Louise Southerden test-walks one of the more adventurous Great Walk of Australia: the newly opened Seven Peaks Walk on Lord Howe Island.
It’s a sunny Monday morning and I’m on a glass-bottomed boat speeding across a six-kilometre-long, Fiji-blue lagoon. An unusual start to a multi-day walk, perhaps, but the Seven Peaks Walk on Lord Howe Island is no ordinary hike.
As the boat slows and colourful corals and tropical fish appear below, I glance behind us to where the island’s highest peaks, Gower and Lidgbird, rise straight up out of the other end of the lagoon, their summits wreathed in cloud. Climbing them is an intimidating prospect, one I try not to think about – not yet.
Our little group steps ashore at North Bay onto a perfect sandy beach and sets off into a forest of Norfolk Island pines. There’s no track, but that’s no problem.
One of the joys of this walk, I soon discover, is that it takes you to places most visitors can’t go. So that first day our guide, former park ranger Dean Hiscox, cuts a trail for us to follow up-slope to a rocky headland high above the sparkling Pacific, where dozens of red-tailed tropicbirds wheel overhead. It’s our first peak, and an ideal spot to scope out the other six we’ll be tackling.
Dean counts them off, left to right, north to south; although the term ‘peak’ is used loosely. Gower and Lidgbird, at 875 and 777 metres respectively, turn out to be the exceptions, not the rule: the other five are far more modest, and the smallest, Transit Hill, is just 121 metres high.
Not that this week is a doddle. Our other guide, Luke Hanson – owner of Pinetrees Lodge, where we’re staying, and a former mountain guide himself – actually considers the Seven Peaks the most difficult Great Walk.
“We do 2000 vertical metres in five days,” he says. “No other Walk does that. Even without Gower it’s big, because of the Goat House Cave walk [halfway up Lidgbird, its summit being inaccessible for safety reasons].”
The good news is that we walk for only four or five hours most days, carrying lightweight daypacks, and Lord Howe is one of the most benign environments you could walk in.
“There’s nothing here that can hurt you,” says Luke. No snakes, no poisonous spiders, no ticks. “It’s a place where you can relax and enjoy where you are.”
Unlike end-to-end hikes such as the Cradle Mountain Huts Walk on Tasmania’s Overland Track, the Seven Peaks is a daisy-chain of spectacular day-walks scattered across the island, culminating in the Mt Gower trek. This eight-hour (return) epic involves using fixed ropes to haul yourself up steep sections and rewards us with cloud-high views over the whole island – and a sense of having had a real adventure.
To top it off, the island is so small we still have time to experience its pristine marine environment – by snorkelling with Galapagos sharks, swimming in deep rock pools and hand-feeding metre-long fish at Ned’s Beach.
Another difference between the Seven Peaks and other Great Walks is that our ‘base camp’ isn’t a hut, a tent or a private lodge but the 75-bed Pinetrees Lodge, voted best hotel in Australia by TripAdvisor earlier this year.
Nestled in a grove of Norfolk Island pines across the road from the lagoon, Pinetrees is a low-key, beach-chic kind of place with louvre windows to let in the sea breeze and garden views from every room.
It might not be as remote as, say, the safari tents on the Larapinta Trek in Central Australia, but it makes up for that with no mobile reception, TVs or wi-fi. And superb food: cooked breakfast, barista coffees, gourmet picnic lunches we eat on the trail, sunset drinks on the beachside deck of its Boatshed and four-course dinners paired with fine Australian wines.
As one of my fellow walkers, from Melbourne, says at the end of the trip: “I didn’t expect to walk so much, or eat so well.”
There’s nothing like counting mountains to give you a feeling of achievement at the end of a walking week, but climbing Lord Howe’s peaks is really just an excuse to experience, feet first, the World Heritage-listed island Sir David Attenborough once called “so extraordinary it is almost unbelievable”. If you have a bucket list, put Lord Howe Island on it. And pack your walking shoes.
Lord Howe Island is 600 kilometres east of Port Macquarie and part of NSW so you won’t need your passport. QantasLink flies there from Sydney (daily), Brisbane (on weekends) and Port Macquarie (February–June and September–December).
The Seven Peaks Walk runs on selected dates from April to May and September to November and costs $2827 per person, which includes six nights at Pinetrees Lodge, all meals, guided walks and snorkelling trips. Some pre-walk training is a good idea, but you won’t need serious hiking boots (walking shoes are fine). The maximum group size is 12.
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This feature was created by Australian Traveller and supported by Great Walks of Australia.