Just 8km long and 5km wide, tiny, isolated NORFOLK ISLAND is an External Territory of Australia, located 1450km east of Brisbane and geographically closer to New Zealand. The island has had an eventful history, being linked with early convict settlements and later with the descendants of Fletcher Christian and other “mutiny-on-the-Bounty” rebels. It’s a unique place, forested with grand indigenous pine trees, and with a mild subtropical climate ranging between 12°C and 19°C in the winter and from 19°C to 28°C in the summer; Norfolk is also said to have some of the world’s cleanest air after Antarctica.
Today, it attracts honeymooners and retirees, and is also an ornithologist’s paradise, with nine endemic land-bird species, including the endangered Norfolk Island green parrot, with its distinctive chuckling call. Norfolk Island’s tax-haven status makes it a refuge for millionaires and it definitely does not cater to budget travellers.
Norfolk is one of a handful of islands created by a violent volcanic eruption three million years ago. Captain Cook “discovered” the then-uninhabited islands in 1774, noting that the tall Norfolk pines would make fine ships’ masts, but it’s now known that migrating Polynesian people lived here as far back as the tenth century – their main settlement at Emily Bay has been excavated and stone tools found. The first European settlement was founded in 1788, only six weeks after Sydney, but was short-lived – the island lacked a navigable harbour and the pine timber turned out to be too weak for purpose. The site was abandoned in 1814, its buildings destroyed to discourage settlement by other powers.
Around ten years later, Norfolk began a thirty-year stint as a prison and up to two thousand convicts were held here, overseen by sadistic commandants. The island was again abandoned in 1855, but this time the buildings remained and were taken over a year later by the 194-strong population of Pitcairn Island who left their overcrowded conditions over 6000km east across the Pacific to establish a new life here. The new settlers had only eight family surnames among them – five of which (Christian, Quintal, Adams, McCoy and Young) were the names of the original mutineers of the Bounty. These names – especially Christian – are still common on the island, and today about one in three can claim descent from the mutineers. Bounty Day, the day the Pitcairners arrived, is celebrated in Kingston on June 8.