World Heritage-listed LORD HOWE ISLAND is a kind of Australian Galapagos, and a favourite destination for ecotourists attracted by its rugged beauty. It is 700km northeast of Sydney, on the same latitude as Port Macquarie, and is technically a part of New South Wales, despite its distance from the mainland. Its nearest neighbour is Norfolk Island, 900km further northeast. Just 11km long and 2.8km across at its widest point, two-thirds of the crescent-shaped 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 and most of the four hundred visitors allowed at any one time are couples and families. 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.
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 became the mainstay – Lord Howe was a popular cruise-ship stopover before World War II, and after the war it began to be visited by holiday-makers from Sydney, who came by seaplane.