Norfolk Island travel guide and things to do: 20 surprising things visitors will discover

1. Norfolk Island is part of Australia but most of the locals don't see themselves as Australian

Many of the citizens of Norfolk Island, classified as an "Australian external territory" and 1670 kilometres northeast of Sydney, are descendents of the Mutiny on the Bounty incident of 1789. They came here from Pitcairn, the Pacific island where the original mutineers first settled, after life on the tiny, crowded and rocky outcrop became intolerable. And they did so with the approval of Queen Victoria who agreed to their passage in 1858. In contemporary times, with nearly 50 per cent of the population of under 2000 bearing Pitcairn lineage, an ongoing campaign has been waged for self-rule with placards calling for autonomy ubiquitous across the island. Wherever you stand on the issue, it certainly adds considerable interest and flavour to a visit to the island and, of course, despite everything, Australian visitors are warmly welcomed. See thenorfolknavigator.com

2. ...and they don't even refer to Australia as "the mainland"

2DB9HK8 Closeup of Ruffled Norfolk Island Flag, Norfolk Island Flag Blowing in Wind Norfolk20Things
Twenty things that will surprise you about Norfolk Island
Photos: Alamy/supplied

Norfolk Island's flag. Photo: Alamy

If you're conversing with a fiercely independent Norfolk Islander with Pitcairn heritage be careful not to refer to Australia as "the mainland." They consider Australia to be just that: Australia, and an entirely separate country, even though Norfolk remains economically reliant on big brother across the seas.

3. Even though it is officially part of Australia, a passport is preferred for visits to the island

All flights to Norfolk from Sydney and Brisbane depart and arrive from the cities' international airports. Although a driver's licence is an acceptable means of identification, a passport is preferred by Border Force and island authorities. Aside from New Zealand, it's just about the only place you'll get to flash such a document until international borders begin to reopen. See norfolkisland.com.au

4. As well as English, the Norfolk Islanders speak their own language

The local language is "Norf'k" and you'll see many signs written this way around the island with  proud islanders doing their utmost in recent times to protect and promote their language. It is  a registered and endangered language added to the United Nations list in 2007.  Dr Shirley Harrison nee Buffett's research was used by Alice Buffett and Don Laycock to form a published dictionary of Norf'k.  

5. No one locks their cars or houses (but don't even think about nicking anything)

Norfolk Islanders pride them on their largely crime-free society. When you hire a car the operators will tell you to leave the keys in the vehicle when you return it to the airport. What's more, you likely won't be given a key to accommodation, such as self-contained homes. But any would-be thieves from the mainland (sorry, Australia) should be aware that this is a small island full of citizens with watchful eyes and any suspicious behaviour will soon be uncovered.

6. Every driver, and we mean every driver, performs the "Norfolk wave" when passing another vehicle

A little like the Australian outback, it's customary to acknowledge other motorists as you travel around and along the 170 kilometres of roadways around this hilly island. One finger (the right way around) raised from the grip of the steering wheel seems to suffice.

7. ...but the "Norfolk wave" took on an entirely new meaning recently

On March 3, following a trio of powerful earthquakes off the northern New Zealand coastline, Norfolk Islanders were ordered to take to higher ground after a tsunami alert was issued. Ultimately, the danger passed with the height of the tsunami waves reaching only 64 centimetres.

8. The island's cows, at all times, have the right of way

KW76NE Norfolk Island, Australian external territory, Kingston, cows grazing on the Common greens Norfolk20Things
Twenty things that will surprise you about Norfolk Island
Photos: Alamy/supplied

Mooooove out of the way for cows on Norfolk Island. Photo: Alamy

Advertisement

One of the most striking and visual aspects of Norfolk Island is how bucolic it is with its pervasive emerald pastures contrasted by an enveloping cobalt sea. Remember when driving that all livestock have right of way. It's not quite India but woe betide anyone who runs into a cow (the speed limit is 50 kilometres an hour).

9. There's no proper wharf or jetty

Ships visiting Norfolk must anchor offshore with longboats sent to meet them and return with cargo. A classic Norfolk Island spectacle is the sight of buses being transported on the boats and then hoisted onto terra firma by cranes.

10. Norfolk Island boasts its own extraordinary World Heritage site

2ABPW08 Gateway of the New Gaol built 1836-1847 in the most cruel times of convict settlement. Norfolk Island, Australia Norfolk20Things
Twenty things that will surprise you about Norfolk Island
Photos: Alamy/supplied

The gateway of the New Gaol built 1836-1847. Photo: Alamy

A former penal colony to rival that of Port Arthur in Tasmania in scope, the magnificent, if not a little haunting, extensive convict ruins on Norfolk Island are UNESCO World Heritage-listed. Part of a collection of 11 "Australian convict sites", the ruins on Norfolk are located in two areas on the island, Kingston and Arthur's Vale. See kingston.norfolkisland.gov.au

11. Some of the Mutiny on the Bounty descendants who came to Norfolk Island decided to return to Pitcairn

It's hard to comprehend, considering the beauty and relative expanse of a salubrious Norfolk but some of those who came there from Pitcairn in the 19th century with the crown's acquiescence ultimately decided to return to the original home.

12. Colleen McCullough, author of the international best-seller, The Thorn Birds, was Norfolk's most famous resident

Supplied – Tue, 22. May 2018 11:32 AM // Norfolk
SatApr17OneOnlyNorfolk
SatApr17OneOnlyNorfolk

The home of the late author Colleen McCullough on Norfolk Island.

Photo: Robin Nisbet Photography

The home of the late author Colleen McCullough. Photo: Robin Nisbet Photography

One of Australia's most successful writers internationally, the ebullient McCullough in her latter years became as much associated with Norfolk as the island had become with her. Her perfectly-preserved home, "Out Yenna", is unchanged since her death in 2015 and can be visited on special guided tours. It's a chance to see not only where and how she worked but also to view her amazing collection of art and furniture. The tours are normally conducted with an arresting and at times brutal candour by the author's sardonic former housekeeper, with McCullough's widower, Ric Robinson, still residing at Out Yenna. See bauntitours.com

13. ...and Helen "I am woman" Reddy once had a house on the island as well

Unlike Chez Colleen, you can't visit the late Helen Reddy's former farm, "Happy Valley", which she moved to for her so-called "gap decade" in 2002, on Norfolk Island. But the next best option is to grab a cocktail at the new Sunset Bar, a relaxed outdoor licensed venue with ocean views through lines of Norfolk pines. There you can view an extensive, and rather extraordinary, display of Reddy's career memorabilia which she bequeathed to Les Quintal, co-owner of the Sunset Bar, with whom she had become a close pal, on her death last year. The collection includes framed records, nostalgic photos and movie posters such as the one for Airport '75 in which she played a singing nun (really).

14. Norfolk pines grow in Australia but you'll never see more of them than on Norfolk itself

Norfolk20Things
Twenty things that will surprise you about Norfolk Island
Photos: Alamy/supplied

The distinctive and ubiquitous Norfolk pine, as the name suggests, is endemic to subtropical Norfolk Island. The tree also appears as the centrepiece on the green and white Norfolk Island flags that fly proudly, and perhaps a little defiantly, across the island.

15. Even if you're not even remotely a twitcher, you'll be charmed by the abundant birdlife

Norfolk Island, being so far from any other significant landmass, is a haven for migratory seabirds. It's even possible to visit the nesting sites of species such as the masked booby, distinctive seabirds that feature white bodies, black tails and, as advertised, a small black mask around a large yellow beak. The best time for carefully and quietly observing these magnificent creatures in their breeding areas such as the grassy tops of seaside cliff tops, are the months between August and February. See parksaustralia.gov.au

16. ...though the chilling call of the shearwaters, or mutton birds, are likely to keep you awake at night

These long-winged seabirds are notorious for the haunting sound they emit, including in the wee hours, that have been compared to that of a crying infant. The calls are a form of contact which the birds emit from their nocturnal burrows rather than nests. Pack some earplugs if you think they'll disturb your slumber otherwise soak up the spooky ambience of life after dark on Norfolk.

17. The island's most faithful repeat visitors are snow-white with black bills, feet and eyes

White terns, which are abundant on Norfolk, tend to leave the island in May and spend months at sea, never once landing. One of their strangest characteristics, during their months on the island, is that rather than building a conventional nest they opt to lay a lone egg in a small hollow or indentation in a Norfolk pine or white oak. No one has been able to properly establish how the resultant chicks manage to successfully hang on for dear life on such precarious perches until such time as they mature.

18. There's an Australian administrator who gets to live in the best house on the island

2ABPW1W Government House in Kingston and Arthurs Vale Historic Area, built in 1829. The precinct is one of the eleven sites making up the Australian Convict Norfolk20Things
Twenty things that will surprise you about Norfolk Island
Photo: Alamy

Photo: Alamy

An administrator, appointed by the Australian federal government, oversees the running of the island. One of the perks of the role, aside from being able to live in a Pacific paradise at taxpayers' expense, is that he or she gets to call the 1829 Government House, part of the World Heritage site, their home for the period of their appointment. On certain days of the year the public, including tourists, are invited to inspect the building's impressively restored and maintained interiors and exteriors. See norfolkisland.com.au

19. There's a street on Norfolk called "Fletcher Christian Road"

The most recent film about the mutiny on the Bounty, which starred Anthony Hopkins and Mel Gibson, depicted Fletcher Christian (played by a youthful Gibson) in a less flattering light than other interpretations, one of which featured Clark Gable as the man himself. But on the island, Christian is still revered since without him his descendents would never have found their way to Norfolk Island let alone develop their unique culture and identity. See norfolkcyclorama.com

20. Although it's an Australian external territory, until recently Air New Zealand was the main airline that flew to Norfolk

Some years ago, Air New Zealand won a multi-million dollar Australian government contract to operate regular services between Norfolk Island and Australia. However, the federal government temporarily suspended the trans-Tasman travel bridge following COVID-19 outbreaks, meaning Air New Zealand couldn't fly to Australia and on to Norfolk. Qantas has taken over services to and from Norfolk Island until further notice. See qantas.com

Anthony Dennis visited as a guest of Norfolk Island Tourism. See norfolkisland.com.au

Comments