The 10½-year-old Capella Lodge, which last year underwent a $4 million refurbishment, is Lord Howe Island's signature stay and one of Australia's most iconic accommodations. The brainchild of James and Hayley Baillie, pioneers of Australian luxury tourism,Capella was influenced by the renowned New Zealand luxury lodge model, with the Baillies adapting it to Australian conditions as well as imposing a far more contemporary design ethos compared with the largely hunting and fishing Kiwi equivalents. Capella is now one of four top-end properties operated by Baillie Lodges, which include the internationally-lauded Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island, South Australia, and the recently acquired Silky Oaks in Far North Queensland's Daintree.
The Seventh Day Adventists who originally owned the complex in which Capella Lodge now operates placed themselves right in the midst of Lord Howe's UNESCO World Heritage-listed God zone. The Baillies' modern-day lodge is nestled among luxuriant, billowing palms, over which loom Lord Howe Island's spectacular twin peaks, Mount Gower and Mount Lidgbird, rising to 875 metres and 777 metres respectively. These dominant mountains are framed by a turquoise Pacific Ocean and the island's lagoon is home to the world's southern-most coral reef, with Capella the only accommodation on Lord Howe – two hours by air from Sydney – to deliver both peaks and sea vistas.
The Baillies have utilised every aspect of the complex's superlative location as well as adding a distinct beach-house-chic flair and Australian designer furnishings. Artwork also plays its part in the form of the offbeat vintage linocuts of Bruce Goold, a prominent member of the Mambo school, while fabrics by Sarah Jordan reference the island's famed endemic kentia palms.
The two-level, two-bedroom-and-two-bathroom Catalina Suite is named after the classic Qantas sea-planes that once provided the vital air transportation between Lord Howe Island and the mainland. Upstairs there's a king-sized bed with superior-quality linens, while downstairs there's a cosy loungeroom running off another bedroom, as well as all of the mod cons expected of this calibre of accommodation. Outside, a spacious and private deck features outdoor lounges and a generously sized, palm-fringed hot tub with views of the mountains and oceans.
When you dine at Capella's in-house, guests-only restaurant you'll be doing so in what is unequivocally the best eatery with the finest views on the island. The menu at Capella's appealing and commodious restaurant, with its floor-to-ceiling windows and doors invariably opened to welcome the Pacific sea breeze, not surprisingly favours seafood caught by the small local fishing community as well as the best produce from the mainland. The restaurant's gourmet breakfasts, complemented by winning espresso coffee, have the feel of those at a top-notch cafe back on the mainland.
When compared to, say, the resorts of Far North Queensland, the pleasures of the sub-tropical, 11-kilometres-long, two-kilometres-wide, eco-rich Lord Howe Island are much more subtle and refined. There's plenty to do, however, and perhaps more crucially, lots not to do. Aside from the famous fish-feeding at Ned's Beach and a visit to the local museum to meet Ian Hutton, Lord Howe's legendary naturalist, be sure to take a guided Greenback eco-tour by boat around the island, encountering the sheer cliff-faces of the two peaks, and, on a fair-weather day, an excursion to the haunting Balls Pyramid, the world's tallest sea-stack, 20 kilometres from Lord Howe.
For those who can afford its price-tag, or who are willing to splurge on a quality luxury experience, the refreshed Capella ranks as one of Australia's finest accommodation experiences on one of the world's most singularly spectacular and remarkable islands.
Rates start from $750 a person a night and include gourmet breakfast, sunset drinks, canapes, dinner with premium wines and spirits, and island airport transfers. Between April 1 and December 20 this year, Capella is offering a "stay seven nights but pay for six nights" package, which includes a bottle of champagne and a spa treatment. See capellalodge.com.au; visitnsw.com
The unforgettable, ever-changing views from Capella of the magnificent Gower and Lidgbird peaks.
The island faces a difficult decision: whether or not to extend its problematically short airport runway.
Anthony Dennis was a guest of Baillie Lodges and Destination NSW.