Lord Howe Island is just two hours by air from Sydney or Brisbane. Other Pacific islands and the Great Barrier Reef spring to mind when it comes to beauty, but after Kelly Landry spent time on Lord Howe, she reckons the little gem gives them all a run for their money.
Lord Howe's volcanic origin gives it an out-of-this-world image from the air. Its twin peaks, Mount Gower and Mount Lidgbird, tower over a lagoon and 6km of postcard-perfect beaches and it's blessed with a temperate climate described as perpetual spring.
It has the world's most southerly coral reef and its well-deserved World Heritage listing is thanks to more than 100 types of coral and 500 fish varieties, some exclusive to Lord Howe.
There are no high-rise buildings or power lines marring the natural beauty, no mobile phone reception, pushbike is the main mode of transport and for vehicles with motors, the limit is 25km/h. No wonder locals say they live in "the last paradise"!
The island is all about enjoying nature and the outdoors and Kelly set out with Chad Wilson, a guide with Marine Adventures, on a turtle tour in a glass-bottomed boat. You'll see fish, rays, corals and the very large green, loggerheads and hawks bill turtles.
They tend to just laze about and can stay underwater for about two hours without coming up for air. Chad recognises many of the regulars by sight, as they're missing fins or have other distinguishing marks. He's even named one "Bob" because he just bobs about the north passage.
Snorkelling with the turtles isn't an option. They are protected from human interaction but watching them in the clear water through glass and seeing their heads popping up is most rewarding.
While swimming with the turtles is off-limits you are encouraged to hop in the water and enjoy the rest of the marine environment and you will never be bothered by stingers. Snorkel or SCUBA in world-class sites two of the island's best are Coral Gardens and Le Merthe.
Just 400 visitors are permitted to stay on Lord Howe at any one time and there are fewer than 20 places to stay.
Arajilla Retreat is one of those places. It's at the northern end of the island, near Old Settlement Beach, nestled under a canopy of kentia palms and banyan trees living up to its name which means "mystical place to rest".
Rooms come in a range of shapes and sizes. Kentia rooms have one bedroom, separate living area and private deck. Two-bedroom Banyan suites have loft rooms and private deck. Arajilla suites are the most spacious with separate living room and large deck.
Almost everything you need is included in your stay, including all meals, sunset drinks and hors d'oeuvres. Guests mingle in the Balinese-themed lounge before dinner which usually includes seafood caught that very day. There are mountain bikes, snorkelling and light fishing gear for guests' use, beach towels, robes, CD players, television and a DV library.
For the ultimate in being spoiled, they've just launched the island's biggest day spa, housed in a timber Mongolian yurt. Kelly went for the gold facial and loved it. Luxurious Ayurvedic treatments include facials and massage and Shirodhara and body treatments are available at the first day spa on Lord Howe.
Lord Howe Island, 700km north-east of Sydney.
Lord Howe Island Marine Adventures two-hour tours are $40 for adults and $20 for children. They run every day between September and June and provide snorkel equipment and wetsuits. Times change with the tides.
Arajilla Retreat starts at $520 per person a night. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and pre-dinner drinks are included, as are bicycles, snorkelling gear and airport transfers. Spa treatments start at $60 for 30 minutes.
For further information
Lord Howe Island 2898
Ph/Fax: (02) 6563 2243
Ph: 1800 063 928 or (02) 6583 2622