Wandering the wild landscapes of Lord Howe, it’s easy to see why the crescent-shaped island has a UNESCO listing for natural beauty – one of only a handful of archipelagos bestowed such status.
The island is crowned by Mount Gower (the remains of 6.4-million-year-old lava flows) in the south, which is just one of the highs conquered on the guided Seven Peaks Walk, one of the Great Walks of Australia. The walk traverses dense kentia forest and creekbeds lined with curly palms, giant lilly pillies and tree ferns. The strenuous climbs are rewarded with extended vistas from the peaks over vivid green hills, turquoise lagoons and infinite cobalt Tasman Sea.
You can also wander the island at your own pace as it is criss-crossed with a plethora of hiking trails, from scenic hour-long jaunts around pretty coves to half-day treks along rocky ridges. When in season, you’ll spot thousands of nesting shearwaters – just one of an astounding 200 bird species on Lord Howe.
With a population of just 360 residents, and daily visitors capped at 400, the island’s demand for, and supply of, restaurants is low. Bookings are essential and all dining is casual but free shuttles run between eateries and accommodation.
You will be able to rest easy knowing the island is probably the safest place in the country for your little ones. There is no crime and all accommodation options have a no-key policy. Neither do locals who don’t lock their few cars and abide by an island-wide speed limit of 25 kilometres per hour.
This means seatbelts are positively frowned upon; helmets, however, are essential if you’re swapping four wheels for two. And given the island is just 11 kilometres long (and less than three kilometres at its widest point), cycling is by far the best way to get around.
Note: The island is isolated – it’s 700 kilometres northeast of Sydney and reached by a two-hour flight – and has limited medical facilities. This has led authorities to ban visitors to limit the island’s coronavirus risk. Travel restrictions are currently in place until 27 November 2020, unless repealed earlier.
Option 1: Luxury
As far south as you can sleep on the island, Capella dazzles from the moment you check in: whether from the restaurant, pool or your suite, views of jagged Mount Gower are your backdrop.
Accoutrements inside this resort are pared back, to let the eye-candy outside do all the talking – the design theme is all stone, wood and glass, with pops of colour nodding to the sea.
Book the Lidgbird Pavilion and your split-level suite includes amped-up luxuries including a fireplace, private plunge pool and an outdoor tub under frangipani trees.
The food dished up at Capella is worth lingering over. Menus change daily, depending on what’s fresh and available, but might include honey and vegetables from kitchen gardens.
Sign up for a gourmet barbecue, and the culinary team will go set up an alfresco grill overlooking Ned’s Beach, then return and hand over the keys to a golf buggy stocked with seafood and wine, sending you on your way for an afternoon of grazing followed by snorkelling the kaleidoscopic reef.
Learn about the island’s extraordinary biodiversity back at your lodgings, where naturalist and photographer Ian Hutton is often called upon to host talks on the place he has called home for more than 40 years.
Cost: from $850 per person, per night, all-inclusive
Explore more: capellalodge.com.au
Option 2: Off the grid
Few Australian locales deliberately spurn phone reception. Lord Howe is one.
While some resorts have wi-fi, Pinetrees is blissfully internet-free, which means you can ditch your device and fully immerse yourself in your remarkable Jurassic setting.
The lodge’s sleek cottages include photographs of the same kentia palms and banyan trees that swoosh outside your floor-to-ceiling windows – open these, and you’ll also hear the lapping of Lagoon Beach’s gin-clear waters, protected by the world’s most southern barrier reef. This cove is such a draw that the hotel operates its own sand-side boatshed, where canapes and wine are served to toast the sunset.
On-site diversions range from spa rituals to meals in the standout formal restaurant. Annual events and seasonal activity options meanwhile, include yoga retreats, wellness weeks, ocean-swim challenges and the Seven Peaks Walk.
This five-day guided adventure based out of Pinetrees Lodge takes you from people-free beaches and exposed coral platforms to the gnarled forests of Gower and Lidgbird mountains.
Traversing the former requires eight hours and 875 metres of ascent, with the trail so steep in parts you’re required to wear a helmet and use supporting ropes, bolted into the rocky cliff face.
Cost: from $458 per person, per night, all-inclusive
Explore more: pinetrees.com.au
Option 3: Self-contained
Blue Peter Beach House
The star of rainforest-draped, all-inclusive Arajilla resort is Blue Peter Beach House, a self-contained cottage straight off the pages of a design magazine. The two-bedroom beach house sleeps a maximum of two.
If you find it difficult to leave your nature-inspired surrounds, order barbecue packs and prepare a feast on your spacious patio, replete with day beds.
You’re steps from the lagoon, where most boat excursions depart. But jump on your bike, and cycle north a few kilometres to access craft that (on calm days) whisk you 20 kilometres out into the Pacific to Balls Pyramid.
This dramatic hunk of basalt juts 562 metres above the water line, making it the world’s tallest sea stack. From the 1960s it was a coveted spot for climbing, although today it is only allowed on a limited permit system. Access was also restricted following the 2001 re-discovery of the stick-like phasmid. Once thought to be extinct, it’s now considered the planet’s rarest insect.
Those over the age of 10 with PADI scuba certification can dive into the waters that surround the spire. In addition to swimming with huge schools of violet sweep, rainbow runner, rare Spanish dancer and Galapagos whaler, you’ll also have the chance to come mask-to-whisker with Ballina angelfish – the only place in the world you can do so.
Cost: from $750 per night
Explore more: arajilla.com.au
Option 4: Family-friendly
Family members of all ages are welcome at Somerset Apartments, where spacious lodges with kitchenettes sleep up to six people and include access to garden facilities, barbecues and a laundry.
From your base, pedal over to Lagoon Beach, where small shacks advertise means of exploring this watery paradise, whether by kayak, stand-up paddleboard or aboard a glass-bottomed boat.
The latter traverses immense coral bommies before mooring so you can don a mask and flippers and explore shipwrecks in the company of enormous sea anemone and schools of moorish idol.
A recent increase in the amount of seagrass has seen the island’s resident turtle population surge, with green, hawksbill and loggerhead turtles now a common sight in the westerly waters.
Back in town, use the only public telephone to make dinner reservations. The golf club’s Sunset Bar & Grill has themed nights, while the Coral Cafe draws loyal locals for its ocean-fresh seafood and handmade pastas. The dining room adjoins the island’s small museum, a treasure chest of natural and seafaring history from 1788, when Lord Howe was discovered by Lieutenant Henry Lidgbird Ball aboard HMS Supply.
Cost: from $285 per night
Explore more: somersetlordhowe.com.au