Exploring the paradisiacal island of Lord Howe responsibly is easy, given the island is a world leader in sustainability. Here, we list the best things to do on Lord Howe that will leave it as nature intended.
Lord Howe Island is one of Australia’s most stunning destinations. This crescent-shaped outcrop packs in two rugged peaks, waterfalls, huge colonies of seabirds, fish-filled reefs and a lagoon that shimmers in subtropical shades of blue. Sunsets are spectacular, and the pace of life guaranteed to unwind your mind.
You’ll want to lose yourself in nature here, and the good news is you can do so without guilt, since Lord Howe is a world leader in sustainable development. Some of its success has been achieved simply by being located 600 kilometres from the nearest landmass, which limits sea and air pollution and makes it one of the cleanest places on Earth.
Humans have lent a helping hand, however. In 1982, a Permanent Park Preserve was established across 70 per cent of the island in order to protect its magnificent natural heritage. The same year Lord Howe was declared a UNESCO World Heritage property for its beauty and biodiversity, further enhancing protective regulations. And later, a Marine Park was extended over the surrounding waters.
Visitor numbers are capped at 400 at any one time, which both protects the environment and offers an uncrowded, exclusive experience for lucky visitors. As a result, Lord Howe Island today preserves around 75 per cent of original natural vegetation. You’ll find more than 70 plant species on the island that grow nowhere else. Beaches, coral reefs and marine environment remain pristine.
This is a rare corner of the world that retains its stunning beauty. Here’s how to enjoy it while leaving a light footprint.
ON LAND: Top Lord Howe walks
You can hardly get more sustainable than your own two feet, so get moving. For such a small island Lord Howe has enormous diversity, from mountains and valleys to sea cliffs, rounded hills, mossy rainforest and grassy lowlands, all topped off by two spectacular volcanic peaks.
Easy walks include the stroll up Transit Hill to brilliant views, and Max Nicholls Track to North Bay. More strenuous is the steep path to Kim’s Lookout over a magnificent collision of emerald and blue colour. Head to Malabar Hill for sunset; the landscape and wind-twisted trees are golden-striped, and tropicbirds swoop in the sky.
For the fit, 875-metre Mt Gower is one of Australia’s top day hikes. The eight-hour challenge requires a guide and head for heights, but the rewards are boasting rights, bird life, rare plants and extravagant scenery.
If you’re a keen hiker, make a point of joining local legend and fifth generation islander Jack Shick on a Sea to Summit day tour to the peak of Mt Gower. Jack’s expertise extends beyond terra firma, he is one of the most sought after fishing guides on the islands as well.
IN THE SKY: Bird watching on Lord Howe
Think bird watching is a staid pastime? You’ll reconsider here, because you’ll find yourself surrounded by tens of thousands of birds such as shearwaters, noddys, tropicbirds and terns, whose dizzying aerial acrobatics crick your neck as they tumble overhead. If you clap, the birds often zoom down towards you to investigate.
Little Island is the winter breeding ground for providence petrels. Other places to bird watch are Malabar Hill, Mount Eliza and Muttonbird Point. You’ll spot Lord Howe’s most endearing bird, the unassuming woodhen, by the roadside. The endemic, flightless bird was brought back from 20 individuals in 1980 to around 300 today in another great testament to the islanders’ environmental efforts.
Biologist and photographer Ian Hutton at Lord Howe Island Nature Tours takes particularly passionate birders on private tours that also explore the island’s ongoing bush regeneration activities.
ON THE WATER: Lord Howe’s beach and lagoon activities
With 11 beaches, a peacock-blue lagoon and 10 surfing spots, you’ll want to hit the water. Buy sunscreen from operators along the lagoon and you can be sure it’s reef safe.
Easily accessible Blinky Beach is good for both swimming and surfing. Further north is Old Settlement Beach where at high tide you might spot turtles cruising in the seagrass, and Ned’s Beach, good for uncertain swimmers and children. You only need wade into the water to admire coral, giant clams, stingrays, wrasse and mullet.
The lagoon’s tranquil waters are great for paddle-boarding and kayaking. Lord Howe Environmental Tours runs adventurous kayaking tours to the scattered Admiralty Islands, which have colourful reefs and abundant nesting seabirds. The company gets the green tick from Ecotourism Australia. Owner Dean Hiscox, formerly the island’s ranger, carries his 16-year ranger experience into running environmentally friendly snorkelling and glass-bottom boat tours as well.
BELOW THE SURFACE: Snorkelling and scuba diving
Tropical and cool waters meet off Lord Howe Island. The result is the world’s southernmost reef and an explosion of varied life, including rare corals, more than 500 fish species and green and hawksbill turtles.
Snorkellers’ favourite spots include the easily accessed Erscott’s Hole and Lagoon Beach. Go beyond and you can admire neon-hued coral at The Horseshoe and encounter stingrays and rock lobsters at Comets Hole. Those up for the adventure can even try summer night snorkelling.
Island operators such as the environmentally friendly Pro Dive Lord Howe Island offer PADI diving courses and various scuba-diving excursions. With nearly 100 dive sites, you’re spoiled for choice. Journey out to Balls Pyramid and you’ll find yourself surrounded by huge schools of trevally and kingfish. Pro Dive’s other light-tread activities include snorkelling tours and the hire of kayaks and paddle-boards.
BEYOND THE ISLAND: Lord Howe excursions
Lord Howe has a lot going for it, but you have reason to abandon it for excursions beyond. Excellent big-game fishing allows you to pit your wits against marlin, yellow-fin tuna and wahoo. Head out with Lord Howe Island Tours and you’ll discover all the best spots with a fifth-generation islander. The fish won’t go to waste either, since the island’s chefs will happily cook your catch for dinner.
The other reason to get in a boat is to visit Balls Pyramid. This staggering pinnacle of sheer rock, 23 kilometres offshore, rises from the ocean to create the world’s tallest sea stack at 551 metres. Reef N Beyond Eco Tours will get you there, and on round-island and outer-reef snorkelling tours. You might see whales and dolphins on the way out, and abundant birds at the pyramid – even albatross drifting above on wide wings.
See our guide to the island’s best restaurants and cafés and accommodation, and for more information visit lordhoweisland.info