Lord Howe Island is an idyllic stop for your Australia trip offering some of the world’s best day hikes, snorkelling on the coral reef and conservation programs you can be part of.
David Attenborough once described Lord Howe Island as “so extraordinary it is almost unbelievable.” Flying into Lord Howe Island on my Australia trip, I could already see what he meant. From the two dramatic volcanic peaks that appeared below the clouds to the surrounding cerulean blue lagoon, the island was impressive from above, but I couldn’t wait to see it from below.
After a quick two-hour flight from Sydney, we descended above the lagoon, also known as the southernmost coral reef onto the shortest runway I had ever seen. The island is made up of 75% protected park preserve and is encompassed in a marine park, so it was easy to see why the airport looked as if it was placed in an unoccupied space rather than built in a cleared space.
The island’s natural, relatively untouched environment is home to a biodiversity matching the Galapagos, as well as species found nowhere else in the world. This island is maintained through world-class conservation efforts that began 100 years ago and is continued by the Lord Howe Island community and as of recently, tourists.
A citizen science program was established to provide visitors the opportunity to change the lives of critically endangered animals, including a thought to be extinct stick insect, also known as the Lord Howe Island phasmid, all the while indulging in the islands’ rare habitat.
My home base for the next few days was Ebbtide, a family owned sub-tropical oasis, emphasizing a relaxed home holiday experience with chic apartments nestled behind the cliffs of Ned’s Beach, also known as one of the world’s prettiest beaches.
From my apartment, I walked down to Ned’s Beach, where fish are almost beaching themselves, waiting for visitors to feed them. For a dollar, you can get a handful of food and watch a school of Wrasse, mullets and Galapagos parrot fish dance around your legs—it was an amusing experience.
The island has several beaches, including Settlement Beach, where Lieutenant Henry Lidgbird Ball sunk his feet into the sand of Lord Howe Island in 1788, and little beach is where Kentia palms would grow in the nearby rainforest. The seeds were sold to the mainland, which became a source of income for many locals, until demand diminished and tourism blossomed.
After scouring beaches, upon beaches, I found myself back at the beach, but for a different reason. My first citizen science project involved surveying ghost crabs. Lord Howe Island naturalist Ian Hutton, informed me of a rodent problem, which data collected from the survey will determine what impact rodents are having on two species of ghost crabs on the island. Ian reminded me of the scientist on Journey 2, played by Michael Caine. He sported khaki green shorts, a button up top, two shades lighter—minus the hat and machete. Overall he was the protector of the island, from leading research groups, to conducting his own investigations and ensuring the island is protected from environmental and human factors.
Lord Howe island is home to famous walks, including the grueling Mount Gower Trek, which is an 8-hour guided hike up a 2,870-foot peak, offering impressive views of the island. However, not all hikes are guided, most of them only require a map before you’re on your way climbing up Malabar hill enjoying the best views of the south as well as spotting birds who nest there.
Transit hill is also an easy stroll starting at the picturesque Blinky Beach then follows a narrow track to reach an outlook point, by which you find yourself standing in the middle of the island to be greeted with 360-degree views.
While exploring lush rainforests, a fungi survey can be conducted by taking photographs of the forest floor. There are millions of different types of fungi throughout the world, ranging in shape, texture and color, but little is known about the fungi on the island. The fungi survey project collates photographs taken by visitors, which are then archived for future identification.
Lord Howe Island Environmental Tours is a great way to experience the World Heritage listed paradises best-kept secrets. I hopped on a glass bottom boat coral viewing tour to explore one of the world untouched coral reef systems.
With snorkeling gear on board, it wasn’t long until I found myself staring down a double-header wrasse, floating above a boat sized sting ray coated in sand, and peeping through chromatic colored corals to find a community of fish swimming peacefully like a scene from Finding Nemo.
Speaking of Finding Nemo, I was excited to see an anemone fish monitoring project on the citizen science project. The dark brown to black species of nemo with a whitish snout is found only within Lord Howe Island marine park and is vital to ensure they stay abundant in the area through monitoring and collection of data. Coral identification and monitoring is also vital in maintaining the environment, which only requires a coral finding toolkit and an expert supervisor.
The next day, I tackled one of the most critical environmental problems in the world—plastic pollution. Joined by Ian Hutton, we scoured the beaches collecting plastics that had washed up, which were often picked up by local seabirds. After filling several bags with plastic debris, we separated and categorized pieces back at the lab in the islands museum.
Green army men, plastic caps, remnants of styrofoam, and fishing line were just some of the items that were collected. I separated a pile of balloon clips, which seemed to stand taller than the others. According to Ian, balloon clips are a common find in bird’s stomachs, along with glow sticks used in fishing.
Birds often mistake these pieces for food, which they bring back to their young who are malnourished and often die as they don’t get the nutrients they need to be able to leave the nest or are killed by the chemicals. Each piece was classified and recorded into a national data base, which will help researchers understand if birds are attracted to the color, shape or type of plastic.
The 7-million-year old volcanic veteran had much to say about its existence. Its whispers echoed through the valley of shadows dodging hundred-year-old banyan trees and mutton birds. It climbed over Mount Gower and Lidgbird, descending to sweep by the fish at Ned’s before settling on clear waters of the lagoon. When it comes to ecotourism, Lord Howe Island is as good as it gets for a natural, undisturbed and resplendent paradise island.