Australian Traveller reader Phil Murray revisits a place 20 years after his first visit to find the main thing that has changed is, well, him.

“We have a small menu of pillows for your selection,” proffered Libby, our lodge manager.

I laughed, unaware that pillow profiles were of such concern to some patrons that a menu was necessitated. But such is the level of service at the luxurious Capella Lodge on Lord Howe Island that should Goldilocks choose to stay in the Lagoon Loft she would certainly find the porridge, beds, chairs… and, yes, even the pillows ‘just right’.

Located 700 kms north-east of Sydney, just an easy two-hour flight away, the crescent shaped World-Heritage listed Lord Howe Island is an idyllic holiday destination. LHI, or simply’ the Island’, as the locals call it, is certainly a bucket list destination for those who enjoy the outdoors: bush walking, snorkelling, swimming, golf and fishing fill the days, or just take it easy with a good book and a great view.

LHI is part of NSW (no passport required), and utilises daylight saving time over summer, so no need to adjust your watch – not that you’ll need it – Island time oozes at a leisurely pace. With tourist beds limited to 400 at a time, and with just 350 residents, it’s not hard to find your very own castaway beach or explore over 20km of bush walks in solitude on the 11km-long island.

One of the world’s most spectacular climbs/walks, the eight-hour return trek from sea level to the top of Mt Gower, awaits the fit and the experienced. The 875-metre vertical climb, often using ropes to assist, is lead twice each week by third-generation guide Jack Schick, a veteran of more than 1,600 ascents.

Twenty-one years ago my wife, Rhonda, and I raced to the top with Jack’s father to experience the mist forest and unique plants and wildlife endemic to the plateau. In the intervening years, we discovered that Mt Gower has not eroded, but our legs certainly have. Just past the halfway point, our weary quadriceps cried ‘enough’. We left our younger companions to push on as us oldies gingerly retreated down the treacherous slope to console ourselves with masseuse Tenneille’s recovery spa, canapés and a pre-dinner ‘Cocktail of the Day’. Ahhh… bliss.

Accommodation is available to suit most budgets and needs. Family run guesthouses and top-end resorts such as Capella and Arajilla offer packages catering for young family groups balancing the books through to baby boomer ‘SKIers’ (Spending Kids Inheritance) wishing to indulge themselves after a hard day’s cycling and walking.

LHI’s incredible natural beauty certainly attracts clichés such as ‘jewel’ and ‘paradise’ of the Pacific. But for me, the volcanic origins and towering sentinels of Mt Lidgbird and Mt Gower are reminiscent ofMauiin the Hawaiian chain of islands. But aMauiwithout the commercialisation, without the crowds and without the cars. And all this awaits only two hours fromAustralia’s largest cities.

But perhaps the final word should be left to a man who, arguably, has seen more of the world’s special places than most, Sir David Attenborough: “Lord Howe Islandis so extraordinary… that it is almost unbelievable.”

 

 Traveller’s Tips

  • Waterproof cameras aren’t always
  • March, April and May offer warm currents and pleasantly warm days
  • Flights can be cancelled at very short notice due to high winds. Be prepared your holiday may unavoidably start and/or end a day or two late. (Check your travel insurance)
  • Transport: Get your bike and walking legs in shape, as these are the main forms of transport tourists use. There are only eight rental vehicles on the Island, including two golf carts, so discuss your requirements with your lodge manager before arrival.
  • Highlights: the sheer unsurpassed beauty of the island and five-star Capella service.
  • Lowlights: Winds and cold water. Island weather is always variable – we experienced four seasons most days during our October stay. And the other lowlight… sadly, the realisation that 60-year-old legs are not the same as 40-year-old legs.

Must Do’s

  • Take the glass-bottom boat and lagoon snorkel amidst the painter’s palette of fish and corals of the tropical reef.
  • Stroll to the top of Transit Hill – an easy 1.2km walk offering panoramic 360˚ views of the Island
  • Visit the museum
  • Don’t miss the Historical Films run Wednesdays at 5pm at the cinema by the local school kids
  • Meet some locals who offer nostalgia, history and flying boats.
For more information see Lord Howe Island Tourist Association