Happy hardships and easy snorkelling
If paradise exists, Lord Howe Island features high on the list of potential candidates. It has a year-round mild climate (20 – 25 °C), crystal clear waters and green forests and fields.
The only problem is its size. With less than 15 km2 (6 sq. miles), it could only accommodate a fraction of the people hoping to make it to heaven.
Also as an earthly destination LHI is clearly not for everyone: it’s a remote, hence expensive place. But, God, it is paradise.
Lord Howe, a crescent shaped island, is a Unesco World Heritage site, the largest part of which is marine reserve. Apart from the main island, it consists of a number of small islets and the more remote Balls Pyramid. On clear days you can see its striking triangular shape rising up from the sea.
We visited LHI as an alternative to the Great Barrier Reef. In November, when we were travelling in Australia, the Great Barrier Reef is infested with stingers that make diving and snorkeling complicated. Moreover, going out to the reef to see the fish and the corals requires a boat ride of 1 to 2 hours, meaning you are confined to the boat for most of the day.
LHI was the solution to both problems. No stingers, and coral and fish right up to the beach. As an additional award the number of tourists that is allowed to the island is restricted.
Skirting the abyss
If you think diving is the most exciting thing to do at LHI, you might be wrong. A trip to LHI is incomplete without climbing Mount Gower. Though not even 900 meter high, it is so steep in places you have to pull yourself up using ropes. The slippery trails skirt the abyss, while the winds can be gusty and strong. No wonder you can only clamber up with a guide. One person in our group, a middle-aged lady with apparently mediocre condition had to give up, and wait for us for four hours on a tree trunk in the drizzling rain to pick her up on our return. But if you can overcome the vertigo inducing heights, the lashing rain and other challenges, the hike is very rewarding. We walked through dense and intense green temperate rain forest, provoking thoughts of Lord of the Rings. Locally legendary woodhens picked the damp soil that released earthy smells of rotting leaves. Despite the clouds the views were wide and far and deep, except at the top where you are completely surrounded by forest.
Our lodgings were a pleasant contrast to the hardships we happily suffered. Arajilla Retreat has a limited number of rather spacious rooms with all mod cons. The restaurant is probably one of the best places to eat on the island, so there was no need to search for another dining room. Rebecca, the Irish hotel manager, inspired all staff to excellent service. The hotel provides bicycles that we eagerly used, both for tours around the island or just to go the beach. Hiking is a great way to understand the topography of the island. We went up to Malabar Hill and Kims Lookout from where you have ample opportunity to admire the crescent shape of the island. The owners of the hotel are avid catamaran sailors and spend part of their time sailing up and down to the Australian main land getting provisions. Otherwise there is the bi-weekly Island Trader, a boat from Port Macquerie, for all the necessary accouterments.
And by the way, we also went snorkeling. Several times. We swam with the curious Galapagos sharks, saw stingrays, a turtle and countless colorful fish. Not to mention the coral reefs in all shades of the rainbow. Just steps from the beach. If the urban delights of Sydney wouldn’t have been calling us, we could have stayed in paradise forever.
Qantas operates regular flights between Sydney and Lord Howe Island, and between Port Macquarie and Lord Howe Island.
Arajilla Retreat: www.arajilla.com.au