Paradise. It’s a word frequently used when discussing island travel. But, when it comes to the UNESCO World Heritage listed Lord Howe Island, less than a two hour flight from Sydney or Brisbane, paradise is hardly even a sufficient description.
This little-known but multi-award-winning island is only 11 kilometres long and two kilometres wide at its widest point, but contains some of the most magical landscape, flora and fauna imaginable. With a maximum of 400 guests allowed on the island at one time, it’s quite easy to find your own secluded patch of paradise, even during peak tourist season, and no mobile signal and limited Wi-Fi hotspots mean that guests have no choice but to relax into the island’s old world tranquillity.
If you haven’t heard of Lord Howe, you’re not alone. It’s pretty much Australia’s best kept secret, and definitely the place to head if you need a bit of time out. Even better, Pinetrees Lodge, which was just named Australian Traveller magazine’s people’s choice Best Affordable Resort of 2014, holds a Wellness Week a few times a year.
Competitively priced (a freelance writer can even afford it, trust me), the wellness week includes a variety of activities to get the body active, the mind quiet and the belly full of the most amazing food. Twice-daily yoga sessions at the beach with Charlotte Dodson (who teaches yoga to Lara Bingle and Miranda Kerr) is enough to keep some busy.
For the more fitness inclined, there are daily guided walks, kayaks, snorkelling trips and ocean swims to get the heart pumping. Add in a spa treatment or two, gourmet cooking demonstrations, organic wine-tasting and three huge, scrumptious meals each day (plus arvo snack), and… need I say more? The best part is that the Pinetrees Wellness Week isn’t hard core health; there’s plenty of drinks by the beach, lazing around and the most amazing “fish fry and dessert” on Monday nights, where a buffet of heavenly desserts is the centrepiece of the meal.
But, if yoga and mild exercise isn’t your thing, Pinetrees also hold photography weeks (full of workshops with award-winning photographers), adventure weeks (for the Bear Grylls outdoorsy types), food and wine weeks (yum!) and ocean swim weeks (led by Trevor Hendy, four-time world champion Iron Man). It’s also an awesome resort to just hang out at, get to know the charming staff and mingle with a range of fascinating guests, for many of whom a Pinetrees trip is a yearly affair. Like Pringles, once you pop, you can’t stop and immense visitor loyalty is probably one reason why it’s best to book way in advance.
With only about 350 residents, meaning that with tourists there’s only ever a maximum of 800 people on the island at any time, Lord Howe maintains a sort of outback town type feel. Everyone knows everyone else, and their business, and it’s impossible to walk down the street without receiving greetings from everyone that passes.
With super strict restrictions on who is allowed to purchase property, the island is pretty insular. Almost all businesses are run by families who have lived on the island since forever. For example, Pinetrees is one of Australia’s oldest family businesses and is run by a sixth-generation islander whose family has lived on Lord Howe since 1848. Now that’s some impressive history.
The friendliness of the small community means that Lord Howe is virtually crime free – there’s no locks on doors and you can hire snorkelling gear at the beach with a gold coin donation to an honesty box. Even the bar fridge at the Pinetrees Boat Shed, the best place for a sunset drink, operates on an honesty system.
Really, really, pristine beaches, reefs and palm forests
Having a UNESCO World Heritage title since 1982, along with strict regulations preventing overdevelopment, exploitation and environmental degeneration, has ensured that Lord Howe Island’s reefs, beaches and wilderness areas are absolutely pristine. Interestingly, residents aren’t allowed to own cats and are only allowed to own a dog if it passes a strict obedience test. Therefore, with approximately 75 percent of the island’s natural vegetation remaining in tact, the island is a haven for wildlife, a few species of which are found nowhere else on earth.
Lord Howe’s reefs are home to more than 500 species of fish and 90 species of coral, so the snorkelling and diving is as impressive as the Whitsundays and a walk along the beach can bring you up close and personal with a giant turtle. Wade into crystal clear water at Ned’s beach and immediately be surrounded by a feeding frenzy of fish, especially if you’ve paid the $1 to hand feed them, or surf some of Australia’s least crowded waves at Blinky’s beach.
Mt Gower, the island’s highest point at 875 metres, and Mt Lidgberg tower over the ocean at the Island’s southern point. The eight-hour return hike to Gower’s peak is rated as one of Australia’s best day walks with its unparalleled views, unique mountaintop eco system, rare plant and wildlife, rope-assisted climbs and dizzying sheer drops. A wellness week highlight was a yoga class on a patch of grass directly beneath the imposing mountains and directly above the crashing ocean.
Wood fired barbeques dotted around the island mean that you can enjoy a picnic in any of these superb locations, whenever you want. Pinetrees even have the option of offering BBQ packs, complete with beers, utensils and a tablecloth, that they will deliver to your chosen location and pick up after you’re done.
When the secret gets out
Thankfully, the Lord Howe Island board’s gifted foresight and the strict rules regulating tourism, development and sustainability, will ensure that even if this cat is let out of the bag, the destination itself won’t loose its relaxed, old world charm. The 400-guest limit will mean that, no matter what time of the year or how popular Lord Howe Island gets, you’ll always be able to find a secluded section of beach on which to unwind. In my eyes, that’s paradise.
Kelly Theobald is a journalist, author and photographer who takes the road less travelled. She has spent the past few years travelling around Australia from her base in Birdsville, outback Queensland, which is one of Australia's smallest and most isolated towns, with a year of living in a shack in a remote Bangladeshi village thrown in for good measure. She blogs at kellytheobald.com.au.