In a Loop
Our flights to return to the mainland have been cancelled again and it’s starting to feel like Groundhog Day: We get up at 6.30 am and race our bikes to Ned’s Beach, for one last look at the sunrise over the ocean, feed the fish the last of our bread, before returning our bikes to Wilson’s bike hire, getting picked up and taken to the airport.
Wild weather is keeping us from leaving and there’s no sign of when we’re going to be able to leave. There could be worse places to be stranded. World-heritage-listed, Lord Howe Island is an idyllic, sub-tropical paradise in the South Pacific Ocean, population, 350. If you don’t think you’ll enjoy bike-riding, hiking, snorkelling, kayaking, then this place may not be for you, particularly in winter, where idling on the beach in the sun is not such a good option.
Melbournians are proud of their four-seasons-in-one-day weather, but in July on LHI they have four seasons in one hour. The saying- “If you don’t like the weather in Melbourne, just wait five minutes” really applies here. This amplifies the degree of difficulty when making decisions about going out on your bike, so just bring your bathers, raincoat, warm top, light top, sandals/thongs, pants that role up, towel, water and other supplies and you should be right for most situations.
It has really felt like a Famous Five adventure on this island, peddling madly up and down hills, jungle hikes, staggering views of craggy coves, endless cups of tea (ok, coffee), gossiping about the locals. I hadn’t been on a bike for about 17 years, so I was a bit wobbly at first. The only time I fell off was when I was almost stationary, so no great harm done. Bikes are cheap to hire and unless you are really sure they are not the thing for you, are the best means of transport on the Island. There are bike racks conveniently placed almost everywhere you go- even at the airport and because crime is rare, you can just park and leave your bike and helmet and pick it up later. You can ride your bike to some of the hiking trails or if feeling a bit puffed, leave it at the bottom of a hill and collect it when you come down.
My snorkelling CV is very short, but it was easy to pick up. The reef at Ned’s Beach is in shallow water and you can hire a wetsuit and snorkel from Ned’s Shed- it’s based on an honesty system, write the details in a book and drop your money in the slot. You can also hire wetsuits and snorkels from a few other places, if you want ones in better condition. In the warmer months, wetsuits aren’t needed, in winter it’s a bit chilly. Luckily I threw in my bathers at the last minute, despite being advised that it would be too cold for swimming. The fish that you see at close quarters are spectacular- Bluefish, Angel fish, Butterfly fish, Kingfish, and Parrot fish are just some of the fish you will see when snorkelling. We also went out in a glass-bottomed boat to reefs a bit further out and I snorkelled with my first shark! The Galapagos reef sharks are apparently quite common in the LHI reefs and the ones I saw were only about a metre long, but scary nonetheless- especially the one that was about two metres away when we were handfeeding fish at Ned’s Beach- it skittered through the water at speed, chomped up a few silver drummers and fortunately seemed satisfied with that. Aside from the odd shark, unlike the mainland, there are no dangerous insects, animals or plants on the Island.
Planning our futures
By day seven of our five day adventure, my packing had become increasingly slap-dash. My clean clothes for the return trip had now been worn three times and helmet-hair had become the norm. The last morning, I didn’t bother with one last bike ride to Ned’s Beach, just shoved everything in my case, rode the bike down to the bike hire and waited for the minibus to collect us. We mapped out the day’s activities in the event that the plane didn’t take off- a morning hike up Mount Malabar, for what we heard too late, were the best views of the Island, morning tea at Humpty Mick’s (our daily ritual), followed by an afternoon pampering session at Arjilla, in their yurt under the banyan tree.
Alas, it was not to be, and after a slight delay, our plane arrived, to whoops and cheers from those anxious to get to the mainland. Although plane cancellations are not common, it is worth getting travel insurance. It is also worth bearing in mind that it may not be a good idea to schedule your island adventure the day before an important event and I felt for the poor people who lost two days of their holiday, stuck at Sydney airport, so don’t make it a short trip. It’s also worth booking any connecting flights with Qantas, as, if your flight is cancelled, they will automatically rebook your connecting flight. We spent anxious times wondering if we were going to be able to get back from Sydney, as our connecting flights were with Jetstar. In the end, Qantas came to the rescue and rebooked us with them at no extra cost- thank you Qantas!
Do we really have to leave?
I think everyone falls in love with LHI and we had already started planning our new careers, in case we never left! I was going to start a micro-herbs business, to augment my art practice, others were going to open a library/book exchange, a micro-university…. The thing we will miss most is the sense of community. Everyone on the Island has several jobs- the waitress who served our meals at the Bowling Club, also ran guests home in the minivan between courses, the fellow at the airport checking the luggage, ran out onto the airstrip to guide the plane in and another person who dropped us home after dinner at Humpty Mick’s was at the airport unloading cargo. With no mobile phone access or locked doors, it was like stepping back in time. There are landlines and public phones but most people rely on the grapevine- we were having morning tea at a local café when the waiter came over to deliver a message about connecting flights. I guess it’s easy to romanticise living on an island. You get the idea of how remote this place is when you realise that the locals refer to LHI as the mainland- to distinguish it from the smaller outlying islands. You would have to learn to get by without a lot of things we take for granted on the mainland, but I think there are many more things you gain. There is very much a feeling of manyana about the things you can’t change . On the Island nothing is very far away…and the traffic is a dream. And I haven’t even mentioned the fresh fish and the sourdough bread and… but it’s better if you discover the rest for yourselves.