Lord Howe Island, Paradise it is!
Anchored 550 kms due east of Port Macquarie, Lord Howe Island is tiny, barely 11 kilometres from end to end and two across at its widest point, yet rarely is so much crammed into such a tiny pimple of dry land. Within the shelter of the reef on the western side of the island is a shallow lagoon that hosts the world’s most southerly coral gardens. On the eastern side there are surf beaches and sheer cliffs that heave themselves vertically from the sea. In the interior are dense forests of the miraculous banyan tree and the summit of Mount Gower is richly invested with rainforest and most of the lower storey of the island is blanketed by a rustling canopy of kentia palms. The sea life is phenomenal. In the surrounding waters, warm and cool currents collide, spawning a wealth of marine life that includes giant clams, sea turtles, clownfish, lionfish, tuna, butterfly fish and a wrasse known as the doubleheader, a species unique to the island’s waters.
The island is also a biological ark, a perch for exotic species of sea birds in their migratory journeys, which might take them as far north as Siberia.
Everyone swims, snorkels, hikes, fishes, bicycles, takes up birdwatching or even golf for the sheer pleasure of whacking a ball around one of the loveliest 9-hole courses in the golf world.
The island has an excellent network of hiking trails, and while the local tourism board has a wonderful series of leaflets for the do-it-yourself explorer, . Especially recommended are the tours with naturalist Ian Hutton, a fluent and authoritative voice on the birds, geology, botany and history of the island.
Most challenging of all the island’s walks is the full-day hike to the summit of Mount Gower. After hopping across a beach of ankle-turning rocks, hikers must scramble up a trail that disappears vertically into the forest on the lower slopes of Mount Lidgbird. The next task is to skirt the exposed south-west scarp of the mountain by creeping along a narrow ledge, face to the cliff and clinging to a rope with a sheer drop at your back. After that, the climb through dripping vegetation to the summit of the 875m mountain should be a doddle.
Pick of the island’s lodges are Arajilla and Capella Lodge. Both offer about the same standard of modestly opulent accommodation, but their positions are vastly different. In terms of scenery, Capella Lodge has it all. Set on a hilltop close to the golf course, the nine-room lodge overlooks dipping pastures to the blonde beaches that line the lagoon in one direction and the looming buttresses of mounts Lidgbird and Gower in the other. Although the position is just about the last word in tranquility, it’s a longish pedal to Ned’s Beach Road, where most of the activities, cafes and restaurants are located.
Near the road’s end in the north of the island, Arajilla is enveloped by a lush forest of kentia palms where stray beams of sunlight arrow through the canopy. One of the best restaurants on the island is right on the premises, there’s a beach just two minutes away, Ned’s Beach Road is a 10-minute stroll and the lodge is ideally situated for the walks at the northern and of the island.