Just a two hour flight from Sydney you'll find the mind-blowing natural marvel that is Lord Howe Island. A pearl dropped into the endless Pacific Ocean, the volcanic island was formed over 6 million years ago and boasts an extraordinary array of wildlife, scenery and vegetation.
Despite the size of the island (just 11km long and less than 3km wide at its widest point) there is sooo much to do! Here I've highlighted 10 things (in no particular order!) that I'd recommend, having spent a week on the island in April 2021.
There is so much more that we'd have loved to have done and I'm sure there are many more hidden gems to discover too. The weather and ocean conditions are also a huge factor on the island - so be prepared to compromise!
1 | Mt. Gower Trek
Top of many lists for the island, Mt. Gower is the jewel in the resplendent Lord Howe Island crown. Towering over the island from the south alongside the slightly smaller (but less accessible) Mt. Lidgbird, Mt. Gower's summit stands at 875m above sea-level.
Mt. Gower presents a tough climb and requires a local expert to guide you to the top. The scenery, the experience and the views all make it so very worthwhile!
Before you get to the top you'll wind your way around the foot of the two mountains before ducking into the palm forest and starting your ascent (it'll take you around 4 hours to get up). Along the way you'll be introduced to the island's native wildlife, fauna and history. We were lucky enough to have local legend Jack Schick as our guide, who made every step of the way exciting and informative.
Be prepared to shimmy up ropes and along rocky ledges along the way, some of which aren't for the faint-hearted! Don't despair though, there are plenty of opportunities to lower your heart-rate, catch your breath and even fill up your water bottles at the creek in between!
When you make it to the summit you'll find yourself circled by elegant Providence Petrels (season dependant) and have the chance to soak up sensational views back across the island & deep into the impossibly blue depths of the Pacific Ocean before heading back down.
2 | Ned's Beach
Turquoise shallows, pristine coral reefs and sensational scenery, what more could you want in a beach!?
Ned's is famed for the opportunity to feed the fish, which is done in an eco-friendly and sustainable manner from the south corner. This didn't really interest us (it'd be great for families!) but everything else did!
Ned's Beach sits on the opposite side of the island from the lagoon and is only about 2 minutes' cycle from the "town". The bay is protected from most angles and provided an absolute haven for us when the winds were pounding the lagoon for a few days of our visit.
As you can see from the panoramic shot above, the sprawling white sands of Ned's rival any in the world, as does the lucid turquoise water. The real magic of Ned's, however, is in the shallow reef that it has to offer. Just a short (5m!) swim from shore you'll come across an extraordinarily healthy coral - home to countless reef fish, hawksbill & green turtles and the occasional Galapagos shark!
Ned's quickly became our favourite spot and could entertain avid snorkellers, sun-worshippers or photographers for days on end.
3 | STARGAZING
Yet another benefit of utter isolation is zero light pollution!! If you’re lucky enough to get a clear night or two during your stay you’re in for a treat! Just shift your gaze up to the sky after your last wine of the evening and enjoy the show!
The Milky Way was beautifully aligned. These are actually my first attempts at astro photography and I’ve got some way to go!
4 | KAYAK TO NORTH BEACH (OLD SETTLEMENT BEACH, OLD GULCH & MT. ELIZA)
Another hike away from the centre of the island, heading north, you can make your way to another stunner of a beach. North Beach is the last beach within the lagoon and shelters under the northern ridge of the island.
To save our legs and mix it up a bit, we decided to rent kayaks from Pro Dive and paddle our way across the lagoon.
We stopped for a snorkel at Sylphs Hole on Old Settlement Beach before heading around the headland for the bright white shores of North Beach.
The beach feels wonderfully isolated and was well protected from the strong winds. Once we’d shored-up we wandered through to Old Gulch, which is a small but dramatic pebble beach that faces north to the vast expanse of the ocean.
We then wound our way up Mt. Eliza to enjoy the stunning views back across the island before making our way back to the beach for a BBQ. Mt. Eliza is a great spot to enjoy the resident Red-Tailed Tropic Birds, as well as the insane views over the lagoon.
The public BBQ was sadly out of action for our visit so we instead paddled out to the wreck of “The Favourite” to marvel at the coral and fish-life that now calls the ship home. You can moor close to the wreck and snorkel the final 20-odd metres with ease – the coral is just beautiful and the fish-life typically abundant.
5 | BIRD WATCHING
I love photographing all types of wildlife but had never previously got in to twitching! You can’t ignore the fascinating array of local bird-life at Lord Howe, however, so I found myself excitedly tracking the residents all week long.
Lord Howe has an astonishing selection of birds, which are starting to thrive again now that the rat population has been eradicated from the island (as of 2019).
The Providence Petrel, Red-Tailed Tropic Bird and Masked Booby (all pictured) were highlights but there are so many more! Be sure to grab the local bird book and try to tick them off!
6 | SCUBA DIVE WITH PRO DIVE
As I’ve alluded to above, despite the staggering beauty of the island itself, the real magic lies beneath the glassy blue surface.
Snorkelling is one thing, and that in itself is world class, but the diving around Lord Howe is globally renowned. As with everything on the island, you’re at the mercy of the weather gods with the diving. Some days you’ll be limited to the lagoon (if the swell doesn’t permit a trip out of the channel), others you’ll be diving under the sheer cliffs of the island and, very occasionally, you’ll be lucky enough to make it as far as Ball’s Pyramid (we weren’t so lucky).
Wherever you end up you’ll be surrounded by beauty. The visibility is typically superb, the coral as healthy as anywhere in the world and the fish-life abundant and vibrant. Galapagos Sharks, Green/Hawksbill Turtles, Nudibranchs, Eels, Lionfish and enormous lobsters will all be regulars on your dives – you might even get a few other surprises if you’re lucky!
I dived with Pro Dive and had an awesome time. Sadly my underwater housing leaked on day 1, so I have very few underwater stills – plenty of GoPro videos though!
7 | CYCLE THE ISLAND
The island is the perfect size for bicycles. Whether nipping to the local restaurants, hitting the beach or on a sight-seeing tour, jumping on a bike is normally the best shout. You’ll typically be able to grab bikes from your accommodation, we stayed at Leanda Lei and hired them for the week for $50.
Aside from the daily trips to get about the island, we spent one rainy day exploring the south of the island in a little more depth. We spent most of our week enjoying the centre and the north of the island (Mt. Gower trek aside) so setting off on our bikes allowed us to enjoy the sights towards the mountains.
The cycle to the mountains themselves would only take 30 mins (max), so is far from strenuous, but we made a day of it with a few stops.
Given the beauty of the island, every metre of the way is photo-worthy, so it might take you a while too! Our stops included: the pier to the south of Old Settlement Beach, the airport, Blinky Beach, Two Lovers Pines and the golf club.
Grab your map, hop on your bikes and hit the road!
8 | MALABAR LOOKOUT
A very special place for anyone who makes the hike but an especially special place for me and my now fiancé!
Make the short (30-40min), steep 250m climb up from Ned’s Beach and find yourself on the edge of the world, looking back towards Mt. Lidgbird, Mt. Gower and, looming in the distance, Ball’s Pyramid.
You can’t help but to keep stopping on your way up the goat track to check out the view. Down into the blues of Ned’s or off into the distance, you’ll be in awe.
The top of the track is the spot I chose to bend the knee and ask my wonderful partner, Sadie, to marry me in front of the setting sun! She said YES and Malabar Lookout will always have a special place in our hearts!
9 | ANCHORAGE RESTAURANT
Nothing about Lord Howe Island is cheap BUT it is all so worth the cost. The food on the island perfectly encapsulates this – expensive without being extortionate, we ate in style throughout.
Our favourite of all, however, was Anchorage Restaurant, which we kept finding ourselves coming back to! The menu changes on a daily basis and the chefs really know what they’re doing. Fresh, flavoursome and beautifully presented each and every time!
Unlike many restaurants on the island The Anchorage is open 7 days a week and serves delicious breakfasts, insane baked goods (watch out for their muffins), hearty lunches and very special dinners.
Given that we went in prime time for local visitors (post lock-down, pre-international borders opening), booking seemed a must everywhere but The Anchorage was typically more flexible, which was great!
10 | BALL’S PYRAMID
This isn’t the blog for a first hand experience of the world-famous Ball’s Pyramid, unfortunately. There was one dive trip to the world’s tallest sea stack whilst we were on the island but we sadly missed out.
Reports from the divers that made the trip described 50m visibility, dozens of Galapagos Sharks, pods of dolphins and even a visit from some Silky Sharks.
If there is a next time, I would absolutely love to get out to Ball’s Pyramid – I hope you make it!