure tours.
Other active pursuits include sea kayaking, guided treks to nearby uninhabited Phillip Island (part of Norfolk Island National Park), bushwalking, mountain biking, surfing and 4WD tours.
See Norfolk’s rugged coastline from the water, on fishing trips or sunset scenic cruises from Kingston or Cascade, or just relax on the uncrowded beaches or under the famous Norfolk pine trees.
Tastes of Norfolk
Start a night out at the Sunset Bar for cocktails and platters as you watch the sun go down, then choose from one of Norfolk’s excellent restaurants.
Whether your tastes run to wood-fired pizzas and locally brewed beer or to The Homestead Restaurant’s flame-grilled beef and line-caught fish, there’s something for everyone. Fresh local produce is the common factor here.
Visitors can also sign up for a traditional “fish fry” to sample Tahitian- influenced dishes such as pilhai (baked kumera), coconut bread and sweet dessert pies.
These are usually held at Puppy’s Point, on Norfolk’s west coast, where a spectacular sunset is almost guaranteed to accompany the feast.
Slow your pace
Norfolk is the perfect place to unwind and disconnect.
Start the day slowly with yoga at the beach (with a personal instructor if you prefer) or wind down after an active day with a clifftop massage or visit to the Serenity Day Spa for pampering and beauty treatments.
Car hire is the best way to get around.
Don’t forget to adopt the “Norfolk wave” – just lift your index finger from the wheel to acknowledge other drivers, who will always wave back. Visiting drivers should be aware that cows have right of way and that the narrow, hedge-lined roads need to be negotiated with care. Besides, who’s in a hurry here?
If you’d prefer a more active mode of transport, push bikes can be hired (electric bikes are only available as part of a tour).
Signs that this is a community far removed from many of the complications of modern life are all around. There are no traffic lights or fast food chains (the nearest is 1000 kilometres away in New Zealand), and few street lights. Norfolk Island is still a place where drivers leave the keys in their parked cars while they go about their business.
Duty-free and GST-free shopping is a bonus on Norfolk, where you’ll find 50 or so stores selling everything from trendy homewares, cosmetics and imported shoes to handcrafted jewellery and local art. Forget chain stores and franchises, Norfolk Island’s shops are locally owned and operated.
Accommodation for everyone
Norfolk has plenty of accommodation options, offering everything from resorts to cosy cottages and self-contained apartments. Governor’s Lodge is the island’s largest hotel, with 55 individual one-bedroom lodges, a fine dining restaurant and manicured gardens with a swimming pool.
Another great choice is the comfortable Whispering Pines, where self-contained two-bedroom timber cottages overlook a rolling valley of farmland and pine trees on the edge of the National Park, just a few minutes’ drive from the township of Burnt Pine.
Norfolk Islanders will tell you this is “da bass side orn Earth” (the best place on Earth) and they’re confident you’ll agree. As you leave, the friendly locals will likely tell you “Yorle kam baek suun” – and that farewell barely needs translation.
GETTING THERE: Qantas flies direct to Norfolk Island from Sydney and Brisbane. Average flight time 2.5 hours. All passengers travelling to Norfolk Island must apply for a Norfolk Island Entry Pass. For information on Covid-19 travel restrictions, check norfolkisland.com.au/covid-19.