We flew from Sydney to Lord Howe Island on an early morning flight. As it was good weather, the pilot did a scenic loop, providing a great view of this magnificent island. We gazed out at Mt Gower and Mt Lidgbird dominating the southern half of the island, Ball’s Pyramid rising imposingly from the ocean and the glistening turquoise of the lagoon. We couldn’t wait to land and start exploring!
On disembarking at the small airport, there was a cluster of accommodation providers waiting to meet their guests. We met Peter who owned Waimarie Apartments with his wife, Sharon. While our room was being made up, Peter took us on a tour of the island. The first island surprise was that seat belts are not required as speed limit is only 25km (due to narrow roads, rare flightless birds and lots of cyclists!). We drove south as far as the road went and then on the ‘main road’ back into town, with stops at Ned’s Beach and then at Joy’s shop for supplies. Everywhere we went, the views were stunning! Joy’s shop was ‘stunning’ too – a step back in time and interesting to see what food options were available given the remote location.
By this time our apartment was ready, it was decorated with lots of frangipani flowers and lovely LHI canvasses. Situated about half way along the airstrip, it was further out of town than most places, but it had a great view of the mountains to the south. Apparently there are only two places with a view, as most of the accommodation is hidden in the palms around town, so we were lucky to be able to enjoy the vistas.
We hired bikes, had an alfresco lunch and then set off for Ned’s Beach. At this lovely bay you can hire snorkeling equipment using an honesty box system and buy food to feed the fish. We decided to snorkel first, in case the fish feeding created such a commotion that we would feel unsafe swimming! It was a bit chilly but we saw lots of soft corals, a few parrot fish, anemone fish guarding their homes, pipe fish and a very chilled out turtle. There were no signs of the resident Galapagos sharks that we had hoped to encounter.
After warming up a bit we fed the fish – taking care to follow the instructions such as not standing too deep or putting your fingers under the water as the fish bite… A friend had explained how when she was feeding the fish here, standing in deeper water than described, one of the fish bit her knee causing her to drop all the food in the water, sparking a huge feeding frenzy. It was great fun to feed the various types of fish that congregated (some with big teeth!) including one pretty parrot fish.
Cycling back, feeling the wind on my salty face, I was reminded of childhood summers spent at Rottnest. It was so nice to ride around without any worries about cars (or at least any fast cars) and with only small cycling hills (by Rotto standards) to negotiate! Maybe it’s something about islands that makes it easier to relax?
Mark went for a training run, so I did a short run/jog up nearby Transit Hill. I checked out the beautiful and deserted Blinky Beach, slugged up the steep Transit Hill and enjoyed the views at the top. It was pretty good for a trail run, with a loop back through town to make it home to Waimarie.
After exercising, we enjoyed ‘happy hour’ with the sparkling wine provided in the apartment and toasted a great sunset. We followed this with a nice dinner at Anchorage Restaurant, taking advantage of the lift there by Sharon, and a lift back by the restaurant. As there are no street lights, it’s too dark to ride at night so it wasn’t just us being lazy. All in all, a lovely first day on LHI.
After breakfast, we cycled into ‘town’ to organise our day, the weather forecast indicating we should make the most of the good weather. After booking a lagoon snorkeling trip for later that morning, we headed to the bakery for some provisions. They had giant (still warm) muffins – I was already looking forward to eating mine later!
We rode a short distance to the start of the Malabar Hill walk. First there was a steep climb up a grassy slope, looking out over a small cattle farm. Then we followed the ridge line through the low coastal vegetation. Even though it was early morning, it was pretty warm and we were quite sweaty by the time we made it to the cliff top lookout. We were rewarded for the effort with great views – north out to the Admiralty Islands and south to Mt Gower, Mt Ligbird and Ball’s Pyramid. The water below was fantastically clear, so much so that I mentioned to Mark that it would be easy to spot any turtles below. About two minutes later I spotted a turtle!
The cliff was also home to red tailed tropic-birds, their long tail streamers fluttering while they performed aerial dances. We spent a while trying to take photos of them, but it was hard and just when one was in focus, it was often a juvenile with a less impressive tail feather!
After snacking on the excellent muffins, we headed back to the dive shop for our snorkeling tour. We visited four different sites in the lagoon – Erscot’s Hole, North Erscot, Horseshoe Reef and Comet’s Hole. The boat was also used for glass bottom boat tours, which I was skeptical about being any good. Despite my negative thoughts, as soon as we anchored at the first dive site, we could see Galapagos sharks under the boat! They weren’t big or scary, Mark kept referring to them as ‘puppy dogs’.
We were first to jump into the water and immediately there were some great fish like bird wrasse, a seething school of catfish, lots of butterfly fish, hump headed wrasse and more sharks. Mark did some duck diving to check out the holes in the reef and saw a very large painted crayfish. The fish were very plentiful and the coral was great, more colourful than at Ned’s Beach.
Next we did a shallow drift snorkel, but it meant that you couldn’t kick much for fear of hitting the reef and unfortunately Mark got pretty cold. He was too cold for the third spot (and some other people also sat on the boat), I saw another shark and some nice butterfly fish.
The last location, Comet’s Hole, was not as close to the breaking reef as the other spots, and acted as a fish nusery. The highlights were a very large stingray and a moray eel. The snorkeling on the whole was pretty good, visibility was great but it was just a little cold (even with a wetsuit).
We warmed up with a hot drink in the sun and admired the white terns in the pine trees around the lagoon. We had to wait around for a briefing on our Mt Gower trek. The older lady (some would say biddy…), gave a very detailed account of the route and what to expect. It didn’t sound too challenging to us, but taking a guided group was going to be a necessary evil as it is not permitted to climb without a guide.
By the time we got home from snorkeling (and our trek lecture), there wasn’t too much time before it was going to get dark. Mark set off again for a lap around the island, and I jumped on my bike to check out Middle Beach and the Clear Place. It was nice to walk through the Kentia palms and giant figs but on island with lots of stunning locations, I found Middle Beach a little bit underwhelming. It was a nice beach, but surpassed by some of the other locations on the island.
I power cycled home in time for happy hour at Blinky Beach. It wasn’t deserted this time, there were a few surfers catching waves. We enjoyed another great sunset and then Mark cooked up a storm back at our apartment. We had bough some local fresh kingfish at the shop and barbequed this along with sweet potato (this seemed like a very Pacific island staple to eat!), eggplant, mushrooms and broccoli. A feast.
Today we set off with our packed lunches, to explore the ‘southern walks’. We planned to head up over Intermediate Hill, onwards to Goat House and then walk out to the coast to take in Boat Harbour, Rocky Run and Mutton Bird Point Lookout for a full day outing. The wind had picked up and it was a bit overcast, definitely yesterday had been a better day for snorkeling and the cooler weather today suited hiking.
After riding across to the other side of the airstrip, all of about 5 minutes away, we set off on the path to Intermediate Hill. Being on a island with only a limited number of species of birds, I was enjoying that they were all easily identified – both by sight and from their calls. We spotted LHI silver eyes, LHI golden whistlers and emerald ground doves. It was also easy to spot the LHI currawong who followed us along the trails, keeping their beady eyes trained on us!
After walking amongst the tree roots, fallen vegetation and leaf litter we hiked over North Hummock and up to Intermediate Hill. Here there was a viewing platform above the canopy (generously provided by Dick Smith), that had 360 degree views of the island.
We admired the views and continued along Smoking Tree Ridge to our next destination – Goat House Cave. This is a cave/ledge area about halfway up Mt Lidgbird, the shorter of the two imposing mountains on the southern end of the island. For those attempting Mt Gower, it was suggested as a good option to test fitness and agility as it featured some section with ropes to aid steep sections. We climbed through the dense vegetation and then popped out at the base of the cliff line for a short section of contouring to the eastern edge of the mountain. There were some narrow ledges and a bit of exposure.
We didn’t find it too difficult, but when we arrived we met an older couple who had come up as practice and the lady had decided that it was at the limits of her comfort zone, so no Mt Gower for her. (They were the only people we saw until much later in the afternoon, the walking tracks were not crowded so it felt like the island was yours to explore).
The views from Goat House Cave, like the rest of the island were quite spectacular, even though it wasn’t as clear as previous days. We hugged the cliffs and walked around the back side of the mountain, being impressed by the sheer face on the south side and the views of Ball’s Pyramid in the distance. We had a lengthly break for morning tea, watching the birds swirling around the cliffs.
Next, we headed down to the intersection of Smoking Tree Ridge Track and Rocky Run track, taking the route out towards the coast. It was a nice shady walk through the palms before we arrived at to the rounded boulders and weathered coral of Boat Harbour. We enjoyed our packed lunch and looked back towards the towering cliffs of Mt Lidgbird, it didn’t look like there was an easy way to the top! There was also time for some rock pooling where we spotted corals, giant clams and lots of crabs.
We continued along the path through the pandanus trees, with their ‘legs’ ready to trip unsuspecting walkers, stopped in at Rocky Run and then got out the binoculars at Mutton Bird Point Lookout. This grassy knob is home to a colony of masked boobies who were great to see (but not nearly as close as Galapagos!). After a full day of hiking, we enjoyed sunset drinks at the lovely Cobby’s Corner.
Today was all about Mt Gower, and the wonderful providence petrels which nest here. We cycled to the end of the sealed section of Lagoon Road and met the hiking group. Only one other person had cycled down, everyone else was conserving their energy for the ‘big hike’… The group had a variety of ages and fitness, levels including three generations of one family (age ranges from about 10-70). With the large numbers we had two guides – Dean and his daughter Kayla who were local island residents, Dean had previously been the island ranger for a long time.
The walk started off with an easy stroll along the beach to Little Island. We then climbed a bit through the kentia palms to a volcanic area where we put on our helmets ready for the “Lower Road” around the bottom of the coastal cliffs on Mount Lidgbird. This was the section I thought might be the most challenging, being a narrow path with a steep drop-off, but it wasn’t nearly so bad as other walks I’d done without any guide ropes!
We had a morning-tea break at a stream called Erskine’s creek. Unfortunately one of the young boys slipped whilst playing around and got rather wet. From there it was a steep climb up the gully between Mt Lidgbird and Mt Gower to the saddle between the mountains, this was the first of some spectacular views. There were still some challenges to overcome, the saddle is at 400m with an additional 450m of elevation to the summit of Mt Gower (in about 1km horizontal – so steep!).
The pace slowed down as there were lots of ropes to haul ourselves up, and the varying fitness levels provided us with lots of time to admire the vistas. While the group took a rest, the first petrel came down. Providence petrels nest in the rocks and roots of the higher rainforest, and when they hear a loud noise will drop down out of the sky to investigate and make sure their burrow is safe. They literally drop, there was nothing graceful about the way they crashed through the branches and undergrowth, landing meters from our feet. They often landed next to another petrel which provoked a bit of squawking before everyone settled down. This added another element to the climb, trying not to accidentally step on a petrel as we picked our way through the rocks and tree roots!
After the steep climb, the last section of the walk was a short stroll through the summit plateau cloud forest. This was one of my favourite parts of the hike, the air was humid and the vegetation lush, with an ancient feeling. There was lots of moss, delicate white orchids and different species of palm growing here (not originally named – little mountain palm and big mountain palm).
There was a tiny clearing that we huddled in for lunch, and one of the best views ever with the air full of petrels. They were so graceful in the air, only a few crashed landed while we were eating! There were also a couple of wood hens pecking around for crumbs.
We could have admired to views for hours, but we had to keep to the schedule to make sure we returned before darkness. The steep sections took almost as long (maybe longer) on the way down, so again there were lots of opportunities to admire this amazing place. In some ways going as a group provided us much longer to reflect on the wonders of nature than if we’ve blasted up and down on our own. On that note, we talked with Kayla about the fastest known times up Mt Gower by some of the locals, some very impressive trail running/rope scrambling indeed.
It was pretty late by the time we had descended, so went to the closest beach for happy hour – the end of the airstrip. It had been a great day and being amongst the petrels was like being in a nature documentary!
Making the most of our last day on the island, we got up early for a quick run. I set off along Lagoon Road and then on the trail to Little Island, retracing our steps from the day before. There were lots of wood hens and other birds enjoying the cool morning.
We packed our bags and left them in the ‘departure lounge’ at our accomodation, before heading into town. We couldn’t go past the bakery to pick up another huge muffin as a provision for our last walk. The final section of the island to explore was the north-western portion which can either be reached via the Max Nicholls memorial track or via boat into North Beach. It is also possible to link up the walk from Malabar cliffs to create a longer walk instead of splitting it into two separate walk like we did.
The first section of the walk was along Old Settlement Beach. It then crossed a paddock and climbed up over Dawsons Ridge, with lots of stairs! After the effort of cresting the ridge (and not really any views due to the rain forest), it was down into North Beach. The picnic area here had turned into a small campground for what we assumed was some kind of scientific research trip.
From the North Beach we took the boardwalk track to rocky cove called Old Gulch. The tide was a little bit high to visit Herring Pools, which are supposed to offer excellent rock pooling. Oh well, next time!
We headed back to North Beach and took the fork to Mount Eliza. Although this would be out last Lord Howe Island look-out, if was arguable one of the best! If is off limits when the sooty terns are nesting, from September to March.
There were lots of older people clambering up Mount Eliza, they had been ferried across, which seemed to be the preferred way to access this part of the island. They asked us if there was a morning tea service up here, we kept our delicious muffins a secret! The views were spectacular, there were lots of tropicbirds swirling amongst the cliffs below and we spied the new gulch that is slowly forming.
The views were still great as we walked down (actually about halfway down had the best views!), and instead of going back over the hills via the Max Nicholls memorial track, we made the most of the low tide and navigated around the bay. We rock pooled as went and enjoyed spotting some large fish in the shallows, a few birds hunting and some very strange jelly-like corals. There was a bit of rock hopping, but it was still quicker than steep climb up and over the ridge.
Back in the settlement, there was time for a quick stop in at the museum to see the famous turtle fossils (and some other interesting exhibits). It was a little bit sad to have our final lunch on this lovely island, gazing out over the lagoon towards the various peaks we had trekked in the last couple of days.
We had a fantastic trip, and our recommendation if you like walking, would be to extend for another day or two. This would then have allowed us to complete all the walks and take a boat trip out to marvel at Balls Pyramid. Plus there would have been a bit more time for relaxing, instead of trying to fit lots of activities into each day!