PLONKED in the South Pacific Ocean, some 1000km from anywhere, it would be easy to assume there’s little to do on Norfolk Island. Don’t. While this Australian territory is relatively remote, there’s so much to experience you’ll wish you’d stayed longer. Here’s my top 10 tips for a holiday here.
1. Learn the history
To understand Norfolk Island, you should first wrap your head around its history. And it’s beautifully complicated. To assist with this journey, head straight to the Kingston area where, among the preserved ruins of prisons, stately homes and other historic buildings, you’ll find four magnificent museums containing scores of relics which tell the story of the Pitcairn Islanders, the convicts, their jailors, and the settlers.
2. Meet a Norfolk Islander
By the time you’ve left Norfolk Island, you’ll be pretty convinced you’ve met every one of its 1600 permanent residents as they pop up everywhere, often working several jobs. To glean a sense of how the locals live, join Rhonda Griffiths on her new tour “The Contemporary Islander” which showcases her 130-year-old home built during the Melanesian Mission and some traditional island food and customs as well.
3. Explore Colleen McCullough’s house
You don’t even need to have read The Thorn Birds, of any of her other 26 books, to appreciate a visit to famed Australian author Colleen McCullough’s house. Baunti Escapes will take you to this beautiful haven where you can wander through the eclectic art collection which this writer, who died in 2015, loved so much.
4. Eat Locally
There’s some great cafes and restaurants on Norfolk Island. For breakfast on the verandah, served with a smile, head to the Olive. Delicious dining can be had at Hilli Restaurant and Dino’s, both beautiful buildings with some fine fare. To truly taste the island, out at Anson Bay, Hilli Goat Farm Tour allows you to meet the island’s only goats, and even milk them, before you indulge in a feast of goat’s cheese and Norfolk Pine smoked ham, among an array of treats.
5. Visit the island’s only winery
In what is one of Australia’s most remote wineries, you’ll find the friendly faces of Two Chimneys Wines owners Rod and Noelene McAlpine who planted their first grapes in 2003 and found that chambourcin was perfect for the Norfolk climate. These days they produce four different types of wine on the island, and several others on the mainland, and bottle 1500 a year. Noelene’s antipasto platters are legendary on the island.
6. Indulge in a massage
Seeking a cliff top massage? Then head to Bedrock along the deliciously-named Bullocks Hut Road where gifted remedial massage therapist Heidi will pummel your body to perfection while the ocean smashes the cliffs below. You’ll adore the views here from the specially-designed platforms after which you can indulge in tea, coffee and light lunches.
7. Take a ghost tour
Local historian Liz McCoy reckons Norfolk Island is one of the most haunted destinations in Australia. And with such a brutal history, it’s easy to see why. Join Liz on her Twilight Tour of the Kingston area and you may just experience a spook or two. Liz also restores the magnificent headstones in the cemetery and has a tawdry tale or two about her own ghostly encounters in the area.
8. Discover nature
You don’t have to look far to experience nature on Norfolk Island, it finds you. From its glorious National Parks to its incredible surrounding ocean, there’s plenty to satisfy the wildlife warrior within. Walk the National Parks, snorkel her reef, go sea kayaking, visit Cockpit Waterfall, and witness the sea birds on nearby Phillip Island. Norfolk Island even plants 100 pine trees for every resident who lives to a century. To date, there have been three, all women.
9. See a show
If you think there’s no entertainment on Norfolk Island, think again. One of the most delightful ways to spend a Wednesday afternoon is at the Ferny Lane Theatre, an old-style theatre where you can sit on a comfy couch, drink a glass of wine, and watch the Trial of the Fifteen play which gives an entertaining and informative overview of Norfolk’s history. On weekends, you can catch a movie at this same theatre. For something more contemporary, the Jolly Roger hosts live music five nights a week with jolly good meals to match.
10. Hire a moke
Despite measuring just 8km x 5km, Norfolk Island boasts 160km of roads. And one of the best ways to explore these is with the roof down. You can hire a Moke from MOKEabout and drive the island’s rolling green hills to your heart’s content. One of the pure delights of driving on Norfolk Island is that it’s customary to wave to passing cars and pedestrians, which is bound to leave a smile on your face. Oh, and cows get right of way.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Norfolk Island Tourism – http://www.norfolkisland.com.au and Air New Zealand – http://www.airnewzealand.com; and stayed at Broad Leaf Villas – http://www.broadleafvillas.com
A TROPICAL low is lurking over Norfolk Island like a dark shroud, bringing squally, unpredictable weather in its wake. And I am sitting in what has become known as “Tent City”, rain licking the canvas walls, speaking with peaceful protestors about the storm which has been brewing between island residents and the Australian government.
I knew there had been some changes to this remote Australian territory but like many mainlanders, remained naïve to what, precisely, they were, and what they meant to the locals. In a nutshell, since 1979 until July 1, last year, Norfolk Island has been a self-administering territory with its own Legislative Assembly, a Chief Minister, its own health care, own GST, and Council of Elders who represent each of the eight original Pitcairn families who came to the island.
But last year, despite 68 per cent of Norfolk Islanders voting in a referendum to have their own say over their island, the Australian government appointed a regional council system, said they must now pay tax, and in return, would received mainland services such as Medicare. Which would be fine if these services were being received but locals claim they are not. Nor, do they believe they should be called Australians, given their rich history, but Norfolk Islanders.
Fly out of Australia and you’ll discover just what a confusing mess the situation is. Firstly, you fly out of an international airport, with your passport and fill out your immigration departure card. About 10 minutes into the flight, you will then be handed an immigration arrival card, asking you questions such as “how long did you spend overseas” and “in which country did you spend the most time”. Um, Australia? As for where you intend to stay, I was unclear whether they meant my Brisbane address or my Norfolk Island address, and I was told by Border Force officials that I’m not the only one confused by the changes. (For the record, Norfolk Island had its own arrivals card which worked beautifully, I am told). Now, try being a local. Drive from the airport and one of the first things you’ll encounter is a field of green hands, known as Hands Up For Democracy, which is intended as a “silent protest in the paddock”.
Down at the Kingston, on the site of the former Legislative Assembly, you’ll find Tent City. Norfolk Island Tent City resident Mary Christian-Bailey, 73, has lived on the island for 50 years and has been part of a peaceful protest since April 29 last year.
“The message is we want the right to determine our own future. It doesn’t mean we want independence but we want a choice,” she says.
“Australia has to fulfill its obligations to list us as a self-governing territory with the United Nations. Australia has tried to rewrite history and say we are just a part of the Australian story.
“We’ve got a lot of friends all over the world, including the British Parliament, working with us. I don’t think Malcolm Turnbull even thinks we exist. When the legislation when through the Australian Parliament there were about five people in the Chamber. Most of them wouldn’t know why they’ve done it or how it’s affected us in any way.”
While some back on the mainland claim Norfolk Island residents are angry about having to become taxpayers, locals say they have no issue with tax, but a lack of services. They claim the Norfolk Island Hospital has been transformed from a hospital to a GP clinic, and there is no surgeon on the island. Pregnant women are forced to leave the island at 32 weeks to live on the mainland and in the case of an emergency, injured or sick locals are medivacked off the island in an operation which can take 6 hours to mobilise. Residents claim there have been 40 medivacs since July 1, at an approximate cost of $30,000 a time. Then there’s the issue of postal delivery and rubbish collection, as well as repairs on their potholed roads.
“Most people can’t see that there have been any benefits under the Australian government. It has happened on the basis of ignorance and lies. They could have worked with us but they’ve just ignored local knowledge and expertise,” Mary says.
“Trying to transplant the island into a completely different system has been very stressful for the older people. We have no problem with the Australian people, we have a lot in common with them. But we are pretty disappointed with their government.
“They have a real colonial, imperialistic attitude. We will sit here as long as it takes. We are a strong proud people with a strong proud heritage.”
And indeed they are. Norfolk Island is a place of immense beauty born of its remote and rugged locale. You’ll feel the history in the bones of the remaining stone buildings, which once housed some of the most brutal captors and some hardcore convicts. It’s a place of a scallywags, sailors, whalers, the lost and found and those still searching for something. This isolated island, 1000km from anywhere, will snatch a piece of your spirit and make you think hard. But go there, you must. Particularly if you are Australian. Despite being a tiny 8km x 5km, there’s plenty of places in which to disappear on this destination. Space to be alone. To contemplate this former convict settlement which possesses such natural charm. Walk in nature, dine on local food, feast on history, snorkel her reef and meet her characters.
Islander and local guide Rhonda Griffiths believes Norfolk Island possesses a masculine energy.
“You will notice how few roads are named after women. It’s always been about the bounty mutineers. We’ve never had a female Chief Minister and women are paid a lot less than men,” she says.
“I feel the strength of the island more than the nurturing.”
But Tania Anderson, of Norfolk Island Tourism, believes it’s more feminine.
“People are gentle here, but inside there is a toughness to some extent. It is a country town and small community but we are isolated,” she says.
“Our heritage is from Tahitian women and English sailors. There is something about a lot of the local women which is that island beauty.
“People say ‘what do you do on Norfolk?’. We never stop. On Norfolk you just have to get on with things.”
And get on with things they will.
The Global Goddess travelled as a guest of Norfolk Island Tourism – http://www.norfolkisland.com.au and stayed at Broad Leaf Villas – http://www.broadleafvillas.com. For more photos of her stay visit Instagram @aglobalgoddess
THE Pacific Ocean is swooshing into the shore on this sizzling summer afternoon and if I listen carefully, I can almost hear the waves whispering the word Noosa on the outward tide. In local Aboriginal dialect Noosa means “shade” or “shadows” and it’s a fitting descriptor as tourists flock to the pandanus trees lining Noosa Main Beach. From my privileged perch on my balcony of Netanya Noosa Resort, I watch the shadows grow longer and at sunset, Noosa blushes pink, just like the young bride having her photo taken on the beach.
I eat a Eumundi steak I’ve sourced from Netanya’s Providore on Hastings, the only deli around these parts, and which I’ve cooked for myself on my balcony barbecue. A family in wet togs and sporting sun-kissed, salty hair, sits just outside the resort on the grassy knoll and eats pizza, in no rush on this languid Sunday to head back to balmy Brisbane. As for me, for once I have all the time in the world, and in the early evening, I make like the Italians and replicate that lovely tradition of La Passeggiata…the evening promenade through the main street of town. In this case, it’s Hastings Street where I stop for gelati, ordering a single, sugary scoop of chocolate ice cream. I stroll towards the Esplanade, swirling the creamy texture around my tongue, and pausing to dig my feet into the now cool sand.
I’m on my first travel writing assignment for 2017 and I’m relieved it’s in my own backyard of Queensland. After a brief break, I need to find my feet again. Get back on that bike, which is apt as my first task of the year is to undertake a mountain bike tour through Tewantin National Park. When I was asked whether I’d like to do a new cycling tour for several stories I’m writing about Noosa’s natural side, I jumped at the chance, imagining mounting a mint green retro bike and gliding along some beachfront Esplanade. In my fantasy I would be wearing a colourful summer frock and scarf, and the wind would be blowing my hair in precisely the right direction. I laughed when I realised it was a mountain bike tour but it’s something I’m glad I do, in equal parts cursing some aspects of my job in the summer heat and pleased I’m out of my comfort zone, yet again. The next day, I do a five-hour kayak tour through the Noosa Everglades.
In recent years I’ve been out of my comfort zone so many times for work that I feel I almost need to start training for my job. I’m a travel writer, not a stunt woman, I want to scream some days, secretly pleased I’m being physically pushed, particularly as I enter middle age.
Yes, I’m not the same girl I used to be and neither is Noosa. You see, Noosa used to be oh, so posh. But these days, it’s for everyone. On my second evening on my beach balcony, a young couple sits on the grass and drinks red wine from a cask. No one bats an eyelid. Sure, you can still spot the southerners, the blokes conspicuous in their boat shoes and crisp chinos and the women in their white linen with just a dash too much makeup for a Queensland summer.
In a couple of days they’ll figure Noosa out once they’ve sat long enough on that famed Aromas sidewalk.
Across from the Surf Club, Betty’s Burgers is now an empire, but it’s not the Betty of old with her $1 burgers she used to sell from a shop window in the middle of Hastings Street. According to local legend, these owners also had a relative called Betty and these days a burger will set you back $10. As for the original Betty, she now grows and sells herbs to local restaurateurs.
I stop for lunch at the Surf Club on my last day and am joined by a curious little girl from the next table. She pulls up a perch, watches me eat and we talk about travel. She’s six and she’s flown from Sydney to be in Noosa. We find common ground talking about planes. She wants to build a sandcastle but has left her spade and bucket back home in Sydney. I tell her she can use her hands. There’s lemonade back at her hotel in the fridge, she says.
And then, out of the blue she exclaims: “I love Noosa.”
“Me too,” I smile. Me too.
The Global Goddess was a guest of Netanya Noosa http://www.netanyanoosa.com, which has been a Noosa favourite since 1995 and has recently undergone a facelift and opened Providore on Hastings. There’s 47 beachfront luxury apartments in this complex which is 100 per cent smoke free with smoking not permitted anywhere on the property including balconies, roof tops, apartments, corridors and the pool.
The Global Goddess also travelled with the assistance of Tourism Noosa http://www.visitnoosa.com.au