Is there anywhere in the world that beats Lord Howe Island?

Palms (Howea) and ferns (Asplenium) were typical low land scenery on our many walks around the island

Palms (Howea) and ferns (Asplenium) were typical low land scenery on our many walks around Lord Howe Island

Learning to identify the indoor plant, Howea forsteriana, for my up and coming RHS exam in England, I didn’t think I’d see the day that I would visit an isolated 1,455 hectare island, 500 kilometres from Australia, where every single Kentia palm originated: the UNESCO World Heritage listed Lord Howe Island.

Dodonaea viscosa subsp. burmanniana (phew!) flowers, looking out over the reef

Dodonaea viscosa subsp. burmanniana (phew!) flowers, looking out over the reef

And what a place it is; completely impossible to convey its essence with words and photos alone. The only place I have ever experienced being entirely overcome by beauty; a moment of emotional exhaustion. Emotion along the lines of elation, satisfaction, joy, uplift and peace, but so strong, it almost felt all too much. So beautiful that you were entirely lost in the moment.

Another gorgeous spot; orchids and lichen with a view out to the islands

Another gorgeous, natural spot we stumbled across; orchids and lichen with a view out to the islands

Or you would have been, if you hadn’t felt some strange sensation deep inside which literally made you need to sit down. On one other occasion I was actually brought to tears, just cycling along (but don’t tell Paul, I did try to cover it up!).

Every step you took, another surreal view emerged

Every step you took, another surreal view emerged

Coming round from these experiences, the phrase ‘what have we done to our world?’ kept coming into my head repeatedly, during our extraordinary five day stay.

The road just by the airport; but you'd never have guessed it. I love these colours

The road just by the airport; but you’d never have guessed it. I love these colours

Some 85% of the island is still covered in native forest and it is surrounded by turquoise waters and the most southerly barrier reef in the world. There are only 320 residents and a cap of 400 tourists at any one time and the resultant ‘feel’ is nothing short of magical. There is a great sense of sharing; of we are one, united community.

Cycling was definitely the way to get around Lord Howe Island

Cycling was definitely the way to get around Lord Howe Island

Pigface growing in its natural environment

Pigface growing in its natural environment

You ride your bikes to the beach, people waving and greeting you as you go, where upon you decide to take a walk up into the mountains. Some three hours later you return, with no thought of whether your unlocked bike will still be there, and see the barbecue picnic lunch your hosts have just dropped off. You cook freshly caught kingfish over the chopped firewood thoughtfully left at perfect picnic spots around the island, as you gaze through the distorted warm air to the beach. Where else in the world could you do this?

I was glad to have some water in my backpack, but I almost wish I was Robinson Crusoe

I was glad to have some fresh water in my backpack, but I almost wished I was Robinson Crusoe

The warm atmosphere is created by the islanders. Not only are they ultra friendly, they also genuinely seem to care and really go the extra mile to make an effort. It seems ingrained in their psyche. Not once did I see either a key or a plastic bag over the five days. A food co-operative was established to reduce packaging coming on to the island; dried foods in huge, recycled containers are measured out into glass jars that are returned and used over and over again.

Dietes robinsoniana; a much bigger flower than the Dietes that we grow in Sydney (that's actually from South Africa!)

Dietes robinsoniana; a much bigger flower than the Dietes that we grow in Sydney (that’s actually from South Africa!)

Elk horn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum) has the most incredible colours, textures and form

Elk horn fern (Platycerium bifurcatum) has the most incredible colours, textures and form…and it’s just there, growing in nature

Crime is non existent. In fact a prison ‘cell’ had been sent out from Sydney in 1891, only to be rejected and returned on the next boat. The powers that be on the mainland didn’t think much to that, sending it out again, where upon the islanders decided that actually it would make quite a useful onion store. During the next official visit they were made to empty the onions out, where upon it became a place to store cricket equipment out of the rain. By the time of the next visit the key was nowhere to be found and the cricket bats remained.

The amazing Pandanus forsteri (right) with a pyramidal support system

The amazing Pandanus forsteri tree (right) with a pyramidal support system

It is amazing to see ephiphytic orchids that have definitely definitely not be placed in the tree by man. How do they do it?!

It is amazing to see ephiphytic orchids that have definitely not been placed by man. How do they do it?!

But the island is so much more than this; there is astonishing flora and fauna here. In fact, some 105 plant species are only found on this one small island; nowhere else in the world.

A small creek on the walk up to the top of Mount Gower

A small creek on the walk up to the top of Mount Gower

The Misty Forest at the top of Mount Gower was alive with growth. The textures and colours were incredible

The Misty Forest at the top of Mount Gower was alive with growth. The textures and colours were incredible

We were game enough to climb to the top of the highest peak, some 875 metres from the beach, where an incredible 86% of the summit’s Misty Forest plants are only found in this one tiny part of one tiny island.

Sooty terns were nesting on the beach; perfect, duck egg, speckled eggs came into view when the birds flew off to feed

Sooty terns were nesting on the beach; perfect, duck egg blue speckled eggs were revealed when the birds flew off to feed

Our visit was an holistic sensory experience, extending beyond the aesthetic beauty. The earthy smells, the calls of unfamiliar birds, the feel of soft sand under your feet and the taste of fish caught that morning, served with salad grown within ten metres of the table. All these glorious senses combined in that euphoric exhaustion I experienced.

Despite the abundant fruiting of these island palms, they are thought to be the rarest palms in the world, only found on Lord Howe Island

Despite the abundant fruiting of the Little mountain palm (Lepidorrhachis mooreana), they are thought to be the rarest palms in the world, found only on Mount Gower

And what about the gardens, I hear you ask? As we walked and rode about the island, there weren’t really any gardens that stood out. And just as we experienced in Haida Gwaii this July, I realised that the lack of standing out was actually their strength. Subtle, indigenous plants were used to create the most wonderful gardens imaginable.

Could you think of a more serene lounge around?

Arajilla Retreat. Could you think of a more serene lounge environment?

No, they may not have been awash with colour, but sitting in the lounge of our lodge, surrounded by the naturalistic garden, I couldn’t think of anything that could possibly have worked better. Sipping herbal tea, with soft music playing, there couldn’t have been a more serene setting.

Atractocarpus (what a fabulous name!) growing beneath the palms on Lord Howe island. It so reminded me of my Ficus lyrata in my lounge at home.

Atractocarpus (what a fabulous name!) growing beneath the palms on Lord Howe island. It so reminded me of my Ficus lyrata in my lounge at home.

I was delighted to realise that this setting, surrounding the lounge, was no more than six metres wide. It was a revelation that this idyllic atmosphere could actually have been set in an small urban garden; it genuinely would have been equally as fitting there.

I love the light and textures and shadows on this sand dune

I love the light and textures and shadows on this sand dune

I was so excited to see, in front of me, this example of a small, ultra-naturalistic garden that really could work in the city. We just need a bit more thought and effort and innovation and we’d be there. We really could create an oasis that would feel and look as beautiful as this.

There were incredible fish at Ned's beach. Blue, yellow, pink, you name it, happily swimming around your feet

There were incredible fish at Ned’s beach. Blue, yellow, pink, you name it, happily swimming around your feet

Everything at Lord Howe Island feels just right. Nothing frustrates, nothing is too slow, nothing too fast; you can’t help but feel 110% content whilst you are there.

All sorts of life was washed up on Old Settlement beach, including these incredible blue bottles. I'm glad to say they weren't present at any of the other beaches!

All sorts of life was washed up on Old Settlement beach, including these incredible blue bottles. I’m both glad we saw them and glad they didn’t seem to be present elsewhere!

What a very lucky English girl I am to have been able to visit the home land of Howea forsteriana.

A sooty tern flies out to feed. I love the mix of textures in the foreground

A sooty tern flies out to feed. I love the mix of textures in the foreground

16 thoughts on “Is there anywhere in the world that beats Lord Howe Island?

  1. Adriana Fraser says:

    Stunning, stunning, stunning – I was going to use an exclamation mark but it just seemed wrong after reading your description of this serene and beautiful place. Another for the must visit list. Your recent blogs have me doing a complete turn around of what I want to visit and explore in the next few years. Europe is a mess and this seems so idyllic in comparison. I was also told recently that New Caledonia is like visiting the south of France only a lot closer,cleaner and cheaper – it certainly does make you think.

    • jannaschreier says:

      You are so right; Lord Howe Island has no place for exclamation marks. It is idyllic, although just to prove that I’m not being paid by the LHI Tourist Board, it certainly isn’t a cheap holiday. We have been wanting to go for five years, but always got stuck on the prices. However, it is 100% worth it and I can now see why it is expensive; not to make it exclusive or simply because they can charge high prices, but because there are complexities to running an island of this kind. When I understood this I even forgave Qantas’ pricing. Expensive but the best value holiday you could have.

  2. Dorothy Charles says:

    I’m checking out flights to Lord Howe Island immediately. What does the Howea Fosteriana look like Janna? x

    • jannaschreier says:

      Oo, do go, Dorothy. You’ll need to fly via Sydney or Brisbane but you won’t regret it. I’ll be so excited if you do; there is no question that you would adore it. Howea forsteriana is the palm in the top picture; actually very common across the world. It must be their biggest export!

  3. David Marsden says:

    I had a similar experience in the 80’s visiting an island in Thailand called Koh Phi Phi. I spent the best part of a week there (as part of a couple of months in the country) and had never stayed anywhere so perfect, beautiful, calm. A few years later a film crew arrived to film ‘The Beach’ and, from what I read, caused widespread damage and of course a huge spike in visitors. When I looked online a while ago there is now a huge hotel where there used to be just beach huts. Such a shame and somewhere I don’t now want to re-visit. I wish it too could have had UNESCO protection. Very jealous, Janna. Very jealous indeed. Dave

    • jannaschreier says:

      How dreamy to spend a week in Koh Phi Phi, pre ‘The Beach’. I actually sailed around it in 1999 and it looked incredible. I don’t suppose the 2004 tsunami helped the island too much either, but at least you can forgive that. Such a horrible shame when these places are spoilt. I just kept looking at the landscape in Lord Howe Island, and whilst clearly most places have never had quite this beauty, I just couldn’t get my head around why we would choose to build and live in cities and see it as progress. Even considering life expectancy pre-industrialisation, wouldn’t 40 years on Lord Howe beat 80 in most others? I think I’m a bit of a luddite!

      • kate@barnhouse says:

        Me too, I sympathise with the Luddites, but for most of us escaping the rat race is just a dream – places like Lord Howe Island remind us of what we’re missing,maybe that’s why we garden, to recreate a little bit of eden? What a privilege it is to visit rare places like this. Did you come across Kevin McCloud’s Channel 4 series ‘Escape to the wild’ showing how a few folk are carving out a different way of life?

        • jannaschreier says:

          I’m actually such a luddite, Kate, that I’ve only watched about five TV programmes this year. Amazingly, one of them was ‘Escape to the wild’. It’s obviously not all a bed of roses, but it is very tempting! In the meantime, I’ll just keep gardening.

  4. rusty duck says:

    I’ve just looked it up on Google Earth, having read your reference to ‘airport’ which puts it firmly on my wish list. It sounds totally idyllic (apart from the cost) and just up my street when we eventually make it across to Australia. I love the story of the prison cell too.

    • jannaschreier says:

      The prison cell story is great! The museum shows all sorts of funny anecdotes about the island’s history. I’m excited that you’re definitely coming out this way at some point. I can give you such a very long list of places to go and things to see.

  5. Louise Dutton says:

    Finally a place I already have on my list Janna! Boy you do get around……Simply stunning photos of a natural and beautifully created place! I agree finding a place where the pace of life slows down and the people are so friendly and approachable sounds like bliss to me. The colours are just so beautiful to the eye and I’m sure so much better when you experience it. Lucky people who live there.

    • jannaschreier says:

      Louise, I am glad I’m not adding to your list on this occasion; I was starting to get worried about you running out of space! I was very envious of the people that live there too; it is another world entirely.

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