Lord Howe Island: Howe's that for a real island escape

On a recent trip to Spain a large American family took the table next to us and after cheerfully commenting they did not understand the local currency, opened their menus with trepidation. They were disappointed as it was full of Spanish food.

"Could you guys make me up a Salad Nicoise?" Asked Mrs Beehive. When told they had a perfectly good local salad on the menu they tried again.

"Hey, the seafood paella, is it really fishy? Asked Wilbur Post. (Perhaps he thought paella was Spanish for cheeseburger.)

And so the challenge is to find a spot which is attractive enough to tour without being dominated by tourists. Close enough to make it achievable but far enough away to be a real break.

And that spot is at Lord Howe Island. It is a two-hour flight from Sydney on a Qantas 50-seater DH 8 that acts as a time machine because in many ways the island is a delightful throwback to a simpler time.

For a start, there is no mobile phone reception, which means people have to actually talk to each other. There are public telephones that actually work and as the number of visitors is capped at 400 it is impossible to be crowded out.

There are no jet skis, bungy jumping, beach discos, shopping malls or nightclubs. And there has been a deliberate policy to protect the World Heritage-listed region from white shoed developers. Indeed, it is virtually impossible for outsiders to buy in.

As you wander off the plane you are met by your host who will drive you to your pre-booked accommodation, which will never be more than 10 minutes away.

We stayed at Earl's Anchorage, where there are five units of varying sizes nestled into a forest setting. Co-owner Kathy tells us we won't need a key as no one locks doors, This proved handy when we ordered a seafood barbecue  pack from her restaurant down the hill as it was left in the fridge while we were out exploring.


The best way to see the island is by bike and the same trust rules apply. You can leave your bike and helmet anywhere and it will remain untouched. If you want to hire snorkelling or beach equipment at Neds Beach it is based on an honesty system. There you can feed the tropical fish from a $1 a pop dispenser that is rationed to make sure they don't become dependent on hand outs.

At Old Settlement Beach we swam in the clear blue sea with turtles munching on seagrass. In fact, two came in so close they were just 10 metres from the shore grazing in shin deep water.

Lord Howe accommodation and flights aren't cheap but the island is no money pit. The coral and fish are less than 50 metres off shore in calm waters protected by a reef and so there is no need for expensive boat trips. There are few shops and no need for taxis as your accommodation host will drive you to restaurants and their staff will drive you back.

There are posh dining options or all-you-can-eat fish fries on different nights, but all   you need to know about the food is this - have the kingfish, which is usually caught off the reef that day.

Perhaps the reason Lord Howe remains a little old-fashioned is that tourism came late to the region. Up until 1974, visitors arrived on former WWII flying boats. We spoke to an older resident who still misses the mixed-grill breakfast cooked beside you on board the flight.

If you want a high tech holiday head somewhere else. If you want to reconnect with your family and friends face to face rather than on Facebook this could be the place.A word of warning - don't plan an important meeting the day after your holiday as flights can be cancelled due to the weather. Worse things can happen.

John Silvester is Fairfax's crime and law editor, he travelled at his own expense.