Lord Howe Island for beginners

This file is an account of LHI by a regular visitor. It includes a large collection of thumbnail views linking to larger JPEG files, all showing aspects of Lord Howe Island. Click on any thumbnail to get a view which should be 2.5 times as wide and high, all things being equal. Most of the pictures will be upgraded sometime soon. Click here for some more LHI background, information and handy links to commercial people and information.

On the other hand, if you want to know about Sydney, I have started a separate Sydney cultural tourism site

The palm is perhaps the most lasting visual symbol of Lord Howe. The island has a number of species of palm, including the original "Palm Court" palm, the Kentia palm.

When the wind blows, even gently, the palm fronds rustle in the breeze, and tracks through the bush are covered with the fallen fronds which hold the soil in place. Although this is a tropical paradise, it is also a paradise where the wind nearly always blows: sailors do not get becalmed here.

At times, the sea can get quite rough, with waves crashing on the shore, as you can see in this shot of the Admiralty Isles at the northern end of the island.

But Lord Howe Island is the sort of place where you see three changes of weather in a single day, and before you know what has happened, the sun is out again.

And when the sun comes out, it is time to head for Blinky's, the only beach with a significant surf break.

Getting to Blinky's from most of the lodges means cycling along the flat roads of the island for a couple of kilometres. Cars are rare, apart from those owned by residents, and these travel slowly. Tourists like us hire a bike, and pedal, fast or slow, from place to place, or we walk.

Once at Blinky's,we are able to spread out, for there are never many people there at any one time, but if you do meet somebody, you are likely to know them, because you sat next to them at dinner last night.

Of course, other people may decide to head for the other side of the island, for when the wind blows, there is usually a side of the island that is sheltered from the worst of the wind.

Here we see a view along the island's main lagoon, looking to the north. Those two Norfolk Island pines are used by boats coming in through one of the channels that give access past the reef.

The small beach in the foreground is called Lovers' Bay, while that small triangle on the horizon is Mount Eliza, 147 metres high, and one of the easier climbs. We will get you up there later.

The banyan tree drops roots from its branches, but as time goes on, these roots become like new trunks, spreading branches of their own. Some of the banyans cover five acres (two hectares).

Trees like this are remarkably stable, and probably well-suited to life on a volcanic island, where bits of the slopes are forever slipping away downhill.

Palms solve the same problem by producing large numbers, and rapidly colonising any free areas, but where the banyan lives, very few other plants can compete.

The pandanus palm has another solution to the stability problem: it sends out roots at an angle to the original trunk, and later, the lowest roots, like the original trunk, rot and die away.

Where one of these angled roots comes down on a piece of solid volcanic rock, the root develops a large disc on the end, rather like a camel's hoof.

Where the soil is better, the roots dig in, and in the gloom of the forest, the pandanus reminds us a little of a praying mantis, or perhaps the local relative, the "Lord Howe lobster", a large insect which seems to have disappeared under the predation of rats which got loose on the island as far back as 1918. The rats are now more or less under control, with regular trapping and baiting programs.

Like all islands, Lord Howe has many indigenous species, and these are under slow but deadly attack from introduced pest species and weeds. Just recently, a frog has arrived on the islands, possibly in road-building materials imported from the mainland: only time will tell what damage this new introduction will do.

Unfortunately, even for a World Heritage area, Lord Howe is part of the state of New South Wales, and so has poor quarantine controls. The planes fly in from Sydney with no checks and no spraying -- even planes flying to other states have better controls than this.

Out on the reef at low tide, you can see beche-de-mer like these, browsing in the pools of water that remain behind.

Other pools contain octopuses, small fish, crabs, sea hares (Aplysia -- large relatives of the snail, though looking more like a slug), and many other marine animals.

There are clams on the reef as well. Each clam seems to have a different pattern on the "lips" that remain exposed, even when the clam is firmly shut.

When the tide is out, the sea urchins of the reef must shelter in the rock pools as well. They are well protected with their spines, and in the shallow water, they are safe from the "double-header", a large fish which can move in at high tide, and batter the spiny animals to break them open.

The view to the south, along the edge of Mount Gower.

Another view of Blinky's beach. The dunes behind the beach are covered in Spinifex grass, a common feature of fore dunes all over the Australian coast, and out into the Pacific. This grass is a tough perennial that ties down the dunes, stopping them from shifting, providing living places where other plants can grow, and animals can shelter.

I have yet to see a Spinifex plant that has been eaten -- this may well be a result of the silica hairs that edge the leaves.

The dunes around Blinky's Beach also carry a lot of this daisy in October, but so far, we have been unable to identify it. It is on several of the beaches, but does not seem to be listed anywhere. Perhaps it is an introduced weed . . .

The beaches of the island often have small surprises, like this crab, flushed out of a piece of seaweed. Crabs have a larval stage that drifts in the sea, and so many species have found their way to the island over the years.

The rock of the foreshore near Ned's Beach is a calcarenite, a limestone made from windblown lime-rich sand.

The calcarenite weather out into fantastic shapes, as you can see here, where it resembles the head of a dragon.

As well as making "dragons", the calcarenite harbours the fossil remains of Meiolania, a horned turtle with horns so large that it could not pull its head into its shell.

In some places, the calcarenite can even begin to resemble a lunar surface.

The hollows in its surface provide living places for many small animals. As the tide goes down, these hollows keep small cups of tepid water.

These are black ducks, found on some of the island freshwater, but also to be seen on the beaches. They are fairly tame, and will often demand to be fed, especially by daytime fish-feeders who bring down their leftover bread to give to the fish.

This is not Mount Gower, but Mount Lidgbird though it has been labelled Gower for about five years, and I will have to insert a pic of Gower when I have time. Standing 900 metres high, Gower is commonly wreathed in cloud, just like this.

We have to be grateful that Mount Gower was there for the woodhens to take refuge on, because the last of the Lord Howe woodhens were able to take refuge on top of the mountain, free of the feral animals that threatened them.

A few years ago, the woodhen was regarded as on the road to extinction, but a captive breeding program has brought the woodhen back again.

Now, when you go out to dine at Capella Lodge, you may just find a woodhen wandering around your chair. This photo was taken back when it was still Capella South . . .

The woodhens have one dangerous failing for a flightless bird: they are very curious. So when you are walking along a quiet track, all you have to do is make an unusual noise, and the woodhens will come out to investigate you. Not a good idea in a restaurant where the chef is good with poultry (at Capella Lodge, the chef is good with everything!!), but nobody eats the woodhens any more -- the islanders are all too proud of the success of the breeding program.

And here is Mount Gower again. We are looking across the lagoon.

At the northern end of the island, several of the volcanic dykes have been deeply weathered out. This has happened in other places as well, but the most accessible ones are at the northern end.

This is Old Gulch, which ends in a "beach" made of large volcanic pebbles, strewn with coral fragments. There are a quite a few of these pebble beaches around the island.

"Norfolk Island", declared the old lady in one of the stores during our first visit, "isn't really like an island. There are places you can go where you can't even see the sea!"

In fact, there are very few such places, and there are probably some places on Lord Howe where you can't see the sea, either -- so long as it is midnight and you are surrounded by trees.

Lord Howe Island, they tell us, has the southern-most coral reefs in the world. The corals are coldwater corals, and some of them have to contend with freshwater springs that well up in the middle of the lagoon, where the temperature can fall to 16 degrees Celsius.

In other places, the water is warmer and more salty, so even though life is challenging here, there is still a tremendous diversity in the animal and plant life.

There are only a few mangroves growing on the island, but there are at least two species. Mangroves, for those who don't know them, are trees that grow in the salty parts of estuaries, poking special breathing roots above the mud, so the other roots can get the air they need to respire and so get the energy to pump water up to the leaves.

This shows Ned's Beach, and the reef which is just off the beach, perfectly placed for walking at low tide.

Each evening, around five, one of the islanders comes down with several buckets of scrap flesh -- its provenance is not immediately clear -- which is fed to the fish.

There is no fishing at Ned's, not ever, and the fish are tame, even up to the 4-foot (120 cm) kingfish that rush in, trying to take the sand mullet, and the occasional reef shark. Early in 1996, a boy was actually bitten by a reef shark, but usually these beautiful creatures stay clear of people. After all, sharks are quite intelligent, and they must have noticed how many sharks are killed by people each year.

Duncan and I dived on a reef shark in the lagoon one day -- it was four or five feet long, and we were the first into the water from the glass-bottomed boat. "How long does a reef shark have to be before you worry about it?" I asked the skipper.

"About twelve foot", came the laconic reply.

I gave this a few moments, then commented in a doubtful tone, "Oh well, I suppose it's OK then." With that, we dived again, as the shark cruised away into deeper water.

Duncan and I had that dive to ourselves. I think the others decided the water was too cold, or something. I have no idea why -- it was actually quite nice. If you are those people, I have absolutely no sympathy with you.

We live on the east coast of Australia, so a sunset over the sea is a novelty to us. The best place to see it and photograph it is from the verandah at Capella Lodge, though you can walk down to the shore and see it from plenty of other vantage points as well.

The island also has muttonbirds in summer. I lowered a tape recorder down one of the burrows, to the consternation of the bird, so some future multimedia version of this page will include a WAV file of the eerie cry of the muttonbird. And the noises that a woodhen makes when you leave a tape in its way, right where it wants to feed.

A wreck? No, this is how the Island Trader settles on the shore, arriving and leaving at high tide, and beaching beside the island's only wharf, safe inside the lagoon.

The ships (there is another one that we have yet to see) travel across to the north coast of New South Wales, load up with bulk produce, road-building materials, anything else the islanders need, and then haul it across on what can be a forty-hour trip in good weather. Island Trader also carries a few passengers, we have discovered, but if you come by ship, you need to wait until it returns, and the forty hours can be much more in bad weather . . .

This file is http://www.ozemail.com.au/~macinnis/lhi.htm, and if you click on the small lagoon shot here, it will take you to some more Lord Howe information, and from July 2002, some handy links as well.

It was last revised on February 12, 2003.

The next major revision will be after our next visit, coming up in April. To help you spot us, here we are seen in more normal pose -- on a bicycle, pedalling slowly, grunting quietly . . .
bikecm.jpg - 21880 Bytes bikepm.jpg - 24696 Bytes
It was created by Peter Macinnis -- macinnis@ozemail.com.au(but mail to that address will BOUNCE. To really get in touch, you need to add my first name at the start of the address -- I am fed up with spam on that other account. Humans can work out how to get the real address, address-harvesting robots can't.)

All pictures shown here are free of any copyright restrictions. That being said, acknowledgement and a pointer back to this page would be appreciated.

We flew from Sydney on each of our visits, and we have stayed at Somerset each time. There are at least half a dozen other lodges that are just as good (and several which are more expensive and VERY nice), plenty of restaurants, easy and challenging walks, SCUBA and snorkel diving, flat roads to bicycle, safe beaches, great climate, no real night life (hooray!!), and a peaceful rural environment.

You wave to other people as you cycle or walk past, or say g'day -- and you recognise most of them by the fourth day -- except for the ones who are off fishing all the time, and you never see them until the boat is full of fish, which can take as much as two hours. The island's drivers will all raise one hand off the wheel to wave as they go by -- it is that sort of place.

Most of the visitors are Australian, and overseas visitors would need to have good "traveller's" English. There is satellite television, there are newspapers flown in most days, bread is baked locally, but fresh fruit is a bit hard to come by. We usually take some with us.

Health warning: you will weigh more going home than you did on the way over. Luckily, while there is a 14 kg baggage limit, they don't weigh you -- or your cabin luggage.

And at long last, a counter, installed February 21, 1999

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Last updated 23 August 2006.