Chris Friend recommends Norfolk Island, Australia
Greetings. I’m guessing that for many of you, Norfolk Island will be a new place that hasn’t been on your radar before. Let me introduce it to you. It’s a small island in the Pacific Ocean between Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia, about 1,412km directly east of the Australian mainland.
Only a one-hour and 40-minute flight from Auckland and three hours from Sydney and Brisbane, the island boasts a sub-tropical climate and a growing reputation as a destination for surfing. I try to go twice a year and the last time, the waves were amazing. With its rugged coastline pounded by heavy swells rolling up the Tasman Sea, Norfolk is probably best known as a former convict settlement. Once feared as the harshest penal settlement in the world, it was the final resting place of some of Australia’s most-hardened convicts, hence its one-time moniker, “Hell in Paradise”. After the prison’s closure, descendants of the infamous Bounty mutineers – part of my own history from my dad’s side of the family – settled on this beautiful island, contributing to its colourful history and heritage. The prison ruins are still intact and the history of the island is well preserved in a natural way. The island has a population of about 3,000.
One of the island’s residents is the novelist Colleen McCullough, whose works include The Thorn Birds and the Masters of Rome series, as well as Morgan’s Run, set, in large part, on Norfolk Island. It’s also home to hordes of resident cows, which have been granted freedom of the land to keep the grass freshly mown.
Talking of things green, the Norfolk Island pine tree is a symbol of the island and appears on its flag (yes, it has its own pennant). The tree is also a key export industry for the island. The most important local holiday is Bounty Day, celebrated on June 8 in memory of the arrival of the Pitcairn Islanders in 1856. Norfolk uses the Australian dollar and, even better, is tax free – though for shopping, you won’t find mega malls here. Islanders use their own unique language, known as “Norfuk”, a mixture of Low German, 18th-century English and Tahitian. It’s this unspoilt air that keeps visitors like me coming back year after year. The unique landscapes, the language, the lawn-mowing cattle, local hospitality and the tall tales of convict memoirs all make for an unforgettable experience.
My favourite place
Slaughter Bay Lagoon, once the site of weekly prisoner hangings during its penal past, is now a draw for surfing dudes such as myself. Norfolk is open to swell from all angles, with consistent surf rolling in over the island’s volcanic rock and coral reefs. The long peeling walls provide plenty of challenges and, best of all, there are no crowds. The island’s incredible scenery, with its craggy cliff faces and prison ruins, is another bonus for surfers.
Emily Bay, where the outer reef provides shelter from the open ocean, is a great place for the kids to swim or snorkel and admire the coral. Crime is virtually non-existent on Norfolk. At night, take in one of the historical re-enactment shows of the Mutiny on the Bounty or try a murder mystery tour. Norfolk Island National Park includes forests and two smaller islands, Nepean Island and Phillip Island, where you can see the wildlife and flora. Visit the ruins of Kingston Vale prison and wander through the old cells for an atmospheric glimpse of the past. Horse sports are popular, too, as is golf, diving and canoeing.
Don’t expect sophisticated shopping or a swinging nightlife. Burnt Pine, the main shopping centre, consists of a post office, surf shop, supermarket and cafes. That said, the quaintness is a nice antidote to fast-paced modern life.
The island has developed quite an enclave of sculptors, painters, jewellery makers, textile weavers and photographers, all offering their vision of the surroundings, made from local materials. Go for a landscape painting for the office or home or a hand-woven tablecloth for special occasions. A vase decorated with ocean themes, a strand of beads cut from sea shells or a printed set of photographic postcards are just a few of the many Norfolk souvenirs you can find here.
Where to stay
Getting around Norfolk is pretty straightforward and most travellers hire cars – there are only about 20 roads on Norfolk, so you won’t get lost. A good range of accommodation is available for all budgets and styles, from luxury cottages and lodges to apartments and motels. Air New Zealand flies from both Australia and New Zealand.