When you think of Pacific island holidays you probably think of Fiji, or maybe Vanuatu, Tahiti or New Caledonia. But Australia has its own sub-tropical island escape in Norfolk Island – which was recently named among the top ten islands in the South Pacific by Trip Advisor, and best in Australia ahead of Kangaroo Island and Lord Howe.
Discovered by Captain Cook in 1774 after first being settled by Polynesians, Norfolk Island is a small island located in the Pacific Ocean between Australia and New Zealand. It has a sub-tropical climate with temperatures rarely over 28 degrees or under 10 degrees.
From the air, it looks much like exotic Fiji but Norfolk Island is tiny, covering an area of just 8 kilometres by 5 kilometres. It is remote, though, with New Caledonia, it’s the nearest neighbouring island, being 770 kilometres away.
It is the perfect destination for a long weekend break – and many of the islanders are direct descendants of mutineers from The Bounty in 1789, when Fletcher Christian led a mutiny against the ship’s captain, Lieutenant William Bligh. Many of the mutineers later settled on Pitcairn Island and their descendants moved to Norfolk Island in the 1850s – long after it had ceased to be a brutal penal colony.
Common local names include those of mutineers Christian, Quintal and Buffett. And yes, the Buffetts are distant relations of both financier Warren Buffett and singer Jimmy Buffett, who has performed here for his kinfolk.
Many of the locals speak Norf’k, a mixture of Tahitian and old English that is one of the rarest languages in the world, and the mood is laid back. Cows have right of way on the roads and feral chickens roam everywhere.
Norfolk Island is just a 2 ½-hour flight from Sydney and Brisbane and just 1 ½ hours from Auckland. While it is officially part of Australia, Norfolk Island is fairly autonomous. It has between 1,800 and 2,800 residents, depending on the season.
There are no chain hotels, fast-food restaurants, public transport or traffic lights – and only one roundabout.
When you drop off your hire car you simply leave the keys in the ignition or under the drivers’ seat carpet and everything is taken care of for you.
It doesn’t get much more laid back than that.
For more details on holidays on Norfolk Island visit www.norfolkisland.com.au. A passport is needed to enter Norfolk Island.
Air New Zealand flies direct to Norfolk Island twice a week from both Sydney and Brisbane. To book visit www.airnewzealand.com.au.
Words: Winsor Dobbin
Travel with Winsor
Don’t expect to check in to a Marriott or a Hilton after you touch down at Norfolk Island’s delightfully retro airport.
On an island in the middle of nowhere, the big guys in the hospitality industry don’t come here to play. All the accommodation on the island is run by local families – so you can expect a warm and personalised greeting.
Options range from the chic Tin Sheds to basic motels and cottages, while the five self-contained villas at Broad Leaf Villas are extremely popular.
Owned and run by a local family, the villas were the first Australian National Tourism-accredited business on the island.
There are four one-bedroom villas and one two-bedroom villa, all with fully equipped kitchens, fridges, microwaves, a local produce pack, complimentary mobile phone hire, flat-screen LCD TVs and radio, i-Pod docking stations and wireless internet access.
Wherever you stay, you’ll be close to one of Australia’s most historic courses.
The nine-hole Norfolk Island Golf Club is one of only a handful of golf courses in the world located within a World Heritage site – and is one of the oldest courses in Australia.
Historians are still trying to establish whether the waterfront course was first constructed in 1835, as many locals believe.
That would make it one of the most ancient outside of Scotland.
Positioned on the south-east side of the island, Norfolk Island Golf Club has some of the best views of any golf course in the world – including ancient pine trees, convict settlers’ graves
and old monuments. The course adjoins the gardens of Government House.
The par-72, 5,682-metre layout – there are alternate tees for each of the holes – offers links-style golf with some intimidating coastal breezes. The clubhouse and pro shop area were originally home to the Stipendiary Magistrate’s Court in convict times, built in 1843.
Norfolk Island Golf Club hosts the annual Hardy’s Pro-Am tournament each August and, “it’s a bloody good little course,” says local pro Andrew Umlauft. Green fees are $30 for a round or $70 a week with club hire for 18 holes costing $25. Motorised carts are available.
Norfolk Island is a delightful destination for gourmets, offering a range of paddock to plate experiences. Think fresh-caught fish, succulent beef and pork, and boutique products including coffee, honey and cheese.
Because it is never cold here, tropical fruits like bananas and guavas thrive. There are tiny farmers’ markets selling fresh local produce, several very good restaurants with a local focus, a winery and even a local liqueur producer.
The markets are held on Saturday mornings next to the Visitor Information Centre – just half a dozen stalls with fresh fruits, vegetables and dishes made using local Norfolk Island Blue beef. On Sundays there is an arts and crafts market, the ideal place to pick up a local memento or two.
The best restaurants include casual Dino’s at Bomboras (where the pizzas are excellent), Norfolk Island Blue, where the culinary focus is the beef grown on the owners’ farm, and the terrific Hilli Restaurant and Wine Bar, where you can eat indoors or al fresco. The Rock is a very good steak and seafood restaurant, while La Perouse serves French-accented cuisine and Bailey’s features terrific lunch specials.
Good local lunch spots include The Olive Cafe, the bustling Golden Orb (which is also a bookshop and is set in a sub-tropical garden) and Sublime Cafe. Make sure to sample locally produced cheese from the Christian Brothers (yes, that really is their name).
The latest dining hot spot is The Blue Bull Cafe Restaurant, baby brother to the award-winning Norfolk Blue Restaurant. Located in the heart of Burnt Pine township and featuring Norfolk Blue beef on its menu, this new licensed eatery specialises in all things fresh and local.
You can also get to know the farmers. Emily Ryves and her family are the proud owners of a herd of dairy goats at Hilli Goat Farm located in the Anson Bay area. Emily, a third generation farmer, was the recipient of a Churchill scholarship and it has always been her dream to own and operate her own boutique farm.
On the Hilli Goat farm tour [owner Emily Ryves] will show you around the property so you can learn about its history and the Norfolk way of life.
Everything done on the farm is clean, green and sustainable. First, a short walk through the gardens, then into the milking shed to have the cheese making process explained and sit down to an exquisite Hilli Goat style platter. Everything on offer is picked from the garden or cooked in Emily’s kitchen.
For night owls the options are limited, but check out Minibar, Norfolk’s funkiest bar, based on an eclectic Berlin style-bar built and furnished from Norfolk found objects. It’s a great spot for a late-night cocktail.
The Tin Sheds, three five-star villas which are so funky they come with their own colour-coded Fiats, offer the most upmarket accommodation and are within walking distance of several eateries and shops. The spacious and contemporary apartments here are surrounded by beautifully landscaped private courtyards and equipped with all mod cons. There is an on-site plunge pool, massage and sauna facility, gym – even a Nespresso machine in each villa.
Other good options include the recently refurbished penthouses at the South Pacific Resort and the Governors Lodge Resort.
There is a cooking school at Mastering Taste Chef School and Garden Tour, where students can pick many of the ingredients from the potager.
Rodrick McAlpine at Two Chimneys Winery has just released his first wines made using local grapes; until his vines became mature he was using fruit from the mainland. Two Chimneys offers tastings and serves excellent local platters.
Also check out the tasting rooms at Norfolk Island Liqueurs, where local fruits are used in products made in a German still, including macadamia nut, guava and banana liqueurs, beautifully presented and absolutely delicious. Also make time to visit the Anson Bay coffee plantation of Fred Wong, who also offers tastings and tours.
Words: Winsor Dobbin
New Gourmet Festival
The inaugural Taste Norfolk Island food festival will be held from November 22-29 with special guest chefs El Halmagyi and Dominique Rizzo.
The festival will feature events and tastings at several of Norfolk Island’s eateries and will highlight local fish, beef and pork as well as honeys, coffee and cheeses.
Halmagyi and Rizzo will both hold cooking demonstrations and host dinners as well as attending open-air festivals and island feasts – a heady cocktail mix of great food and stunning locations.
Norfolk Island is one of the few places outside the US to celebrate Thanksgiving, which is a legacy left by American whalers who operated from the island in the 1960s and that will be part of the celebrations.
Oxley Travel is offering a Taste Norfolk Island Food Festival package including seven nights’ twin share accommodation, return economy airfare with Air New Zealand including taxes, return airport transfers on island, seven days’ car hire including insurance, half-day island tour, a range of gourmet events and cooking demos with Halmagyi and Rizzo.
The cost per person twin share is from $1989 ex-Sydney (21-28 November) and $1949 ex-Brisbane (22-29 November). For bookings, contact Oxley Travel on Toll Free 1800 671 546, email firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.oxleytravel.com.au.
A Living Museum
Though first settled by Polynesians centuries earlier, Norfolk Island was colonised by the British Empire in 1788.
Apart from an 11-year hiatus from 1814-1825, this island was used as a penal colony up until 1855. At this point, Norfolk Island was converted into a permanent civilian residence, when people settled there from Pitcairn Island, and in 1901 it was absorbed into the Commonwealth of Australia.
Today, Norfolk Island is home to World Heritage-listed Kingston and the Arthurs Vale Historic Area, the oldest of the eleven
Australian penal colonies.
To learn about the history of the island, from convicts to Pitcairn islanders, visit Fletchers Cyclorama 360 – an artwork that tells the story of the island from its earliest days – and the World of Norfolk photographic exhibition, which is far more interesting than it sounds.
There are several fascinating museums, including The Pier Store, which has artefacts dating back to the mutiny on The Bounty, life on Pitcairn Island and the resettlement of the islanders on Norfolk Island in 1856.
The HMS Sirius Museum looks at Australia’s most important shipwreck, which happened off the island in 1790.
Other spots worthy of a visit include the convict cemetery adjacent to the golf course, where you’ll find headstones of executed convicts, beautiful beaches at Emily and Slaughter bays (take a trip in a glass-bottomed boat), the Captain Cook monument and lookout, and the panoramic views from the top of Mount Pitt.
For such a small place there, is a surprising amount to do. There is even a day spa and several massage options in Burnt Pine Township, the main settlement, while Norfolk Island National Park is popular with bushwalkers and bird watchers and celebrity residents including Colleen McCullough, Helen Reddy and Sorrel Wilby.
There’s a nine-hole golf course that’s one of the oldest in Australia and snorkelling in the clear blue water is popular.
Other activities include swimming, kayaking, surfing and horse riding. There are glass bottom boat tours and ocean trips to Phillip Island while fishing is a favourite pastime and locals joke that it is easier to catch a fish than it is to go home empty handed; trumpeter, snapper, yellow fin tuna, kingfish and wahoo abound.
Glen Buffett, general manager of Norfolk Island Tourism, says it is the diversity in nature, history and activities on Norfolk Island that make it a unique destination.
“As a Pacific Island destination, we’re constantly surprising visitors with the myriad of options available to them – from spectacular beaches, world heritage areas to explore, nature walks and a pristine golf course, to seasonal, island-grown fresh food from our many restaurants and cafes,” he says.
You are certainly somewhere different. There are no railways, waterways, ports or harbours on the island. When a supply ship arrives, it is emptied by whaleboats towed by launches, five tonnes at a time.
There is one airport and 80 kilometres of roads; 53km sealed and 27km unsealed. The maximum speed is 50kph – and watch out for those cows.