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Land ahoy! Norfolk Island getaway
Wednesday, July 18, 2012
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House & Garden
Just a two-and-a-half hour flight from Sydney is beautiful Norfolk Island - a picturesque dot on the sea with a tumultuous history, where you can do as much, or as little, as you like, writes Jessica Sanford.
In 1788 when Philip La Perouse, the French explorer, couldn't find a safe place to dock his vessel, he said of Norfolk Island, "It's fit only for angels and eagles". Two-hundred-and-twenty-four years later our plane lands on a sunny Friday - with a view to rows of Norfolk pines, blue skies and green grass. The island, although still without a deep-water port, is now far more welcoming to humans.
My companions and I are visiting Norfolk for a long weekend and our host meets us at the airport. As I peer out of the car at the cows and chickens that graze freely along the road, she informs us not to be surprised when passers-by wave at us, and that we should wave back. It's a small gesture with a lot of civic meaning - Norfolk Island has about 1800 occupants and a strong community spirit. It's a place where locals don't lock their houses or cars and honesty boxes are the mode of payment in roadside fruit and vegie stalls.
As relaxed as the lifestyle on Norfolk may seem today, it hasn't always been that way and the stories we hear about the wave of settlers and convicts that carved the island's history are woven with hardship. After settling into the Islander Lodge Apartments, beautiful cabin-style lodgings with sweeping views of Kingston, (the town centre established by the first settlers, which includes the ruins of the Prisoners' Barracks, a three-storey building used to house convicts) we go on a tour of the island's museums. As well as Norfolk's rich convict history, the island's past is firmly entwined with the mutiny on the HMS Bounty, and descendants of the mutineers make up a high percentage of modern-day islanders. For an overview of the mutiny, we head to Fletcher's Mutiny cyclorama, an intricate 360-degree artwork depicting the dramatic events.
To house officials working on the island, in the mid-1800s a row of Georgian-style homes were built on Quality Row, Kingston's main street. Number 10 Quality Row, which has been restored, is now open to visitors and is well worth a look. Along with its original architectural features, the home is furnished in keeping with the era and displays ceramics that have been found during archaeological digs.
It's while enjoying a grass-fed sirloin at Norfolk Blue restaurant that night that I learn almost, if not everything, on my plate has been produced on the island; an import ban means most fruit and vegetables are homegrown. The restaurant has embraced the paddock-to-plate ethos and can even lay claim to the beef - a breed of cattle called Norfolk Blue has evolved on the island over the years.
Saturday is our first full day and we embark on a driving tour. The island is a mere 8km long, but there are a web of roads to explore, each one leading to sweeping ocean views, scenic national parks, walking tracks or flourishing gardens. Fortunately the timing of our trip has aligned with the three-weekly arrival of the boat that brings supplies to Norfolk. The unloading is a sight in itself and we stop at Cascade Pier to watch the tug boat hauling precious cargo.
On Sunday as we lie on the grass outside our cabins (it doesn't take long to embrace relaxation), the view down to Kingston becomes dotted with people and we remember hearing that a 'fish fry', a regular local get-together, is being held that evening. Watching the crowd grow we can't resist heading down to join in. Before long we are seated with big plates of freshly cooked fish, caught from the bay only metres away, before us. A microphone on a makeshift stage is always occupied and poetry and song drift across the breeze while children kick footballs and chase each other around the ruins of the old Prisoners' Barracks.
My visit to Norfolk Island surprised me: I assumed I'd have a pleasant time but I didn't expect to be fascinated by the historical stories of this small place with a huge past. On Monday, I board the flight back to Sydney with an ignited interest for history and a cherished knowledge of the people and places of this charming place.
How to get there
Air New Zealand flies direct from Sydney to Norfolk Island every Monday and Friday and from Brisbane to Norfolk Island every Tuesday and Saturday.
Return ex Sydney from $572; Return ex Brisbane from $535 (prices correct as of 4th July 2012)
Where to stay
Islander Lodge Holiday Apartments; Middlegate Rd, Norfolk Island; +6723 22114
These self-contained apartments overlook Kingston with beautiful views to Philip and Nepean Islands.
More things to do
Camelot Gardens; Rooty Hill Rd, Norfolk Island; +6723 23587
A two-acre parklands garden filled with colourful, textured plantings. Explore the grounds or take a book and read on the lawn under a grand old Norfolk pine.
Two Chimneys Winery; Two Chimneys Rd, Norfolk Island; +6723 24410
Enjoy a wine tasting and a delicious fresh, gourmet platter at this boutique winery.
Dino's at Bumbora; Bumbora Rd, Norfolk Island
A fine dining restaurant in a beautiful 1880s homestead. Dino uses his home grown produce to create delectable, modern cuisine.
The World of Norfolk Exhibit; Located in the Foodland Mall, Norfolk Island; +6723 22899
A photographic exhibition sharing visual stories about the Island and its history.
Jessica travelled courtesy of Norfolk Island Tourism and Air New Zealand. For more information go to
A special deal for Australian House & Garden readers
Ex Brisbane: $1,099 per person, twin share; Ex Sydney: $1,129 per person, twin share
Return economy airfares including seat & bag fares and taxes flying with Air New Zealand
Return airport transfers
4 nights' accommodation staying at Poinciana Cottages in a 1 Bedroom Cottage
4 days' car hire including full comprehensive insurance*
Half day island tour
Life as a Convict tour
Pitcairn Pioneers tour
Lunch to the value of $30 per person at Rumours Café & Bar
Historic murder mystery dinner
One hour glass bottom boat tour
Booking conditions: Prices are per person twin share inclusive of pre-payable taxes and subject to availability at time of booking. Valid for sale to 31 October 2012 and for travel to 31 March 2013. Black-out dates and seasonal surcharges may apply. All prices are subject to change at any time without notice. *Petrol is excluded & is payable direct whilst on island. Conditions, amendment and cancellation fees apply. Travel insurance is strongly recommended. TAG1616. ABN 61 087 521 355.
Spacifica Travel, phone 1800 800 722, email firstname.lastname@example.org
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