Discover why tiny Norfolk Island is "Da Bass Side Orn Earth" (the best place on Earth).
By Lee Atkinson
World Heritage convict buildings, sublime scenery and a unique culture with an intriguing past combine to make Norfolk Island, roughly halfway between Australia and New Zealand, one of Australia's most fascinating destinations. Settled by descendents of mutineers who speak a mix of Tahitian and 18th century English, it's a friendly place where waving to everyone you pass is mandatory, cows have right of way and everyone knows everyone else. It's the only place in the world where the telephone book lists people under their nicknames, such as Book and Bing, Diddles, Pinky, Spud, Lettuce Leaf and Slugs. No wonder the locals reckon it’s "Da Bass Side Orn Earth" (the best place on Earth).
- Explore one of the best preserved convict settlements in the Southern Hemisphere
- Play a round of golf on one of the world's most historic courses
- Snorkel over coral and kayak through sea caves
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Top things to do on Norfolk Island
Explore convict ruins
Norfolk Islanders are immensely proud of their history and it's one of the major attractions of the island. "Discovered" by James Cook in 1774, the island was first settled as a convict colony. In 1855 Queen Victoria gave the island to the descendents of one of the most famous naval mutinies in modern history: the mutiny on the Bounty, led by Fletcher Christian. Wander around the beautiful stone buildings of Kingston, built during the convict settlement. Fascinating by day, it really shines at night, with ghost tours and live performances. These include a one hour Sound and Light Show, which takes you on a bus trip through time, back to the days of the convict settlement, with clever light and sound effects and actors bringing the blood-curdling past alive.
Eat with the locals at an island fish fry
No visit to Norfolk Island is complete until you've had a traditional Island fish fry. Enjoy sunset views from a clifftop as you feast on fresh fried fish and a buffet banquet of traditional island salads and desserts. Local specialities to try include banana pilhi (a savoury slice made with green bananas), coconut bread and mudda (green banana dumplings in coconut milk). The meal is finished off with some traditional island singing and dancing. Fish fries are held several night a week and cost AUD$68.
Play World Heritage golf
Play a round of seriously scenic golf on the world’s only golf course in a World Heritage site. Set within the Kingston and Arthurs Vale Historic Area – the oldest of the 11 convict sites across Australia given World Heritage Status by UNESCO in 2010 – the nine-hole links course offers stunning views from every hole, including the notorious fourth (and 13th), where the green is tucked into a rock face. Even the clubhouse is historic: built in 1843, in convict times it was the home of the stipendiary magistrate. A round costs AUD$22 for 9 holes or AUD$38 for 18 holes. Bookings are essential.
Swim in calm, clear water
Kingston's main beach is so close to perfect it looks like it came straight off a movie set. Emily Bay Lagoon is a gloriously curved crescent of golden sand, backed by an expanse of grass and shaded by majestic Norfolk Pines. Protected by a reef, the water is perfectly clear, has hardly any waves, and is full of coral and colourful fish, which makes it ideal for swimming and snorkelling.
Kayak around the island
Some of the best views of Norfolk Island are not of the sea, but from the sea. A half day AUD$95 kayaking tour follows some of the island's most spectacular sections of coastline. It takes you past huge basalt and sandstone rock formations, into sea caves and under natural rock arches. You'll also get close enough to blowholes to get soaked by salty blasts of seawater as it whooshes through the rock tunnels.
Trek with birds on Phillip Island
Phillip Island is a tiny pile of basalt that rises from the ocean floor about six kilometres (3.7 miles) south of the main island (a 15 minute boat ride). It is home to whale birds in their thousands, black noddies nesting in every available branch and large masked boobies on just about every rock ledge. Go at the right time of the year and there will be fluffy chicks everywhere. Tours, which cost AUD$160, include about three hours of trekking, so you need to be reasonably fit. Even if you’re not a birdwatcher, you'll be enthralled by the density of birdlife and how unafraid and unaccustomed to humans they are.
How to get there
Air New Zealand flies to Norfolk Island from Sydney (Mondays and Fridays) and Brisbane (Tuesdays and Saturdays), as well as from Auckland on Sundays. Flight time is about 2 1/2 hours.