Lord Howe Island: Why Australia's island paradise is the best 'overseas' destination

The doctor who greets us at Lord Howe Island's tiny airport terminal has dreadlocks and she's barefoot with sand crusted on her legs and a swimsuit under her shirt. She cheerily apologises for these informal touches before taking our temperatures and asking us to take a few deep breaths. Then we're free to grab our bags and board the bus to Ocean View, an apartment complex still run by descendants of the Wilson family, who have owned it since its beginnings in 1876.

The island has only recently re-opened after months of hibernation brought about by COVID-19 and it's now one of the few "overseas" destinations available to Australian holidaymakers. Even so, you could never get lost in the crowd.

There are only 350 residents and no more than 400 visitors are allowed at any one time. The islanders take their role as protectors of Lord Howe's status as a UN World Heritage site very seriously. Also on duty at the airport are Sebbi and Zuma, a pair of biosecurity detection dogs. Mild-mannered spaniels in yellow fluoro capes with their own Instagram accounts, they have been trained to sniff out any trace of foreign soil or vegetation on travellers' shoes or in their luggage.

We're here to draw and paint but we're staying at the business end of the island as Ocean View is just a short walk from what passes as the main street. And the local restaurant, where we eat all our meals, happens to be opposite the cocktail bar. It's run by the physiotherapist, whom I spot on its balcony one morning treating a patient with an injured wrist. At night, he becomes the bartender, adept at the creation of Margaritas, Mai Tais and something highly dangerous called a Mexican Car Crash.

Everybody seems to have at least three jobs and it's not long before you're feeling as if you have wandered into a tropical transplant of a British village sitcom – an Antipodean Death in Paradise without the fatalities. But nature is what Lord Howe is all about.

A temperate current flowing from north Queensland has endowed it with the world's southernmost coral reef and I have happy memories of an earlier trip when I snorkelled at Comet's Hole, celebrated for the depth of its coral reef wall. This time I try Ned's Beach, with its abundant fish life, and Old Settlement beach, where I'm disappointed not to spot one of the bay's sand turtles.

Birdsong keeps you company wherever you go. The wedge-tailed shearwater has a ghostly cry which sets us wondering about the mournful state of its emotional life as we walk home from dinner each night and white terns wheel above, brightening the morning with their chorus for those energetic enough to take on the grassy hill behind Ocean View.

Towards the top, grass turns to bush and the path narrows as it hits the heights of Malabar Ridge. From here, you can look across to the Island's great volcanic monuments, Mount Gower and Mount Lidgbird at the south end of the lagoon and a little further on, Ned's Beach shows itself far below.

If you're not in a mood to walk, you can take a bus tour with Peter Phillips, who tells us that he became an islander by marrying into one of the original families, the Thompsons, owners of the general store. He also explains the island's unique system of governance and the story of the kentia palm trade. Native to Lord Howe, the kentia grows so profusely that the first settlers used it to build and thatch their houses. It then went on to become the island's most popular export.

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Over the decades, the industry's fortunes have waxed and waned but you can still take a sapling or a seed pack home with you and the palm is still emblematic of the island and what makes it unique.

The writer travelled at her own expense.

TRIP NOTES

MORE

traveller.com.au/new-south-wales

FLY

Qantas has regular flights to Lord Howe Island from Sydney, Darwin, Adelaide and Perth. Return flights from Sydney are $950.

TOUR

Kerri Ainsworth of Art Travel Adventures organises trips which combine travel, accommodation and food with art workshops. Artists and teachers Debbie Mackinnon and Jennifer Keeler-Milne join her every August and October for eight-day trips to Lord Howe Island. Minimum of 10 guests. Costs for tuition plus accommodation range between $3,794 for a twin share studio unit to $4,464 for a single. See arttraveladventures.com.au

STAY

Ocean View Apartments have blocks of units set in lush gardens with a tennis court and the island's only swimming pool. They are close to the jetty and a short distance from shops and cafes. See oceanviewlordhoweisland.com.au 

EAT

The Anchorage restaurant is in Ned's Beach Road a short walk from the lagoon and is open for breakfast, lunch and dinner seven days a week. Its specialty is locally caught kingfish.

 

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