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Lord Howe Island — Wonder down under

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Lord Howe Island is a roughly crescent-shaped eroded remnant of a 6.9 million year old shield volcano. The tiny island is 10km long and 1.5km wide. It protects a lagoon and is fringed by the world's most southerly coral reef.

Lord Howe Island was discovered in 1788 by HMS Supply, commanded by Lieutenant Ball, who was on his way from Botany Bay to Norfolk Island with convicts to start a penal settlement there. On his return journey he sent a party ashore on the island. It was uninhabited and it seems had not been known to any of the Polynesian peoples of the South Pacific.

It's hard to believe this magical sleepy island paradise is just a short flight from Australia's busiest city. Its population is just 280 and only 400 visitors are permitted on the island at any one time. To enforce the limit, accommodation must be booked in advance. The island has just one short road, and while there are a few vehicles, bicycle, boat and on foot are really the only ways to get around.

You realise what a paradise it is as you fly in and see its majestic peaks — Mt Lidgbird (770 metres) and Mt Gower (875 metres) dominate the southern end. The basalt mountains are remnants of lava flows that once filled a large volcanic caldera. Ball's Pyramid is a rocky outlet 16 kilometres south of Lord Howe. It is also the remnant of an eroded volcano and is the largest of several volcanic stacks forming islets. Surrounding waters are popular diving and fishing spots.

Mount Gower is the island's highest point and is often shrouded in mist. Views from its summit are breathtaking, taking in Mount Lidgbird directly in front, the lagoon below and, across the ocean, to Ball's Pyramid, 23km away. The strenuous eight-hour trek to the top and back must be taken with a guide and you are likely to encounter the rare woodhen that lives on nearby Little Island and nesting Providence petrels.

Mount Lidgbird is the smaller of the two volcanic peaks and the trek to its summit is less arduous than Mt Gower's. Half way up is Goat House Cave, once used as shelter for 19th century Kentia palm gatherers. These days you are more likely to see the nest of masked white boobies and scores of red-tailed tropicbirds performing aerial acrobatics.

From Mt Eliza's 145-metre peak are sensational views, right across the lagoon to Gower and Lidgbird. It is far easier to climb and there are plenty of vantage points along the way. Just below are two of the beautiful lagoon beaches, North Beach and Old Settlement Beach.

Near Clear Place is the Valley of the Shadows. It has massive banyan trees and 40-metre high forests of Kentia palms casting the brooding shadows. The banyan tree's aerial roots grow down from the branches and its huge buttress trunks and limbs can cover almost a hectare.

The sheltered lagoon and six kilometres of crystal-clear beaches are calling to be enjoyed. You can swim year-round — there are no stingers — with more than 100 varieties of coral and 500 species of fish. There's always a glass-bottom boat exploring the brilliant coral or circling Blackburn Island at the outer reef. Lagoon Beach is a golden sand arc stretching about three kilometres from the jetty to the rolling greens of the island's golf club.

A lovely afternoon activity is to join local identity and sixth-generation islander Clive Wilson as he feeds masses and masses of fish at Ned's Beach. If you fancy, you can wade amongst the trevally, king fish, blue salmon and many other varieties. It's best to snorkel before and after the feeding frenzy!

MV Phasmid is a beamy Phil Curran designed 41' multipurpose vessel. A new dimension in boating Phasmid has exceptional sea handling capabilities that ensure optimum passenger comfort. She is ideally suited for sport and game fishing, sight seeing, scuba and snorkel diving excursions around Lord Howe Island and Ball's Pyramid.

MV Phasmid is the way to go for an aquatic adventure. The vessel takes 12 passengers and two crew and reaches a comfortable speed of 20 knots. A tour takes in Ball's Pyramid, snorkelling, sport and game fishing and deep ocean drop offs. Special request charters will be accommodated.

If you have no luck catching your own, Fish 'n' Fillet provides locals and visitors with excellent seafood. From the decks of Phasmid you will enjoy seafood from the world's cleanest waters.

Lord Howe Island Marine Adventures is owned and operated by sixth-generation Lord Howe Islanders descended from Nathan Chase Thompson, who first settled on the island in 1853, and of Thomas Bryant Wilson who arrived in 1878.

They offer diving and snorkelling tours, fishing trips, coral viewing, island and sunset cruises, North Bay adventures and bird-watching excursions. You can hire wetsuits, masks, snorkels, fins and kayaks and the owners are all PADI dive masters.

Lord Howe Island Environmental Tours have glass-bottom boat excursions within the island's sheltered lagoon. From the comfort of the boat you can see beautifully coloured reef fish and delicate coral formations. Complimentary snorkelling gear is on hand if you wish to hop in the water at Erscott's Hole, and the boat has a sun canopy for comfort.

Earl's Anchorage is a stunning development which opened in December 2004. It is in a central yet private and tranquil location with easy access to beaches on both sides of the island and many scenic walks.

Self-contained bungalows are in cleared grassy fields, surrounded by Kentia palms with a meandering boardwalk linking the site, but maintaining privacy. There is a real village feel and each bungalow is generously sized and subtly different. Roof shapes, window placement and proportions have been created to provide interesting spaces.

The living, dining and kitchen area's northern aspect maximises winter warmth and has direct access to the outside deck. Ceiling shapes range from sweeping vaults to pitched. Most furniture has been handcrafted by renowned Tasmanian wooden boatbuilder Ned Trewartha.

If you venture to the centre of town on your bicycle for a coffee, to rent a surfboard or just to poke around, remember the speed limit is 25km/h and you must wear a helmet. There is one policeman on the island and he is adamant about those laws being upheld!

Location

600kms east of the Australian coast.

Cost

Ned's Beach snorkelling sets can be rented on an honesty-box system for $2 an hour or $30 a week. Wetsuit hire is $6 for one hour.

Phasmid charters are $235 an hour with a minimum of four hours and a maximum of five passengers. They depart at 8am, but this may be varied on application.

Marine Adventures two-hour snorkel tour is $25 per person.

Environmental tours are $22 for adults and $13.50 for children. Wetsuit hire is $5.50.

Earl's Anchorage family bungalows start at $390 a night.


Please note that the prices listed are valid at the time of filming.

For further information


Greenback Fishing & Scenic Charters
Lord Howe Island, The Lagoon
Phone: 02 6563 2208
Web: www.fishlordhowe.com.au/mv.htm
Email: phasmid@clearmail.com.au

Lord Howe Island Marine Adventures
Lagoon Beach
Lord Howe Island 2898
Ph: (02) 6563 2253
Fax: (02) 6563 2095
Website: www.marineadventures.com.au
E-mail: leandalei@bigpond.com

Lord Howe Island Environmental Tours
Lagoon Beach
Lord Howe Island 2898
Ph/Fax: (02) 6563 2214
Website: www.lordhoweisland.info/
E-mail: ockaros@bigpond.com

Earls Anchorage
Anderson Road
Lord Howe Island 2898
Ph: (02) 6563 2029
Fax: (02) 6563 2030
Website: www.earlsanchorage.com
E-mail: earlsanchorage@bigpond.com

Lord Howe info
Website: www.lordhoweisland.info/
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