NSW Lord Howe Island 2019 overview

NSW Lord Howe Island 2019 overview

Dropping my snorkel back on the pile, I farewelled the colourful fish I’d spent the last hour with, mounted my bike and sadly turned my back on Ned’s Beach, entering the open – yet shady – forest of palms, ferns and enormous banyan trees. These latter spread their lengthy limbs over vast distances to produce shady columns and arches that always gave the eye something to entertain as one cycled by.  On past my accommodation I glided, and further, to the lagoon on the other side of the island, about five minutes’ cycle away.

Heading towards me on their bikes were three ladies engrossed in conversation, trailed by a car in no hurry to pass them. They moved over a bit to allow me through; the car just bided its time. We all greeted each other, of course. Next came a man shadowing his four-year-old granddaughter as she wobbled hesitantly down the road. (We saw a lot of littlies learning to cycle here, and several couples who looked as if they hadn’t been on a bike for about fifty years. This was the perfect place to give it a go, either for the first time, or the first time in a long time.)

Before the dreadful deed of returning my bike eventuated, I did one last lap of the foreshore, scene of snorkelling, swimming, photoshoots and evening BBQs, and reluctantly swung a left into the drive. I’d arrive at the airport in wet swimmers, but who cares?

My enjoyment of the island is a little ironic, as long, long ago, when Bruce and I were choosing a honeymoon destination, we wanted a location that had both mountains and coastline, and chose Norfolk Island. We did not research Lord Howe – or maybe Bruce did, but decided on budget alone to go to Norfolk, it costing about half the price to get there. Accommodation was also no doubt cheaper, and we were still uni students at the time. (We even took our briefcases!! ha ha).

Norfolk Island was fine enough, although there was not enough walking for my taste, and getting around the island was difficult if you didn’t want motorised transport … and the beaches were not to die for. We mostly spent our days  exploring the base of cliffs, managing to nearly kill ourselves several times by not paying attention to incoming tides which meant we had to climb said cliffs to save our lives. (It’s amazing we lived long enough to have children.) We climbed the biggest bump on the island, and had to give in and hire a Moke to add to our exploration possibilities.  The island is too big (34.6 square kms as opposed to LHI’s for more manageable 4.55) and too hilly to get around just by muscles. It has, after all, 121 kms of roads as compared to LHI’s approximately 7. Everywhere we went on LHI, we used our own power to get there, and we love it that way.

Whereas Lord Howe impresses with its huge percentage of delightful tropical forest (75% is forested National Park, and the whole island is World Heritage listed), only 15% of Norfolk Island is National Park. Norfolk calls its highest point a mountain, Mt Bates, but this putative giant is only 319 ms high. In contrast to this, Mt Gower at 875 ms asl, Mt Lidgbird at 777ms and Ball’s Pyramid, 561 ms – not that you can climb that rock needle, but it sure is impressive to look at – all offer serious relief to the skyline. Malabar Hill, Kim’s Lookout and Mt Eliza (not in nesting season) are very satisfying climbs, whilst Transit Hill, Intermediate Hill and other ridges will test people’s fitness for sure.

One of the best parts about the mountains on Lord Howe is the physicality of the climbs: both Gower and Lidgbird Goat House require ropes as the gradient feels like pure vertical in some parts. It is four-limbs, in-your-face type climbing, which is good fun.  Mt Sorrow and Bartle Frere in tropical far north QLD have similarly steep gradients. It’s like you’re climbing a ladder rather than a mountain, which is most enjoyable. Funnily, Walsh’s Pyramid is taller, and quite a sudden climb, but it doesn’t feel as steep in my memory.

Of course, being smaller in area, LHI has a much smaller population: 350 denizens with 400 tourist beds, as compared to 1600 with 1500 tourist places on Norfolk, and this feels very nice as a visitor. The pace on LHI is much slower: the maximum speed limit on the island is 25 kph as compared to 50 on Norfolk, which possibly accounts for the more relaxed attitude on LHI concerning cycling. Gussy (just finished first class) and I mimicked everyone else, and happily cycled two abreast, three-quarters filling the road. No one was going to knock us down. In fact, it all moves so slowly that I was telling Gussy I needed to go to hospital (I had badly cut my foot on a shell), and the car behind heard me, and gave me a lift. We just popped the bike at the side of the road and went there. It was, of course, where I left it when the doctor dropped me off about an hour later (no waiting time, of course).

I cannot tell you the actual length of walking trails available on LHI (I have read in one spot that there are 45 kms of trails, but I am not sure if that is one way, or out and back, or what), but I can tell you that I walked for several hours each day and still have one small section of trail remaining to be done (the extension of a trail I was on to Boat Harbour: about 1.5 kms in each direction). The structure of the networks means you do have to do some sections out and back, and I chose to do some things twice, such as the Lidgbird Goathouse, but I can assure you I was not bored, and can’t wait to repeat some  walks next time, in different light or weather, or just to do them twice because once is not enough. Norfolk stood in stark contrast to this: although we were lovers of walking, we did very little as there was hardly any to do. The website lists many walks: six in the Botanical Gardens and eight in the National Park, but when you look closely, you see that these walks, with two exceptions, are between 60 and 760 metres long (the two exceptions being 1.7 kms long) – not enough to warrant putting your shoes on. Golf, Museum visits and duty-free shopping seem to be the main draw cards for NI. LHI does have golf too, but I can’t imagine taking time out from the other much more fun activities to be bothered.

So, how did we spend our time on this magic island?
Day 1. Arrived at lunchtime. In the hot afternoon, I took myself up Malabar Hill, Kim’s lookout, down to North Beach, up another mountain that far end, down, back up over Dawson’s Ridge and down to Old Settlement Beach, and finally along the foreshore to ‘home’ near Ned’s Beach. This took 2 hrs 20. My guess at the horizontal distance was about 12 kms, with 518 ms climb yielding 17 km equivalents.
Day 2. I didn’t get much done today, as I offered to take the children swimming in the morning to free the others up for running. In the afternoon, all I had time for was a cycle and walk to Middle Beach, then Blinky Beach, and to explore the cliffs up above Ned’s (which I reached by climbing. There may be a road that goes there, but I found it easier just to climb).
Day 3. Lena and I set our alarms for 4.40 to climb up Malabar Hill in the dark to a point I had chosen in the light, and sit there and wait for the dawn. This was beautiful. After breakfast, Gussy and I went off on his first ever adventure without his parents. We packed food and drink, and then cycled through tropical forest and beside beaches to Blinky Beach, where we parked our bikes and set off to climb Transit Hill. (This took him 17 minutes up, 13 down; the cycling was 15 minutes in each direction). We extended the adventure by adding in a swim at Blinky, where I escorted him out past the waves. We floated in the pellucid, shining water, rising over the unbroken waves and agreeing that we could stay there forever. We were sure the others would eventually realise where we were and bring us food. After lunch, the two of us went snorkelling at Old Settlement Beach, where the highlight was swimming for at least ten minutes with a turtle. (The nadir was treading on a cutting shell and landing in hospital).
Day 4. Mt Gower. This deserves its own blog. See
2 hrs 28 minutes’ exercise up and back, spread over eight hours, plus thirty minutes cycling in each direction, and a swim (with Nicole from the Gower climb, and a turtle) on the way home. I think I heard Dean, our guide, say the horizontal distance was about 10 kms. As the first and final 2 kms are basically flat, this means the gain of 880 ms is done over a distance of 3 kms. That is almost a 30% incline. That mightn’t sound much, but, believe me, you don’t often get that in a mountain climb. It’s fun.
Day 5. Cycled to Blinky Beach in the dark for dawn photography. After breakfast, climbed with the children to the Mt Lidgbird Goathouse, the route of which has a similar incline to Gower after the first saddle. This, too, deserves its own blog. See
The children (3 and 7) took roughly 1 hour up (to 420 ms asl) and a tiny bit more down, being of cautious bent. Young muscles find steep downhill to be very challenging.

Day 6. I re-climbed the Mt Lidgbird Goathouse track with Yelena who hadn’t had a chance to see it yet. We took a longer route, over Intermediate Hill in the outward direction, and returning via Rocky Run, Mutton Bird Point and around near Blinky Beach to our bikes at the start. This took us 3 hrs 20. This route had 710 ms climb, with 10 kms horizontal distance, yielding 17 km equivalents.
We had a BBQ at night with friends made from the Gower climb, Laure and Vincent.
Day 7. Departure. We only had time for swimming and snorkelling. I had morning coffee with other friends made on the Gower climb, Tim and Katrina.

The hours not accounted for were spent eating, reading or playing endless games of Five Hundred and Oh Sugar (= Oh Hell) with Gussy, who has a great passion for cards at present. We thought our holiday was pretty perfect. Obviously, there was also time for dawn and sunset photography, for beach BBQs every night apart from two at restaurants, and for twilight swims and snorkels in the lagoon, where a feature seems to have been swimming with reef sharks (harmless). I can’t wait for “Lord Howe Take Two”.

NSW Lord Howe Island Mt Gower

NSW Lord Howe Island Mt Gower

I really didn’t want to do the Mt Gower walk. Having to hire a guide to climb a mere 850 ms had no appeal, and spinning it out over eight long hours was similarly unattractive. I had the vision of a gang of snails waiting for permission to take each step. However, I did want to go to the top, so I found myself being grilled by the lady in charge as to my possible fitness for this venture, and then being taught how to climb and hike. I had trouble keeping calm. I told her a few of the things I’d climbed but she bowled on regardless. I later found out I was not the only one who received this treatment.

I cycled to the start in the relatively cool morning air, enjoying the breeze created by the bike, and, as always, delighting in the whole experience of cycling on the beautiful island. Who should be there waiting by the start gate but Nicole, a lovely person I’d met on day 1 out on a mountain slope. Hoorah. The bus containing the rest of the group arrived soon enough, and helmets in hand, off we set to begin our ‘epic’ before the day got too hot.

The first two kms are just a flat coastal walk, and I met four others of the group in this stretch, and was starting to really enjoy myself. It seemed to be a great bunch. First bit of fun for the day was a tiny climb (80 metres) to what is called Low Road – a photogenic stretch begging you to take photographs – and then a bit of an uphill slope to Erskine Creek where we’d stop and have a drink and snack before continuing. The day was heating up. I liked Dean’s way of operating, which was to set a pleasant pace for I’m not sure how long, and then to stop and wait for the rear enders to catch up. I don’t mind this method at all: it’s being forced to walk slowly that rankles. With Dean’s method, you can look at the forest and chat while you wait, so the time goes by pleasantly enough. It also meant we didn’t overheat or loose moisture with sweat. I do have a tendency to rush up mountains, and this discipline on a hot day was not a bad thing at all. His information was interesting, and presented in a manner that raised other issues to do with conservation and the island.

The ropes were not necessary on a dry day like today, but I can sure imagine they would be more than welcome in wet weather when everything would be slippery. I also noted at least one member of the party who had legs that had turned to jelly or wood or both on the way down, and the rope probably saved him from a nasty accident. Meanwhile, the rope sections were jolly good fun, for steep it was. I was reminded of Mt Bartle Frere and also Mt Sorrow, both in tropical far north QLD, where the gradient is somewhat similar. I love four-limbed ascents; they’re exhilarating. Maybe I have cat in my genes.

One aspect of this climb that I knew I was going to love was Moss Forest – a misty, moisty forest (under normal conditions) – at the top, where there are two species of palm tree that grow there and only there in the whole wide world. How exciting. This forest was magnificent, even in the current drought with some brown and curled leaves, and there was plenty of time for me to photograph while we waited. I was rather miffed, as I did have loads of time, and even though it was a sunny day out there in the real world below us, in the forest I was having to push my ISO up to 1200 and shoot with a fairly wide aperture in order to get enough light into the camera. There was easily enough time to have set up a tripod for better photos, but the lady who “taught me how to bushwalk” told me there would be absolutely no time for tripod photography, and, perhaps stupidly, I had been scared out of bringing it along. At least I hadn’t been talked out of my full frame camera, although midday glare hardly shows what it can do to advantage. I would love to see this forest in winter, with real mist hanging around, and to see the mosses and ferns less stressed out and shining. Even in a thirsty forest, it was a wonderful place to be. It was for the forest rather than the views that I was there, and I didn’t even bother with a photo from the top. Midday record shots aren’t my thing.

I did, however, enjoy imbibing the views there and elsewhere with my new companions at the top, and at our waiting spots on the way down. Even at Erskine Creek, where the noise of cicadas hit rock-concert volume, it seemed eerily still and quiet in a different way. It was refreshing.

On the way home, Nicole and I stopped our bikes at Blinky Beach and completed a perfect day with a swim. There was even a turtle in the water. At dinner that night, two other couples from the climb ate where we did. For the rest of the week, we found ourselves waving to our new friends at this and that location, or as we cycled by, or they did. On the final night, Yelena’s husband, Jonny, had been fishing and caught a King Fish that was almost 6-foot big, as well as a huge Trevally and I think the third fish was Snapper. We had way too much fish (even though he’d given heaps to the island supplies). At a nearby BBQ we spotted Laure and Vincent from the climb: “Hey, come and help us eat fish”. We had such a fun BBQ together. Next morning, Tim and Katrina from the hike were having coffee and muffin at the same time as I was, so we shared a table and had a final chat. Nicole was on the same plane out to Sydney. It was a lovely small island, and climbing Gower together brought us into contact with other like-minded people. I’m so glad I did it.

NSW Lord Howe Island Mt Lidgbird Goathouse

NSW Lord Howe Island Mt Lidgbird Goathouse Cave (420 ms asl)

At three and a quarter and seven, the children were a bit too young to take up Mt Gower, which we’d done the day before, so a climb to the Mt Lidgbird Goathouse Cave – only half the climb – was seen as an excellent consolation prize. The children always enjoy a good bushwalk, so off we set. While we climbed, Gussy discussed with me his birthday wish for when he turns eight (he’s not yet seven and a half), which is to have a family climb up a mountain in Tasmania. We aired a few suitable possibilities. There can still be snow in August.

I had sent the others on ahead, planning to catch them some time after the first saddle, allowing me to move at a faster pace for a while, which I enjoy. Once we’d reunited there, Gussy chose to go ahead with me, and he is getting delightfully fit so we had a great time together. Just before the roped section we waited for Abby and her patient parents to catch us and have a snack and drink together, and then it was full steam to the top. Abby did all the roped climbs by herself, and walked a very good portion of the whole. Many steps were shoulder high for that little poppet. Her little face was a picture of effort and concentration – and determination.

Up the top, we all adored the views and the masses of birds that circled us and popped in for a brief visit while we ate. You feel dramatically and suitably high.

I was interested to watch Gussy descending. I do remember the days when descending turned my legs to jelly – back last century, haha, before I became a mountain runner. You can be very fit for going up, but not have the musculature for a strong descent, and that was the case with our little seven year old. It had also been the case with a teenage boy on Gower the day before. Strength of that kind and cardio-vascular fitness are two separate items. Gussy did well to be cautious and use the ropes to help him, and to take a bit longer down than up. The route is very challenging yet not dangerous if you are sensible, thus making for a perfect adventure for those at an appropriate level of readiness. Gussy’s last mountain had been Hartz Mountain in Tasmania (1254 ms asl) so we knew he was well-able to do this one.

NSW Seascape, Sydney May 2016

I was off shooting surf last weekend – and a good weekend it was to be away from the mountains, with the lashing and falling of trees and the beating of heavy rain with thunder and lightning. The storm was exhilarating, but I prefer that level of exhilaration to be experienced with a decent patch of glass between me and the action.
I am back into the mountains next weekend. Being reluctant to leave you without anything for the week, I am posting a  seascape I hope encapsulates the wondrous power of nature.