Historic Norfolk Island is not short on charm, local character or natural beauty.
The vast South Pacific hides many idyllic isles, yet Norfolk Island offers so much more than a tropical paradise. This subtropical speck protrudes from the New Caledonian ridge stretching north-west from New Zealand. Its lushness and dramatic coastline is revealed as we approach from the north and cross over Ball Bay, the ancient volcanic dome, and skim just above farmhouses and dense gullies.
Upon landing we are immediately transported back in time. Where else in Australia could you arrive with your luggage having missed the plane, hop in your rental Moke and, half an hour later, stroll out of the local op-shop kitted out in vacation attire replete with sun visor, linen shirt and sandals?
The hinterland is similar to the valleys and ridges behind the far northern NSW coastline. And it feels as though we have arrived in Byron Bay in the late 1960s. People wave as we drive by, a schoolgirl on her horse crosses ahead of us on her way home, and local produce honesty stalls abound.
For our first dawn we headed up to Mt Pitt, stocked up with fruit and handmade treats from a roadside stall. We wandered through the rainforest past the rusting relic of the American WWII radar station at Mt Bray. The view from Mt Pitt swept across the valleys and down to the historic British penal settlement and the spectacular lagoon at Emily Bay with Nepean and Phillip Islands beyond to the south. Isolated Norfolk Island is entrenched in the most bizarre narrative, worthy of a Jock Serong or Peter FitzSimons rollicking yarn. From a visit by the enchanted Cook on his first voyage of discovery, and throughout the harshest of penal colonies to the relocation of the Pitcairners in 1856; the wild coves and sheltered bays were host to passionate pursuits and murderous intentions.
But we were enamoured of another side of Norfolk Island, a place rich in fresh produce, both on land and in the bathyal depths of the surrounding ocean. We met up with Matt and Louise of Bigg Produce, who manage six farms across the island and provide the locals with a vast range of fare. The fruit grows magnificently in this rich red soil and ideal climate.
A trip to Norfolk necessitates a tour of the penal settlement. Recidivist convicts truly paid a high price, especially during the second settlement period under harsh, draconian commanders. Yet the legacy was an outpost granted to the relocated Pitcairners to create a utopian world. Our heads swimming with pious images, we wandered down to Slaughter Bay and plunged into a dazzling world of corals and darting iridescent fish. The lagoon is a haven for outriggers, snorkellers and swimmers. Beyond the flat water, southern ocean swells surge up and rifle over the Kingston reefs. It was these powerful waves that bore the demise of the prized Sirius, a loss of huge significance to the new colony back in Sydney
The antithesis of the island’s southern bays are the dramatic basalt cliffs on the northern flank of Norfolk. With a howling southerly Cascade Bay provides a serene ocean with dolerite outcrops protruding from the depths. Ocean kayaking amongst these islets and arches would be dramatic but unfortunately for us, the guide was off-island. Instead we were determined to visit a remote ocean pool suitably named the Cord as it is accessed by ropes and ladders. As we descended, hundreds of sooty terns swooped in to protect their eggs nestled in the grasses. The spectacular pool was reached just along the cliffs from Cook’s landing place in 1769.
A spirit of camaraderie remained evident during our stay. We had enquired where we could purchase some fresh fish. With a nod, our guide wandered off. Late morning as we kicked back at our lodgings and gazed across the hills to the ocean, large kingfish fillets were delivered in exchange for a six pack. We soon had them barbecued and served with papaya salad.
After several days we were in the Norfolk groove yet felt we had so much more to explore. We descended into the dramatic Anson Bay and surfed the Hawaiian-esque beach breaks. The late afternoon stroll through 100 Acres forest is a meditative experience, yet I found the cool dawn walks through the national park a highlight.
This remote Pacific outpost of Australia will reinvigorate you and transport you to a time where people barter, wave, chat and guide; where wealth is measured in shared time and value is placed on passing on local tips.