Emily Bay, Norfolk Island © Tourism Australia
Guide to Norfolk Island
Norfolk Island is a quiet paradise, often overlooked yet unforgettable once found. Discover for yourself why visitors return time and time again.
By Lee Atkinson & Allie Metz
UNESCO World Heritage convict buildings, breathtaking scenery and a unique culture with an intriguing past combine to make Norfolk Island, located roughly halfway between Australia and New Zealand, one of Australia's most fascinating destinations. Settled by descendants of mutineers who speak a mix of Tahitian and 18th century English, it's a friendly place where giving a small Norfolk wave as cars pass each other 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 Drill, Bing, Diddles and Spud. 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
- Swim in the iconic Emily Bay and snorkel over coral and friendly fish
- Explore nature in the National Parks and Botanical Gardens
How to get there
Things to do and top attractions on Norfolk Island
Swim in calm, clear water
Emily Bay Lagoon is a gloriously curved crescent of golden sand, backed by an expanse of grass and shaded by majestic Norfolk Pines. This Marine Park lagoon is protected by a reef and has perfectly clear water, hardly any waves, and is full of coral and marine life, which makes it ideal for swimming and snorkelling. Neighbouring Slaughter Bay is another great spot for swimming and snorkelling. Visit at low tide and you’ll be floating above coral gardens and colourful fish just steps from the shore.
Explore the World Heritage convict site
Norfolk Island’s fascinating history is divided into three main settlement periods. It started with Polynesians who occupied the island (although perhaps only seasonally) until about 1400 AD. The dunes behind Emily Bay contain the remains of Polynesian houses, ovens and a marae.
When James Cook arrived in 1774, he saw great potential in the island, but it wasn’t until Phillip Gidley King’s fleet arrived in 1788 that a true settlement was formed. Unfortunately, the resources of the island were deemed unsuitable and the settlement was abandoned in 1814. About a decade later the island became a penal settlement for the worst offenders from New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania), but was closed by 1855.
The third period of settlement came in 1856, when Queen Victoria gave the island to the descendants of one of the most famous naval mutinies in modern history: the mutiny on the Bounty, led by Fletcher Christian. Having exhausted the resources of Pitcairn, Christian’s group left for Norfolk when offered re-settlement from the British Government. Those that remained proved hard working, innovative and resilient.
Wander around the beautiful stone buildings of Kingston built during the convict settlement, visit the convict cemetery, or explore the four incredible museums with a knowledgeable and passionate guide. Fascinating by day, Kingston really shines at night with ghost tours and live shows. The historical site is also a perfect platform for stargazing. With little light pollution and one of the darkest skies on Earth, the island is even recognised as an Australian Gold Level Dark Sky Town.
Tour the farm and taste fresh cheese at Hilli Goat
Visit the charming clifftop property at The Hilli Goat for a tour of this unique micro-farm to experience a truly family-run operation. Owner Emily Ryves will introduce you to her much-loved herd of goats, show you the milking sheds and discuss how their sought-after goats milk cheese and skincare are created. You’ll then sit down on the deck of the family home, overlooking incredible views, to enjoy a platter of cheese and fresh produce from the garden. Be sure to stop into Cottage Pottery where Emily’s father creates stunning pieces of pottery, art and jewellery.
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 nine-hole, 18-tee course offers stunning views from every hole, including the notorious fourth and thirteenth, 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. Bookings are essential.
Capture a stunning sunset
There is no shortage of incredible spots for witnessing the colourful sunsets on Norfolk Island. Head to Puppie’s Point with a picnic or take advantage of the BBQ facilities at Anson Bay Reserve as you watch the sun sink into the ocean. For something really unique, join the locals at Sunset Bar for sundowners and live music with a view at the home of Les and Pip Quintal. The couple have lovingly built a bar on their family property where guests can experience incredible views and local hospitality alongside cocktails, beer, wine and platters from Wednesday to Sunday. Kids will love playing the property’s lush grass, which has also been known to host special events such as volleyball tournaments.
Hike to panoramic lookouts
Norfolk Island is small, but much of the island is covered in national park, rolling green hills and towering Norfolk Island pine trees. Head to the protected national park on the northern edge of the island and explore the eight kilometres (4.9 miles) of walking tracks. Stand on top of Mt Pitt for panoramic views of the picturesque surrounds. Bridle Track slopes downhill from Captain Cook Monument and Lookout, offering incredible views of the towering rock formations that erupt from the crashing seas below. Experienced hikers should consider booking a half-day exhibition to neighbouring Phillip Island to explore the colourful terrain, spot migratory birds and view Norfolk from a completely different perspective.
Feast on local produce
Given that the island was originally used as a breadbasket for the first British settlements in Australia, it’s no surprise that fresh produce abounds. Visit the local Honesty Boxes (you can grab a map at the Visitor’s Centre) to taste what’s in season from local producers. For great coffee and breakfast, the hearty omelettes and homemade granola at the Olive Café are local favourites for good reason. With an ethos of reducing waste on the island, Prinke Eco Store offer bulk organic goods and eco-friendly gifts alongside fantastic coffee, tea and snacks. For lunch, sit in the picturesque garden surrounds at Hilli to dine on fresh seafood and local produce or head to Bounty Bar & Grill to taste the local beef. Discerning diners will enjoy the farm-to-plate practices of The Homestead or the local charm of Bailey’s. Norfolk Island is also home to Norfolk Island Brewing and Two Chimney’s Winery.
Help preserve this natural wonder
For a unique chance to meet locals and join in a real community-led initiative, head to Hundred Acres Reserve on Wednesday morning (from 9am to about 12:30pm) to join like-minded people in eradicating the reserve of invasive weeds. In rain, hail or shine, the group works methodically, selecting an area of the reserve each week in which to concentrate their efforts. And you don’t need any experience to participate. They will help you identify the plants to pull – just let them know if you’re a Cliff Hanger (comfortable on slopes) or a Flat Earther (prefer to stick to even terrain). Your hard work is then rewarded with a morning tea and a lovely chat with this dedicated group of nature lovers.
Go bird watching with Margaret
Keen twitchers will enjoy a morning spent with Margaret Christian, author, researcher and former Park Ranger, as you seek out the beautiful and often rare endemic bird species of Norfolk Island. On this birdwatching tour, you will visit reserves, the national park, scenic clifftops and even private properties – otherwise inaccessible – to spot the 25 rare and native species that call the island home. In season you may also see migratory seabirds and their rookeries on your half-day adventure. Margaret is an extremely knowledgeable guide with a great understanding of the natural history of the island.
With no commercial fishing permitted in the vast marine park that surrounds Norfolk Island, it’s no wonder the waters are teeming with fish. So much so, that fishing is affectionately called “catching” here. Whether you drop a line off the pier, cast out from the beach or jump on a charter to fish the surrounding reefs with a local guide, you’ll quickly see why this area is so well renowned for its abundant waters.