A week on Norfolk Island should give you just enough time to realise that a week on Norfolk Island isn’t nearly long enough.
Whether or not you’re an amateur photographer/twitcher duo like us, on the prowl for amazing natural attractions, unusual birds (feathered) and scenic loos in exotic locations, chances are you won’t be able to fit it all in.
So instead of busting a gut trying to see and do absolutely everything, try a few of my 10 favourite things to do and leave yourself time for some R&R!
1 See the Island the Local way
I might not have been the youngest person on our island orientation tour – but my relative youth sure made it easy for me to a) hear what the driver was saying; b) identify and board the correct tour bus when more than one was parked at
the same location; and c) hit the lead in the race for the afternoon tea scones with Guava Jelly and cream.
The half-day tour came free with our booking, but I’d gladly have paid for what turned out to be an excellent introduction to the island’s history, points of interest, local characters and the challenges faced by a smallish group of people living on an isolated hunk of rock in the middle of nowhere.
More specifically 1770 km (1100 miles) north-east of Sydney, 1448 km (900 miles) east of Brisbane; 1126 km (700 miles) north-west of Auckland and 804 km (500 miles) south-east of Noumea.
Starting at the main settlement of Burnt Pine, we took in a superb cross-section of attractions – lookouts, convict ruins, jetties, rugged cliffs, a battleship, an old chapel, whaling station – all served up with spectacular scenery, and a teaser for things we wanted to see in more detail at our leisure.
How I got lucky!
But afternoon tea was where I REALLY got lucky. Because that’s where I found ‘Ask a Silly Question’, a booklet full of hilariously dumb questions tourists have asked local tour guide Max Hobbins.
Such as: ‘Is the Island surrounded by water?’ and ‘What colour is the native Green Parrot?’ and ‘If the Island has such a low crime rate, why do you have electric fences?’
Five minutes later I purchased it, eyes streaming with tears of laughter. And in another blinding piece of luck, the checkout operator introduced me to the author, there on another tour, and I asked him to sign my book.
I just hope none of the questions I asked him will make it into a future edition!
2 Norfolk’s TOP Spot
Getting to the top of Norfolk Island’s second-highest mountain isn’t too taxing. Just hop in the car and follow the signs to Mount Pitt – 318 metres above sea level, and with an almost 360° panorama from the lookout.
When the supply ship Sirius ran aground offshore many years ago depriving the islanders of food, the easy-to-catch petrels nesting on the Mt Pitt summit saved the colony from starvation with an estimated 170,000 killed and eaten. Unsurprisingly, despite being named ‘Providence Petrel’, the birds no longer return to their old nesting spot.
So the birds-eye view from Mt Pitt across to Phillip Island where the petrels have started to make a come-back in nesting season is likely to be the closest you’ll come to seeing one.
Getting to the island’s highest point takes a bit more effort. Follow the ups and downs of the Summit track through lush rainforest full of more endemic bird species like Pacific Robin, and past World War II memorabilia. After what I’m told is only 500 metres (although it seemed a lot more to me!) you’ll reach the Mount Bates summit, at 319 metres above sea level, the highest point on the island.
But only if you think it’s worth gaining a metre in altitude and losing a lot of the view!
3 Hit Bedrock
In an island full of extraordinary experiences, stunning scenery and fabulous food, the Bedrock Café enthusiastically serves up all three.
Perched on the edge of the Duncombe Bay cliffs with several hundred kilometres of ocean in front of you, the café setting is, for my money, one of Australia’s most spectacular dining locations.
And if you’re a keen birdo, it’s really the only place to be if you want to fit in a Great Frigate bird sighting or two between courses. Where even great food like the egg curry and coconut beef; followed by pear cake and passionfruit tart we had wasn’t distracting enough to prevent binocular and camera overuse syndrome …
4 Green Parrot: one of the World’s Rarest Birds
I SO get that birding isn’t for everyone.
But Norfolk Island’s prime position in the middle of freakin’ nowhere makes it a top birding site for sea birds not normally seen on the mainland AND birds not seen anywhere else on earth!
Even if you’re not a birder, the dense rainforest, scenic lookouts and ever-present Norfolk Island Pines are so spectacular it’s a pleasure just to hike one or more of the many trails in the Botanic Gardens and National Park, covering a third of the island.
Walk the park and you’re right in the rare Green Parrot’s habitat. In the early 1990’s only 4 breeding females remained until an intervention program increased the number to about 200-400 thus saving them from extinction AND ensuring a steady stream of twitchers* visit the island.
If you think it’d be easy to spot a bright green bird with accents of vivid red and blue in the forest, then think again. Remember – there’s only a few hundred scattered throughout a pretty big park full of green vegetation studded with the red palm berries and cherry guavas the parrots like to eat so spotting one can be challenging.
After a couple of unsuccessful searches during the week, we gave it one last go on the day we departed, just before we had to leave for the airport.
Turns out all we had to do was drive up the road from our accommodation to the Palm Circuit Track trailhead, where we spotted one nonchalantly eating guavas. Too easy!!
5 Captain Cook’s Lookout
The surf thundered and crashed, boiling around the jagged rocks of the Northern Islets far below. Sea birds soared through the haze, thick with salt spray as the surf pounded the rocky shore at the base of the towering cliffs.
Call me a lily-livered acrophobic** landlubber, but you’d have to be mad to try to come ashore right here. Wouldn’t you??
So what does that make Captain James Cook? According to his ship’s log, he’s thought to have landed somewhere along the stretch of coastline below my vantage point when he ‘discovered’ the island back in 1774.
But mad or not, the Captain Cook Lookout (as it is now known) is now a fine place to have a picnic, or just hang out and admire the view (including a FINE scenic loo!), spot the sea birds and take a hike along the Bridle Track.
6 A Hundred Acres of Wood
It’s just as well I thought the ancient Moreton Bay Fig trees lining the road and entrance to the Hundred Acre Reserve deserved more than a quick drive-through. If I hadn’t walked back for yet another tedious photo session (by standards other than mine) I wouldn’t have seen the tiny White Tern chick perched at knee height on the buttress.
I can’t guarantee you’ll get lucky at the fig trees like I did. But stop there anyway to take the track through an almost endless forest of Norfolk Island Pines to Rocky Point, where there’s a better than average chance you WILL get lucky!
With killer coastal scenery, sunsets and sea bird sightings, of course.
7 DOWN to Anson Bay Beach
If not for the track zig-zagging down the sheer cliffs to the stunningly scenic sliver of sub-tropical sand below, Anson Bay Beach would likely have been totally deserted.
While the more popular Emily Bay with its easy-access road, swimming pontoon and scenic loo gets more people AND more press, Anson Bay Beach is a picturesque paradise. Annd another fine opportunity to practice managing your photo overuse syndrome!
I already had a full blown case of it by Day 3.
Anywhere else, it’d be tempting to pack a picnic, a boogie board, swimmers and fishing gear for a big day out. But the thought of the LOOOOOOONG long climb back up the cliff road at the end of the day is an instant crash course in how to pare back those ‘necessities’ to just a swimsuit.
And a camera!
8 One Helluva History – the Museum Crawl
Unbelievably, the public amenities weren’t listed as items of interest in the 53 numbered museums, buildings, sites and artefacts in the Australian Convict Sites visitor guide to the Kingston and Arthur’s Vale area.
It must have been because of the area’s World Heritage status. Because it’d be just as unbelievable that I’d be the only one interested in potential Scenic Public loos***. Wouldn’t it?
But whether or not you include the facilities, the site represents all four very different periods of Norfolk settlement. It’s a fascinating journey starting with the Polynesians way, WAY back to 1150 CE followed by two separate periods of Convict habitation between 1788-1855. Then the present day community was formed when a group of Pitcairn Islanders, descendants of the Bounty mutineers, resettled here in 1856.
The loos are just a bonus!
9 360° of Art and History
Don’t get me wrong.
Nothing does it for me quite like travelling. BUT … every now and then, after a few days of relentless exploring and experiencing and excitement, it all gets a bit too exhausting.
But taking a day off to just do nothing doesn’t work for me either.
And that’s when I wish for a bite-sized package of cultural, natural and historic experiences to do me for the day. Kind of like a LITE version.
Luckily, Norfolk’s LITE version is an easy-access mixture of history, art and culture wrapped up in a stunning and remarkably detailed 360° painting – the Cyclorama – depicting key points in the island’s history.
Weirdly, the ‘no photos’ rule didn’t bother me a bit! I can’t recall the last time I wandered around without considering photo angles and lighting, or wishing my photographic skills were a bit more advanced!
So here’s a completely gratuitous photo of something else!
Booking a place to stay sight unseen can be risky when you haven’t even seen your destination, let alone the accommodation options. But it turns out we didn’t have to worry.
Because with Selwyn Cottage we REALLY lucked out!
With a private garden so fine we could have spent the whole week there, this standalone cottage in a quiet suburb close to the National Park and township was the perfect retreat after a hard day on the sightseeing trail.
Factor in the facilities, island hospitality and personal touches that made Selwyn Cottage a home away from home, and this family run haven will be where we stay when we return! Even if we have to plan our holiday around it 😀
And here’s an extra one for nothing! You’re welcome …
11 The one that got away – Philip Island
I really Really REALLY wanted to go to Philip Island.
The ‘Uluru of the South Pacific’, as it is described in a tourist brochure, is six kilometres south of Norfolk Island with a distinctive shape and colour visible from almost every vantage point.
Once stocked with feral animals for sport and food during penal settlement days, the degraded environment is now being rehabilitated after an eradication program. It’s a haven for rare plants, sea birds and at least five reptiles and invertebrates found nowhere else on earth. Visitors are warned about a hazardous landing and steep, rocky track complete with ropes! Who could resist?
But it’s not that easy to get there – adverse weather conditions and heavy seas during our stay meant the tour wasn’t running so we MISSED OUT!
And so the most important question of all remains unanswered. Is there, or is there not, a SUPER scenic public loo?
My TOP Ten Teaser isn’t the definitive guide to Norfolk Island. There’s a LOT more to see and do and I can’t wait to go there again! See you there??
* Twitcher = bird watcher with a penchant for rare and/or unusual birds
** Acrophobia = fear of heights
*** If you’re wondering why the obsession with loos, then check out my book HERE!