World Heritage-listed LORD HOWE ISLAND is a kind of Australian Galapagos, and a favourite destination for ecotourists. Just 11km long and 2.8km across at its widest point, the crescent-shaped island’s only industry other than tourism is its plantations of kentia palms, and two-thirds of the island is designated as Permanent Park Reserve. As you fly in, you’ll get a stunning view of the whole of the volcanic island: the towering summits of rainforest-clad Mount Gower (875m) and Mount Lidgbird (777m) at the southern end; the narrow centre with its idyllic lagoon and a coral reef extending about 6km along the west coast; and a group of tiny islets off the lower northern end of the island providing sanctuary for the prolific birdlife. Much of the surrounding waters and islands fall within Lord Howe’s protective marine park.
The emphasis here is on tranquillity: there are only 350 islanders; no rowdy nightclubs spoiling the peace; no mobile-phone coverage; and most of the 400 visitors allowed at any one time are couples and families. Even disregarding the island’s ecological attractions, it’s a fascinating place to stay: most visitors are intrigued by the small details of island life, such as how children are schooled and how food is brought from the mainland, and are generally eager to sample life in this egalitarian paradise where no one locks their car (or even takes the key out of the ignition), bike or house. Though it’s expensive to get to the island, once here you’ll find that cruises, activities and bike rental are all relatively affordable. The island’s climate is subtropical, with temperatures rising from a mild 19 °C in winter to 26 °C in the summer, and an annual rainfall of 1650mm. It’s cheaper to visit in the winter, though some places are closed.
Lord Howe Island was discovered in 1788 by Lieutenant Henry Lidgbird Ball (who named the island after the British admiral Richard Howe), commander of the First Fleet ship Supply, during a journey from Sydney to found a penal colony on Norfolk Island. The island wasn’t inhabited for another 55 years, however; the first settlers came in 1833, and others followed in the 1840s. In 1853 two white men arrived with three women from the Gilbert Islands in the central Pacific, and it is from this small group that many of Lord Howe’s present population are descended. In the 1840s and 1850s the island served as a stopover for whaling ships from the US and Britain, with as many as fifty ships a year passing through. In 1882, a government expedition from the mainland recommended that in order to preserve the island, no one other than the present “happy, industrious” leaseholders and their families be allowed to make permanent settlement.
With the decline of whaling, economic salvation came in the form of the kentia palm, which was in demand as a house plant, making its seeds a lucrative export. Tourism later become the mainstay – Lord Howe was a popular cruise-ship stopover before World War II, and after the war it began to be visited by holidaymakers from Sydney, who came by seaplane.
Today, the kentia industry is in resurgence, with profits going towards the preservation of the island’s unique ecosystem. Seeds are no longer exported but instead are cultivated in the Kentia Palm Nursery for regeneration around the island.Read More
Lord Howe ecology
Lord Howe ecology
Seven million years ago, a volcanic eruption on the sea floor created Lord Howe Island and its 27 surrounding islets and outcrops – the island’s boomerang shape is a mere remnant (around two percent) of its original form, mostly eroded by the sea. While much of the flora on the island is similar to that of Australia, New Zealand, New Caledonia and Norfolk Island, the island’s relative isolation has led to the evolution of many new species – of the 241 native plants found here, 113 are endemic, including the important indigenous kentia palm.
Similarly, until the arrival of settlers, fifteen species of flightless land birds (nine of which are now extinct) lived on the island, undisturbed by predators and coexisting with migrating sea birds, skinks, geckos, spiders, snails and the now-extinct giant horned turtle. However, in the nineteenth century Lord Howe became a port of call for ships en route to Norfolk Island, whose hungry crews eradicated the island’s stocks of white gallinule and white-throated pigeon. The small, plump and flightless woodhen managed to survive, protected on Mount Gower, and an intensive captive breeding programme in the early 1980s (aided by eradication of feral goats, pigs and cats) saved the species. There are now about 250 woodhens on the island, and you’ll often spot them pecking around your lodging.
About one million sea birds – fourteen species – nest on Lord Howe annually: it is one of the few known breeding grounds of the providence petrel; has the world’s largest colony of red-tailed tropic birds; and is the most southerly breeding location of the sooty tern, the noddy tern and the masked booby.
The cold waters of the Tasman Sea, which surround Lord Howe, host the world’s southernmost coral reef, a tropical oddity that is sustained by the warm summer current sweeping in from the Great Barrier Reef. There are about sixty varieties of brilliantly coloured and fantastically shaped coral, and the meeting of warm and cold currents means that a huge variety of both tropical and temperate fish can be spotted in the crystal-clear waters. Some of the most colourful species include the yellow moon wrasse, parrotfish and the yellow-and-black banner fish. Unique to Lord Howe is the doubleheader, with its bizarre, bulbous forehead and fat lips. Beyond the lagoon, the water becomes very deep, with particularly good diving in the seas around the Admiralty Islets, which have sheer underwater precipices and chasms.