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. 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. 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.