Lord Howe Island – the Emerald Isle, June 2013



Lord Howe Island.. never heard of it? Picture a hidden Emerald Isle – a green jewel dropped in the Pacific Ocean in the shadow of the Aussie coastline.  From the moment our prop plane drops below the cloudline and the silhouette of Lord Howe appears on the horizon the island is a scene stealer. Dramatic basalt cliffs tower over lush rainforests and white sand beaches are ringed by turquoise waters.  We circle in over a large lagoon where adventurous visitors once landed on flying boats – double decker flying machines that were recommissioned from wartime service in a fascinating chapter of Australian travel history.

The volcanic island rises almost 900m at its highest point directly out of the sea.  Sheer black basalt cliffs provide refuge and nesting for migrating mutton birds and masked boobies, and are the only known home to the mysterious Providence petrel.  The world heritage listed preserve is home to only a handful of welcoming permanent residents and awaits discovery a mere 2 hours plane flight from Sydney. I was there for a long weekend getaway with a friend, however I’ve only just scratched the surface exploring the wonders of this Emerald Isle.

The island is crisscrossed by hiking trails leading you through palm and rainforests. Coastal fig and pandanus trees are interwoven with carpets of ferns and the striking, striped trunks of Kentia palm forests. (In a quirk of history the Kentia palm became the favoured indoor palm of Europeans and came to adorn the lobby of every fashionable Hotel or residence in the 19th and 20th centuries.) The brooding black cliffs wear an emerald cloak of tangled thick forest, and the Jurassic Park comparison is completed by the urgent calls and crazy circling of thousands of Providence petrels in the afternoon skies. The hike to Long Island is a short coastal stroll to the nesting grounds of these unique sea birds and allows you to participate in one of the strangest and most comic wildlife experiences. The petrels are attracted down by noise and shouting to protect their nesting burrows in the forest. Their elegant forms carved out in the sky contrast sharply with the dramatic crash as they plunge through the foliage and drop with a thud on the earth in front of you.  Like a dog that has just caught a car it’s a little perplexing knowing what to do next as the large glossy brown creature waddles around at your feet. The petrel ‘Pied Piper’ experience is unique to Lord Howe Island as reckless whooping and hollering rewards you with dozens of seabirds dropping out of the sky or buzzing your head with amazingly close flybys.

The turquoise blue waters surrounding Lord Howe are a pristine marine playground and the most southerly coral reef in the world. Migrating turtles, whales and sharks visit the clear waters that are kept surprisingly warm by tropical ocean currents that travel down the east coast of Australia. Large shoals of fish hang around the shallow waters of Ned’s beach waiting for a handful of fish feed pellets from the vending machine.  One dollar will buy you a fish feeding frenzy and a few dollars in the honesty box allows you to ‘borrow’ snorkelling equipment left for public use at the shack above the beach.

It’s been the shortest of escapes to a mysterious jewel of a place still largely undiscovered by the world.


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