Maybe it was the third thwack of the plane hitting another air pocket amid the turbulence leaving Lord Howe that made you think you should have stayed that little bit longer.
It was a full house going over but not returning as the storm raged around the 42-seat QantasLink to Sydney.
An hour into the two-hour flight, clouds envelope the aircraft: nothing unusual. Inside arms flay, gasps roar in unison and wild eyes connect with unknown passengers as the thought rushes past, surely this isn’t how our time in paradise will end?
As part of a disconnect, memories return to a less bumpier ride: arrival. It seemed a long time coming. In fact excruciatingly slow waiting the best part of the year for a few days on an island only 11km long and 2.8km wide surrounded by the Tasman Sea on one side, the Pacific Ocean on the other.
Situated off Australia’s east coast, 700km north-east of Sydney and parallel with Port Macquarie, Lord Howe is made up of 28 islands, 24 of which are hidden under the sea.
Who knew that this little coral quay could instantly wipe away the stress and halt any hopes of maintaining the hectic pace of the mainland.
Imagine a place where your mobile phone won’t work. This techno blackout of sorts creates forced relaxation and revitalisation. And that’s what the maximum 400 people allowed to visit the island at any one time seek.
Of course such exclusivity comes with a price tag and the joke on the island is that C.Ash is well paid. The 320 residents who run 18 accommodation lodges and 24 tourist services possibly struggle to donate to the nation’s taxes but all visitors agree that the local’s contribution to humanity, as well as the preservation of nature, should be treated as a gift.
Certainly when standing in the shallows at Neds Beach (pictured) time stands still as up to 10 species of tropical fish gush forward to greet you. Wade into the depths and they follow, make a move left or right and they’re there staring fondly not warily because they know they’re protected and you’re here to feed them. Wait a few minutes and two large kingfish scoot by, their dorsal fins at first making your heart thump.
Early morning or evening at Old Settlement Beach another rare experience awaits. The resident green turtles swim up and down in a figure eight formation along the lagoon. Don’t feed them and don’t get too close. Ouch likes a daily nip and Eppy is happy to watch, sniggering for sure that while it is OK for you to share their patch, only they are truly entitled.
Territorial displays aren’t confined to the marine life. There are two main families, the Thompsons and Wilsons — and you soon realise that competition for your well-earned cash runs rife.
It takes 10 years to become a resident of the island where you can buy land but don’t hold your breath that any will become available. Lord Howe gets you like that. Sinking back into the translucent sand, the sun glinting through misty clouds, you soon start dreaming of waking up there each day, a stone’s throw from anywhere you might work from where you might live. Walk, ride or drive … it’ll take less than 10 minutes. But time never stops for long. There’s just so much to do and as usual so little time to do it.
One business, Chase ’n’ Thyme, puts out a list of must-dos for the time poor. Ron’s Ramble is aptly named. It takes three hours to walk less than 3kms but Ron’s gift of the gab keeps you entertained the whole way. Dressed in khakis he’s no Steve Irwin but at 80-something you will do a double-take. The elixir of youth is alive and thriving on Lord Howe.
And while the pace of the island draws those aged two to 88, among them wannabe adventurers and wildlife aficionados to seasoned anglers and scuba divers, stressed out white-collar workers and well-dressed retirees, a new breed of tourist is flocking there. The celebrant on the island says of the marriage ceremonies now held up to 70 per cent met over the internet. It seems where ever and however you meet in the world, your real-life hook up is on one of only four island groups possessing World Heritage status.
Luckily near the luxury accommodation Capella Lodge, run by Dick Smith’s daughter, is the aptly named Lover’s Bay and at the other end of the lagoon Arijilla Spa Resort (pictured) caters for just such an intimate occasion.
But don’t think this island is swimming in a sea of honeymooners. Up and down the road riding bikes are families with children of all ages, groups of 20somethings whooping it up fishing, surfing, diving and hanging out in crammed accommodation and loving it. And then there’s places where just you can go to be on your own, away from the “crowd”.
The attraction of the island is that there’s room to move. There’s a number of nooks and crannies tucked away on the flats and in the cliffs for you to observe the island’s 64 species of unique flowering plants and native wildlife, including the endangered woodhen, but most come for a glimpse of the Masked Boobies.
Isolated spots also dot the lagoon where you can laze the day away or cross to the other side to ride the surf breaks at Blinky Beach. But Balls Pyramid, the tallest volcanic stack in the world, is where the real action is at. This dive site rivals the best bhombie drop-offs, if you’re lucky enough for the conditions to be right to be able to dive among Galapagos sharks up to 4 metres long. Few realise that the island is the peak of an extinct volcano surrounded by 6km of pristine coral reef which is home to more than 500 species of fish, including the Ballina, and 90 species of coral.
And if that’s not to your taste, back on dry land you can play golf, lawn bowls or relax with a facial but before long you’ll be drawn to what the locals call the CBD: the post office, a handful of shops and a hankering for another of Humpty Mick’s homemade pies. Just don’t forget to visit the museum and if time allows, take all the walks and when it’s all said and done as you leave there’ll be one thing you’ll miss most: the island’s honesty system.
The locals must get a laugh daily over anxious city slickers concerned about the lack of locks and unattended money boxes. Their response? There’s only one way in and one way out, so why worry.
The author first visited Lord Howe in 2011 and looks forward to returning. Any mention of any business is at her own discretion.