With its spectacular mountain scenery, coral reefs, migratory birdlife and native species found nowhere else on earth, Lord Howe Island – just a two-hour flight from Sydney – could well be the ultimate holiday destination for outdoor enthusiasts. It’s the type of island where you’ll get more wear out of your hiking boots than your sequin Camilla, and you’re more likely to spot a rare seabird than an Instainfluencer. It’s a laid-back island that feels undamaged by the modern world – where a push bike is the main mode of transport, and tourist numbers are limited to 400 people at any one time. If you love walking, snorkelling and exploring nature, you’ll probably love Lord Howe Island as much as I do!
Hike Malabar Ridge
Lord Howe Island is just a tiny dot in the Tasman Sea – 11km long and 2km wide – but it is crisscrossed with fantastic walking trails that make it a paradise for hikers. Trails range from easy foreshore strolls to cliff-top scrambles, but wherever you go, you are assured of breath-taking scenery. It’s difficult to pick a favourite, but for an incredible view of the island, the Malabar Ridge trail is hard to beat. The 1.5km track starts just before you hit Ned’s Beach. It then climbs up the hill, along the wooded ridge and finishes on the cliff edge. You’ll want to take a moment to watch the seabirds wheeling around their nests, before continuing along the ridge to Kim’s Point, which was named after Kim Morris who died in a plane crash in 1967. From here you can follow the trail down the steep Memorial Track to Old Settlement Beach.
Visit Old Gulch and the Herring Pools
Old Gulch is a ridiculously pretty inlet on the very northern end of the island. It is just a 300m amble along the boardwalk from North Bay. The catch – the trail to North Bay is ridiculously steep! Starting at Old Settlement Beach, take the path up (up, up, up) Memorial Track, then down 600 steps through the palms to North Bay. You’ll find toilets, a picnic shelter, and a wide beach – the perfect spot to stop for lunch. From here, it’s an easy walk to Old Gulch. The little cove itself is tucked in behind Mount Eliza and popular for snorkelling if the weather is calm. At low tide, follow the rocks around to the tidal pools, known as the Herring Pools, on the eastern side of the inlet. When the sun is out the colours of the coral and fish are dazzling. Allow a minimum of three hours to enjoy the beach, and save some energy for those 600 steps that will still be there on the way home!
Snorkel at Ned’s Beach
Ned’s Beach is a long sandy stretch of beach on the north side of the island. When the southerly wind picks up (as it often does), it is definitely the place to be. Make use of the BBQ facilities, chill on the grassy slope, or rent a mask and snorkel and check out the marine life. With coral just metres from the shore, the fish are in plentiful supply. Grab a bag of fish food and you will instantly make friends with the local silver drummers, kingfish and wrasse. Sorry, no fishing. We’re in a marine park here.
Visit Balls Pyramid
Balls Pyramid is a 551m sea stack that rises out of the ocean, some 23 km off Lord Howe Island. It is, in fact, the world’s tallest sea stack, but shrouded in mist, it looks like a mythical monolith, or the lair of some evil genius from a James Bond movie. On a clear day you can spot the basalt spearhead from Lord Howe, but to really appreciate this dramatic sight, take a one-hour boat trip out to the pyramid. You can’t climb the sea stack, but you can snorkel in its shadow. The deep water is home to an incredible array of marine life, including vibrant violet sweep and Galapagos sharks. Contact Reef N Beyond.
Cycle the length of the island
One of the best things about visiting Lord Howe is being able to ride everywhere. Car use is strictly limited, so your first port of call will be the bike hire shop on Lagoon Road. The main road runs from Old Settlement Beach in the north, past the airport and finishes just beyond Capella Lodge. Riding from one end to the other takes around 30 minutes if you’re in a hurry. But what’s the hurry when you’re on Lord Howe! If you are anything like me, you’ll be off the bike every hundred metres to take another photo of the stunning scenery. Once you get to the southern end of the road, you can leave your bike by the fence, and walk through the Kentia palm forests to the beach at Little Island. Just stunning!
Get twitching at Mutton Bird Point
Lord Howe Island is rated one of Australia’s best places for bird watching. It is home, or at least a home-away-from-home, for 130 species of birds. Red-tailed tropicbirds, shearwaters, terns, petrels and many other seabirds migrate here in their hundreds of thousands to breed on the island – taking over the cliffs, the beaches and practically every tree. For a really special experience, head to Mutton Bird Point. Here, enormous masked boobies nest on the grassy slopes. Don’t forget to pack your binoculars!
Get to know the history
In 1778, the commander of the First Fleet supply ship Henry Lidgbird Ball came upon an uninhabited island while sailing between Sydney Cove and the penal colony of Norfolk Island. Lord Howe Island, as he named it, was later settled by three couples from New Zealand who provisioned supply vessels as well as whaling ships. Islanders supplemented their income by exporting Kentia Palm seeds to the European market. Tourism began at the turn of the 20th century and grew after flying boats began operating from Rose Bay in Sydney. Information signs at Old Settlement Cove offer a glimpse into the past, but for the full story, head to the museum on Lagoon Road. Here you’ll find scientific specimens, books, coffee, snacks and WIFI!
Climb Mt Gower
The basalt peak of Mt Gower rises 875m from sea level – a brooding form at the southern end of the island, and one of the few remains of the shield volcano that erupted here 6.4 million years ago. The 8hr hike to the top is said to be one of the best day walks in the world! The commanding views of the island and beyond, plus unique biodiversity, put it firmly at the top of the hardcore hikers’ bucket list. But it’s a tough and unrelenting trail. Sections of ropes, sheer drops, narrow pathways, patches of mist and cloud, mean it is not for the faint-hearted, and can only be done with a guide. It’s virtually a right-of-passage on a visit to Lord Howe Island, and everyone will ask if you are planning to do it! If you’ve got what it takes, book well in advance. Walks are cancelled if it is wet or windy.
Watch the sunset over the Lagoon
After a hard day on the trails, what could be more perfect than watching the sunset with a cold drink in hand and Mt Gower in the distance. The wide lagoon on the western side of the island is perfectly positioned for beachfront sundowners – a real treat for east coast Australians! Make sure you pack a warm top – even in summer. It gets chilly in the evenings.
Stay at Pinetrees Lodge
With a laid-back vibe that is perfectly in keeping with the island itself, food that you’d be lucky to get in a flash restaurant, and staff who’ll pack a picnic or drop off ingredients for a BBQ at your favourite beach, Pinetrees Lodge is my pick of the places to stay on Lord Howe. Just make sure you book your accommodation well ahead!
Julie Fison is a Brisbane author and travel lover. Her debut novel for adults, One Punch, is a compelling contemporary drama that tells the story of two mothers facing impossible decisions after one life-changing night. Julie has also written books for children and young adults, including the Hazard River series, stories in the Choose Your Own Ever After series, and a play for high schools, As the Crow Flies. When not at her desk, you can find Julie hiking a bush trail with her energetic border collie, exploring the outback, or chasing the perfect sunset. She is a committed traveller and enjoys sharing tips for midlife adventurers. www.juliefison.com