Leave the pace of modern life behind when you visit World Heritage-listed Lord Howe Island, a lush natural paradise less than two hours by plane from Sydney and Brisbane.
By Stephanie Williams
You won't see any powerlines or high-rise buildings on Lord Howe island, which is just 11 kilometres (6.8 miles) long and 2.8 kilometres (1.7 miles) at its widest. Birdsong fills the clean air and lush mountainous terrain rises up all around you. With only 400 visitors allowed at any time, and just 300 permanent residents, the pace on the island is slow. Bikes are the mode of transport and shoes feel optional by the time you hop back on the plane. You can hire bikes (with child seats and wagons if you need them) at Wilson's Bike Hire.
- Hike one of the many walking tracks
- Take a glass bottom boat tour of the lagoon
- Feed wild fish by hand at Neds Beach
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Top things to do on Lord Howe Island
Enjoy a gourmet getaway
Being away from mainland Australia means the residents of Lord Howe Island must use their natural resources to supplement the fortnightly deliveries they receive. You'll see locals' vegie patches as you walk the island, and kingfish and other wild seafood abounds here. Since 1848, six generations of the Rourke family have run Pinetrees Lodge, known for its gourmet food offerings, including a legendary weekly Fish Fry night, and sunset viewing platform, complete with honesty bar. Capella Lodge is a five-star luxury haven with a seasonal menu to match – enjoy sunset drinks and canapes with point-blank views of Mount Gower from the terrace. Arajilla Retreat combines gourmet food, including produce from its kitchen garden alongside line-caught fish, with Ayurvedic spa treatments in a timber yurt.
Admire the scenery on foot
Get to know the island by walking some its many tracks. They range from a simple walk on the beach to a day hike – all abilities are catered for. A good intermediate challenge is Kims Lookout and Malabar Hill. Starting at Settlement Beach, you'll hike up to Kims Lookout, enjoying the most incredible views back down the island, then move across Malabar Hill where you will see Balls Pyramid. It's a natural obelisk, soaring 551 metres (1807 feet) from the ocean. Finish your walk at Neds Beach with a swim and a barbecue. Some hotels will even organise a picnic drop-off for you. You can buy a portion of fish food in the beach hut nearby and feed the jostling wrasse, silver drummer, garfish, spangled emperor and metre-long kingfish that visit the Neds Beach Sanctuary Zone.
Hike Mount Gower
If you’re fit and up for some adventure, walking to the summit of Mount Gower should be on your list. The 14 kilometre (8.7 mile) return hike takes about 8.5 hours to walk and must be undertaken with a registered guide, of which there are just two. Jack Shick is the more experienced guide on Lord Howe Island, having summited more than 1800 times. Alternatively, Dean Hiscox was the ranger on Lord Howe Island for 16 years and now shares his extensive knowledge of the local flora and fauna on his tours. Meander to Transit Hill for panoramic views over the island or walk further to Blinky Beach, loved by locals for its "Champagne surf".
See the vibrant bottom of the lagoon by boat
Lord Howe Island curls around a beautiful bright blue lagoon, full of fish, coral and other marine life. You can snorkel the lagoon from the beach, but to see some of the more spectacular snorkel sites, take a two hour glass bottom boat tour with Lord Howe Environmental Tours. The boat allows you to see into the water without getting wet, but for a little bit more adventure, the tour stops at Erscotts Hole so snorkellers can see the coral seascape up close. It's a good idea to book ahead. The tour company provides all the gear you'll need.
Get outdoors and get adventurous
If you're a scuba diver, head to Balls Pyramid to enjoy the caves and waters at the base. Alongside dolphins, turtles and marlin, there are many rare species, including Spanish dancers, Galapagos whalers and Ballina angelfish. Pro Dive runs Open Water Diver Courses on Lord Howe Island and take divers out to Balls Pyramid. Golfers will be kept happy on the picturesque 18 hole golf course and anglers are well catered for, with a number of tour companies offering charters. Each October Pinetrees Lodge runs an Adventure Challenge Week of kayaking, guided hiking and snorkelling.
Take a step back in time
The Lord Howe Island Museum has a fascinating display of the natural and social history of the island and its inhabitants. First discovered by Lieutenant Henry Lidgbird Ball in 1788, Lord Howe Island was settled in 1834. It served as a provisioning station for ships travelling between Sydney and Norfolk Island, and for whaling ships, as well as hosting a thriving kentia palm seed industry. The island was World Heritage listed in 1982 to preserve its rare flora and fauna. Spend an hour or so wandering through the exhibits, then enjoy a coffee at the museum cafe. It's the only place on the island where you can access public Wi-Fi, for a fee.
Enjoy the rare flora and fauna
After a massive volcanic eruption seven million years ago, the newly formed island was colonised by plants from surrounding regions, and seabirds flocked to make the island their breeding ground. Rare and thriving flora and fauna includes 64 unique species of flowering plants and more than 130 bird species. As you wander around look out for the flightless woodhen, an endangered species unique to the island. Watch red-tailed tropicbirds court each other with backward somersaults. And walk along the cliffs past huge colonies of seabirds. Lord Howe Island provides the only known breeding ground for the providence petrel – at the very base of Mount Gower it's said that you can make loud bird calls, like Sir David Attenborough did when he visited the island, and petrels might come down to see what the commotion is. Norfolk Island pines grow around the lagoon shore and you'll find luxuriant ferns and beard-like lichen in the misty forest atop Mount Gower.
How to get there
Qantaslink flies most days from Sydney, and from Brisbane on the weekends, throughout the year. There's also a seasonal service direct from Port Macquarie weekly from February to June and September to December. You can sail to Lord Howe and moor on the lagoon but you need to contact the Lord Howe Island Board before your arrival and apply for a public mooring.