Lord Howe Island juggles two mighty jobs: preserving its unique habitat, and nurturing the tourism upon which it survives. So far, so very good.
There’s something oddly adorable about a gaping fish mouth. Punching the surface of the shore break at Ned’s Beach there are hundreds of them, hungry for the fish pellets visitors scatter to the sea.
You can buy a punnet of pellets from the beach hut, then stand knee-deep in the scaly mosh pit of mullet, wrasse and bluefish, their slippery bodies slapping your shins while tiny Galapagos sharks patrol the perimeter of the watery picnic seeking their own tasty takeaways. Nature experiences like this are what Lord Howe Island is all about. And here, you can’t get enough of them.
There is no better place to commune with nature than Lord Howe Island. (Image: Rian Cope)
Lord Howe Island is Australia’s newest celebrity hangout
Just 600 kilometres off the east Australian coast, Lord Howe is part of NSW and attracts around 17,500 visitors a year. It’s a business worth in excess of $30 million. But pedalling around the island – which is only 11 kilometres long – nothing screams tourism.
Cars are few, bicycles are the favoured mode of transport, and strict town planning regulations have most homes, resorts and businesses screened from view. It’s Australia’s newest hideout for celebrities like Chris Hemsworth (bye Byron!), but good luck finding their luxury lodges in jungles dense with ancient snaking banyan trees and towering palms.
Hint: Island House and Capella Lodge are the two of the island’s top end accommodations.
Nothing beats pedaling around the island. (Image: Rian Cope)
Lord Howe Island is pristine, private and packed with wildlife
To protect this UNESCO World Heritage-listed attraction, only 400 visitors are allowed on the island at any time. For visitors, it guarantees near-deserted beaches, kilometres of private bushwalks, and coral reefs crowded only with tropical fish and turtles.
One thing that’s never out of sight? The birdlife. Lord Howe is Australia’s premier seabird island, and Ned’s Beach at dusk is as thrilling as the frenzied fish feeding in the morning. Thousands of flesh-footed shearwaters soar in from a day of fishing, stumbling like drunks (thanks, webbed feet!) to their sandy burrows. Their plaintive “Pick me! Pick me!” call is so hilariously human-like you’ll want to scurry through the palm forest and choose one.
Lord Howe is Australia’s premier seabird island. (Image: Ian Hutton)
Everywhere, sooty terns ride the breeze. Tens of thousands nest in the beach dunes and hover perfectly for your Facebook photos and Instagram reels. Watch your likes soar.
And don’t forget to look up. Along the cliffs is the world’s largest breeding colony of red-tailed tropicbirds, their glorious red plumes twice the length of their bodies, like streamers in the breeze.
Along the cliffs is the world’s largest breeding colony of red-tailed tropicbirds. (Image: Ian Hutton)
Welcome to the Galapagos of Australia
It feels unreal. Other worldly. It could be a scene from a David Attenborough documentary, possibly titled The World’s Most Unbelievable Islands. It’s that special.
Sir David did visit, in 1997, to climb Mt Gower to see one of only two breeding grounds in the world for the providence petrel. The 875-metre walk is a gutsy eight-hour, 14-kilometre round-trip across rugged terrain, with rope climbs and dizzying drops.
On the summit, you can summon the petrels, as these amazing seabirds are attracted by strange noises and come crashing through the forest canopy to investigate. Their fearlessness is enchanting and their bizarre behaviour is a nature show for everyone. You don’t have to be an Attenborough to enjoy it.
Mt Gower is one of the only two breeding grounds in the world for the providence petrel. (Image: Ian Hutton)
The home of rare creatures
On Mt Gower’s summit you’re in rare territory. This is Gnarled Mossy Cloud Forest, 27 hectares of mountain plateau that’s home to some of our planet’s rarest ferns, trees, mosses and orchids, as well as four endemic land snails listed as critically endangered, the endangered Lord Howe Island earthworm, and hundreds of species of ants, beetles and spiders that are being considered for listing as threatened.
Back down in town, drop into Lord Howe Island Museum. It’s a tiny, magical space where you’ll probably bump into Ian Hutton.
Hutton calls this the “Galapagos of Australia”. (Image: Kyle Bowman)
“This is the Galapagos of Australia,” says Hutton. He’s a rare treasure himself, as he’s the museum curator, resident botanist, biologist, photographer, conservationist, bird expert and author of 11 books on Lord Howe.
It was Hutton who first alerted the world to the plight of seabirds ingesting micro marine plastics, after he had to dissect one of the island’s fledging shearwaters. The contents of the baby bird’s stomach were so distressing his observations led to a BBC documentary that shocked the world. Tiny Lord Howe Island raised one of the biggest environmental issues in modern times.
Mt Gower’s summit is home to some of the planet’s rarest flora and fauna. (Image: Rian Cope)
Is this the best island makeover ever?
Lord Howe Island has changed. Forty years ago, its report card wasn’t great; like many settled islands and properties around Australia, feral cats, pigs, goats, rats and mice ran amok. But that’s been turned around, and the island has all but eradicated pests. Long-term residents are reporting a big boom in bird, plant and insect life not witnessed for decades.
You’ll see it. Hikers say the island has the best walks in Australia. Divers and snorkellers say the coral gardens are beyond compare. Twitchers are in avian heaven. And those happy to sit under the palm trees and contemplate the Pacific Ocean are in a living dream.
Over the years, Lord Howe Island has turned into a paradise. (Image: Kyle Bowman)
A slice of paradise
The lagoon is a magnet, and swimmer or not, you’ll find yourself in it. But if you want to see the reef from above, Dean Hiscox from Lord Howe Environmental Tours will take you out in his glass-bottom boat to view an underwater performance that rivals any Baz Luhrmann production. You’ll see stingrays playing hide and seek in the sand, rock lobsters wrestling each other, turtles gliding past, and a chaos of colour when Dean’s daughter jumps overboard to feed urchins to the fish (you’re welcome to jump ship too!).
Beyond the reef, 27 kilometres offshore, is the world’s tallest sea stack. Ball’s Pyramid is a massive 562-metre-high rock monolith, and it’s all that’s left of a volcanic island that rose from the ocean about seven million years ago. It’s a very impressive chunk of rock. Dave Gardiner from Reef N Beyond Eco Tours and his adorable canine skipper (Ely the whippet) will take you out for a closer look.
A turtle gliding past in the Lord Howe lagoon. (Image: Mark Fitz)
Sleep and eat like a celebrity
OK, spilling the beans: if you want to sleep in a resort that’s bedded a Hemsworth, Island House is your go to. It’s a two-pavilion home that sleeps eight guests, there’s a private chef, and The Nursery – a popular brewery and eatery – is a fun stroll through a jungle of ancient banyan trees away.
Many of the other lodges have ‘guest-only’ restaurants, but in the village, Anchorage Restaurant has renowned chef David Chlumsky cooking freshly caught seafood and doing amazing dishes with the island’s fruit and vegetables. Challenge: try walking past the restaurant at 7am when the fresh bread and pies are coming out of the oven. You won’t make it.
Sit back, relax, and bask in the scenery of Lord Howe Island. (Image: Rian Cope)