There are actually hundreds of Amazing Things To Do On Lord Howe – a few dozen of which you can ONLY do there, and nowhere else in the world. Australian Traveller considers these nine to be the absolute highlights.
1. Embark on one of the world’s best day walks
“The place is so benign, it’s an island on training wheels”
Calling the expedition up Mt Gower a “walk” is a bit of a misnomer, since you’re clambering vertically up ropes for a fair portion of the total 875m. If you have even a vague fear of heights, drops or slips, then this isn’t for you – but boy, it’s worth it.
Fifth generation islander Jack Shick can haul you up and back in around eight hours with his Sea to Summit Expeditions (and in fact AT was there for Jack’s 1127th time up the mountain.
The climate changes radically, the plantlife even more so. One moment you’re peering out over the entire length of the island, the next you’re half-crawling through dense mist and mossy subtropical rainforest. The oldest woman to climb Gower was 77; the oldest man 82. The fastest to climb it was Jack’s cousin at just under two hours top to bottom. Even more amazingly, one of the lads in our group proposed to his girlfriend on the summit! Right in front of everyone! It was a bit awkward to tell you the truth, but she said yes. Then we all climbed back down.
The entire guided tour is a paltry $40, for which AT has admonished Jack, so that might well go up in future. Sorry about that. Check out Lord How Island or call (02) 6563 2218 for more info.
600km (about 2hrs flight) northeast of Sydney. You can only get there on QantasLink, so click here for flights.
Capella Lodge: (02) 9918 4355
Earl’s Anchorage: (02) 6563 2029
Arajilla: 1800 063 928
Pinetrees: (02) 6563 2177
2. Snorkel the world’s most southerly coral reef
Technically there’s some coral further south towards Antarctica – but those aren’t reefs and it’s way too cold there. Besides, at Ned’s Beach on Lord Howe you can not only snorkel among some very pretty coral reefs, it’s also a sanctuary zone and regular feeding spot for bizarre fishies of all kinds.
There’s strictly no fishing here, because if you did you’d drain the place in roughly two hours – you can stand in 5cm of water and be literally surrounded by King Fish more than a metre long. AT also saw an amazingly colourful wrasse, as well as a black clown fish of the Finding Nemo variety (except black). And when AT snorkelled out just a little way we were even joined by the unmistakable shape of a large looming shark. Apparently – and AT didn’t know this until much later – if a shark’s fins drop suddenly, it’s on. He’s seen you and he’s about to get stuck in. AT wasn’t in the water with this shark long enough to notice the direction of his fins because AT is very scared of sharks, but that still seems like useful information.
3. Scale Ball’s Pyramid
You can’t actually do this without special permission from the NSW government and only then if you can prove you’ve rediscovered a long-lost species of something or other. Some 25km off the southeast end of the island, at 551m this spearheaded mini-peak is the world’s tallest ocean rock stack. People have climbed it in the past – like Dick Smith for example. But, since being declared the home of a once-thought-extinct species of phasmid (stick insect), it has now achieved the highest level of conservation status going. It’s super-duper protected, but is still amazing to catch a boat out to for a looksee.
4. Catch a fish as big as a good-sized teenager
While a lot of the waters immediately surrounding Lord Howe are sanctuary zones and out of bounds to fisherman, you don’t need to go far from shore to find some of the best fishing in the world. In fact, it’s an unusual trip indeed in which you’ll return empty handed. Pictured at right is a startled visitor to the island who landed himself probably the biggest cod he’s seen before or since. It’s also common on deep-sea trips to haul in fish as quickly as you can physically work a line. Situated at the freakish convergence of warm northern currents and cooler southern waters, Lord Howe attracts a bizarrely high number of distinctly different fishy types – over 400 species, in fact.
5. Harvest a Lord Howe Kentia Palm the islander way
The endemic Kentia Palm is harvested for its seeds and imported around the world in their millions each year, mostly winding up in hotel lobbies or as backdrops in movies featuring hotel lobbies.
The seeds are gathered in a peculiar way, and Jack Shick will show you how to do this during his tour up forbidding Mt Gower.
To climb one, what you do is you listen patiently to Jack’s explanation, then you stare in puzzlement at the small homemade strap of Hessian in his hands, then after he zips up an 18m palm like he’s strolling down to the corner shops, you have a turn and nearly give yourself a terminal hernia while achieving a maximum height of maybe two inches.
Repeat until humiliated or exhausted, whichever comes first.
6. Call in the Providence Petrels
Why do these birds do this? …waddling right up to you to climb into your palm.
No wonder the nearby Norfolk Island residents were able to so easily slaughter their own Providence Petrel population to avoid starvation back in 1790.
These birds are so curious, all you need do is make loud cawing sounds and they’ll drop in their hundreds through the foliage to the forest floor, waddling right up to you to climb into your palm. This may be the only place on the planet this strange birdy behaviour takes place. And, again, Jack Shick seems the best person to show you since he’s not easily embarrassed and has the loud “cawing” sounds down perfectly.
7. Read by the light of a mushroom
Sorry to keep banging on about Jack Shick like this, but apparently his father Ray (who still climbs Mt Gower at the age of 79 with two artificial hips) once used a glowing mushroom to shoot a feral pig.
It was night.
Every time Ray flicked the porch light on, this invading pig would scarper.
So he plucked one of the island’s weird glowing mushrooms and used two small pieces to line that sucker up.
Less ingeniously, you can actually use the strength of these curious fungi to read the newspaper, even though the island has perfectly good electricity for this purpose. A good place to find them is along the walk at Stevens Reserve after heavy rains.
Go to an eye-opening Ian Hutton lecture
“This moss here, that snail, and this fern?”
“Endemic. Endemic. Endemic.”
Not since the days of David Suzuki has environmental science been rendered so accessible and fascinating.
Resident expert on volcanic history, plant life, fauna activity, bird habitats, and snail breeding patterns, Dr. Ian Hutton is a walking encyclopedia and a quiet freak of nature. Ask him about his projected ten-year volunteer program to weed the entire island and you’ll get some idea of who you’re dealing with.
Also ask him to show you, since he’s the curator of the museum, their cool recreated skeleton of an extinct horned turtle and explain how on earth they ended up on Lord Howe (clue: “island hopping”).
Check out Lord Howe Island for info on his invaluable “I can show you in eight days what would take you eight weeks on your own” tours.
8. Play “spot the endemic species”
Nearly half the plants on Lord Howe are endemic – including the world famous Kentia Palm – and something like 86 percent of the plants atop Mt Gower are only found there, so this is a fun game to play with Jack Shick.
“How about this pumpkin tree?” you say.
Then he goes, “That’s endemic.”
Then you say: “That bird there?”
“This moss here, that snail, and this fern?”
“Endemic. Endemic. Endemic.”
You get the idea. It becomes more a case of which plants and animals aren’t rare, precious and exclusive to Lord Howe.
9. Stroll around in utter safety
Lord Howe is a kids’ paradise. It’s like being inside a 56km2 bouncy castle, it’s that hard to hurt yourself. There are no snakes. The island’s most dangerous plant is a non-stinging nettle, if you can believe it.
When AT arrived on the island, we looked to local tour operator Peter Busteed for some advice on what to do. He was hanging out by Busty’s Boatshed with his daughter Brooke, who was wearing her “regulation pair of standard issue Lord Howe Island protective boots” . . . which turned out to be bare feet.
The place is so benign, it’s an island on training wheels.