An amazing “island paradise” two hours from Sydney, with a range of outdoor activities including hiking and kayaking, unique birdlife and a huge variety of landscapes from beach to rainforest.
The Short Version: For those that don’t have the time or inclination to read this whole post, the summary is: Lord Howe island is an amazing place. If you’re thinking about going there, do it! My recommendations for walks if you don’t have time to do them all: Mount Gower is the stand-out (if you’re reasonably fit you should be OK as the pace is fairly slow), followed by Kims Lookout Circuit and Mt Eliza. As an alternative to just walking, hire a canoe and hike Mt Eliza from North Beach combining paddling and walking.
While geographically close to Sydney – about two hours flying time with QantasLink – Lord Howe Island is not the easiest place to visit. The World Heritage listed island has about 360 residents, and allows a maximum of 400 visitors. When we arrived, there was talk of a backpacker who arrived without having booked accommodation and was planning to camp on the island. Didn’t take long for him to be dispatched back to the mainland! Flights are not cheap, and nor is accommodation. But, it’s worth it to visit such an amazing place.
After flying in (via Brisbane) on a Sunday morning, we have time for a cycle around part of the island. There are two options for getting around: walking and cycling. The island is about 11km long and 3km at its greatest width, so most places are within easy walking or cycling distance.
We’re staying at the upmarket Capella Lodge to the south of the island (we’re fortunate my wife’s company is paying for the accommodation as a work reward trip). Directly in front of us Kings Beach, and towering behind it is Mount Gower.
Neds Beach – Day 2
After breakfast, we cycle to Ned’s Beach Sanctuary Zone on the eastern side of Lord Howe Island.
A “special purpose zone”, the beach allows hand-feeding of the hundreds of fish that seem to wait expectantly for us… There are mullet, wrasse, garfish, silver drummer, spangled emperor and kingfish, some close to a metre in size. There’s a fish food dispenser with the shelter on Ned’s Beach, and masks, fins and snorkels are available for the cost of a contribution to the ‘honesty box’.
Kims Lookout Circuit (7km loop)
While we’re at the northern end of the island, I head up to Kims Lookout after lunch. The walk climbs up Malabar Hill, with views toward Mount Gower and Mount Lidgbird in the distance, and Neds Beach below.
From the top of the ridge, about 200m above the beach, there are views towards the north of Soldiers Cap island immediately below, and the Admiralty Islands further out on the other side of Sugarloaf Passage.
The track follows the cliff top to Kims Lookout, which has great views over most of the the island, with the Gower and Lidgbird peaks in the distance.
From Kims Lookout, the highest point on this walk, the Memorial Track descends the other side of the island, with the walk finishing at Old Settlement Beach.
It’s definitely one of my favourite walks I do on the island, with some of the best views. I’d recommend this walk (and Mount Gower) if you haven’t got time to do all the walks!
We head back to Capella Lodge and down to Kings Beach towards the end of our first full day on Lord Howe Island, past small herd of docile cows and down to the water.
We’re rewarded with a nice sunset from the beach – it’s one of the few places in NSW where you can see the sun setting over the ocean.
Mount Gower – Day 3 (Mt Gower blog post)
The next day I have my Mount Gower ascent booked, which I organised locally through Capella Lodge the previous day. I wanted to ensure I was able to do this walk, which I was told is run once or twice per week.
I’ve covered this walk in a separate post: if you’re fit enough to do this walk (which is done at a fairly leisurely place) book yourself a spot. It’s an amazing experience!
The walk starts early and takes most of the day – after the walk I head back down to the beach with Amanda (my wife, who happily declined the opportunity to walk up a mountain for eight hours) for another vivid sunset. According to “Experience Oz & NZ“, Lord Howe island is one of the top 10 destinations for viewing sunsets!
Valley of The Shadows and Middle Beach (1.5km) – Day 4
Some shorter walks on our third day… today I start with the Valley of The Shadows, a short walk near the middle of the island. The track starts at the southern end of Anderson Road, and follows a fence line above Middle Beach before a turn-off down to Middle Beach after a few hundred metres.
It’s a fairly secluded beach and a good spot for some bird spotting and shell collecting (or viewing; it’s a national park so I don’t think you’re supposed to take shells home…) We see a sacred kingsfisher that darts around and is bloody hard to photograph up close – they breed on the island and are a very fast flyer!
After climbing back up to the main track, there’s another turn-off to the left for the Valley of The Shadows. This section of track is a bit steeped, with tree roots and rocks underfoot, as it goes through thick jungle and Banyan trees. (Banyan trees are a type of “strangler fig”, which grow in the branches of other trees, sending down roots that eventually strangle the host tree.) The name is derived from the shadows that are cast by the trees on a sunny day – it was overcast when we visited, but still a nice walk with lots of massive rainforest trees and vines.
(The main track continues onto Clear Place, where a grassy clearing with views of the south end of the island, including Intermediate Hill and Mt Lidgbird).
Track notes: Bushwalking NSW
Transit Hill and Blinky Beach (1.7km) – Day 4
You can never have enough walks in one day – especially on Lord Howe island – so the last before a BBQ lunch at Settlement Beach is Transit Hill. Starting near the island’s Administration Centre, the track goes up Bowker Ave before veering off through a palm forest and coming above the Pinetrees resort. There are views over the green pastures to Mount Lidgbird and Mount Gower in one direction, and down to the coast in the other.
The track then climbs climbs steadily to the summit of Transit Hill, where there is a lookout platform on the summit providing 360 degree views, including Mount Lidgbird and Mount Gower (by the of week on Lord Howe I’ll be sick of seeing these two peaks!)
The track then continue another 500m down to Blinky Beach, a popular place to surf or swim… but not today. It’s cold and windy, and I have the beach to myself.
Goat House Cave (6km)
After lunch, I tackle Goat House Cave, which is halfway up Mount Lidgbird, and a former shelter for 19th-century Kentia palm gatherers. (This is as high as you can get up Mount Lidgbird without climbing equipment – reaching the summit requires technical climbing skills and is discouraged due to nesting birds.)
I start near the airport and climb around the base of Intermediate Hill to Mutton Bird Point towards Smoking Tree Ridge. The track climbs up through the forest, with occasional views of the airport and Blinky Beach below.
From North Hummock hundreds of nesting (and flying) mutton birds can be seen; just off the coast is Mutton Bird Island.
The track gets increasingly steep, and sections of rope near the end are needed to navigate the grassy slope and last rock scramble near the cave.
Goat House Cave, which is more of a large overhang, is about 400 vertical metres up the mountain. Above the cave is 200m vertical metre cliff that leads to the summit ridge. From here you can clearly see the outline of Balls Pyramid, the remnant of a shield volcano and caldera that formed lies 20km southeast of Lord Howe Island. In front of me is Smoking Tree Ridge and the northern end of Lord Howe Island.
Coming back, I return to Capella Lodge via Soldier Creek Valley down to Kings Beach.
Track notes: Beyond Tracks
North Beach and Mt Eliza – Day 5
Taking advantage of the canoes supplied by Capella Lodge for guests (canoes can also be hired from a number of different operators) we head north from Lovers Bay (just south of Lagoon Beach), to North Beach. Directly opposite Lidgbird and Gower at the opposite end of the island, North Beach is in the shadow of Mt Eliza (147m). It’s accessible via canoe/kayak, boat or an hour long hike.
North Beach is a sanctuary zone, and we spend some time here observing the sea life and birdlife along the beach and in the intertidal zone. (It’s also known as a great snorkelling spot.)
From the beach you can walk to up Mount Eliza; the track actually starts at the end of Lagoon Road and continues along Old Settlement beach, before reaching North Beach. It’s a short but steep climb up from North Beach, but the stunning views to the twin peaks at the end of the crescent shaped island make the effort worthwhile.
From the top, you can see the Old Gulch, a very narrow, gravel beach, below. At the end of the steep cliffs that line the coast is Soldiers Cap, a small rock islet.
Further offshore, to the north of Soldiers Cap, is Sugarloaf Passage and the Admiralty Islands.
I return the same way, with a quick detour down to Old Gulch. Then it’s back to our trusty vessel for the paddle along the coast back to Lover Bay, and the short walk to Capella Lodge for (another) well-earned three course dinner!
Glass Bottom Boat – Day 6
With the weather deteriorating a little, we’ve booked a glass-bottom boat tour for our second last day. Leaving from Lagoon Beach, it cruises over Erscotts Hole and two other coral sites. I’ve never really been a fan of such things, preferring either my own feet (or paddles) for propulsion. But it turns out be very entertaining and educational, with our guide pointing out the different marine life and recanting stories about the island.
After a mostly sunny week, the day is getting increasingly overcast. I’m glad I’ve managed to get all the big walks done!
Despite the weather closing in, after lunch we head to Muttonbird Point for some bird watching. It’s fascinating to watch the gannets swooping past from our elevated lookout. But they’re not easy to photograph, and I only manage to get a few reasonably sharp photos.
It’s another pleasant (and very easy) walk, and as always we see may other fascinating wildlife (if a spider can be considered wildlife?) and plants on our afternoon excursion.
Our last day of an amazing week! The weather is overcast and foggy, so it’s relaxing / lazy day with a stroll down to Kings Beach, near our lodge. Small waterfalls are cascading down the side of Mount Lidgbird, so relaxing in the lounge and watching the changing scenery seems an appropriate end to a week of much activity. We’ll definitely be back, one day…
|Location||About 800km off the coast of NSW – about two hours flight from Sydney or Melbourne (limited flights and can be expensive – book early)|
|Distance||Walks vary from under 1km to the 11km Mount Gower ascent (guided walk)|
|Season/s||All year round. Most popular time is between September and June, or outside winter. We went in late June and is was a bit cold for swimming, but great for hiking. January is the peak time for seabird activity (Lord Howe nature calendar)|
|Maps||Except for Mount Gower that should be done with a guide, unless you’re an experienced walker, there are local maps covering all the other walks on the island. There is a really good Exploring Lord Howe Island brochure that lists all the walks.|
|Tips & Notes||