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Visiting Lord Howe Island

Laurence Roberts and Mary Anne Unrau

Traversay III
Waterline 43', Cutter-rigged steel hull
October 6th, 2015

Lord Howe is one of several Australian islands scattered around the Mainland. Most of us know about Tasmania to the south, but there are many other inhabited islands including the beautiful Cocos-Keeling Islands to the west and Norfolk and Lord Howe to the east of the Mainland. Lord Howe is about 580km east of Coffs Harbour, Australia and 900km south of Norfolk. All these islands are accessible by air and a small landing strip brings well-heeled visitors from the Mainland. But the only way to really enjoy them is by boat. Once you experience Lord Howe’s spectacular beauty, you will want to go back every time you pass, while travelling between New Zealand and Australia.

It was not until our 3rd trip across the Tasman Sea that we thought of calling up from Coffs Harbour in New South Wales to try to reserve one of the few mooring balls provided for visiting cruisers. We’d heard that a terrible storm was approaching the Australian coast … we made what turned out to be a wise decision to leave the coast – Coffs Harbour was later inundated by torrential rains and many of the docks were ruined. We thought if we could get to Lord Howe Island, we could safely break up the trip across the Tasman Sea. On our first call to the Island, we were told that there would be no available mooring-ball spaces because of the annual yacht race from the Mainland.

The dock.

The dock.

A few days out, we faced much worse weather and steered a course for the islands, thinking that even if we couldn’t go in, the high mountains might offer us some protection from the deadly forecast. Fortunately, when we got near enough for our radio to work, we were welcomed in. One of the scheduled racers had failed to arrive. The crew had wisely deciding to stay on the Mainland rather than to risk the atrocious seas.

This fortuitous accident was the prelude to our first visit. For our second visit we simply booked ahead from New Zealand before our west-bound return trip to Australia.

Arriving at the Island

Entry to Lord Howe can be a little tedious as the turn of tide and currents has to be accurately judged. There’s a huge tidal range. The Island is provisioned by a large vessel (the ‘Island Trader’), which actually sits on the bottom through the low tide, empties its holds and then makes it way out at the next high tide. We waited in the somewhat sheltered, deeper water outside the mooring harbour and had to circle around for a long time waiting for the tide to be high enough to enter. Clive and Craig Wilson radioed us to come in and then arrived in person to help tie us up to our assigned mooring ball.

Unless you arrive by boat, you must stay in the hotels and eat in the restaurants. Regardless of your income bracket, once on the Island, transportation is by foot or by rental bike.

Mary Anne with her bicycle.

Mary Anne with her bicycle.

Once secured, we met some nice folks in the anchorage, including the racing crew of Copernicus and a lively crew made up of three veterinarians on the catamaran Desert Wind.

Copernicus at anchor.

Copernicus at anchor.

We ended up ferrying the crew of Copernicus ashore when Clive wasn’t available. They had lightened their load for the race by leaving their dinghy behind. Tying up to the dock was an adventure – you needed a very long dinghy painter and some nerve to climb up to the dock during low tide.

Ferrying the Copernicus Crew.

Ferrying the Copernicus crew.

Checking-in

Clive, who administered official transportation and mooring advice, was just one of the many Wilsons who work at various tourist-related businesses on the Island and help give it a unique character. These decent and helpful folks are related to the inhabitants of Pitcairn Island and share many qualities, including religion (7th Day Adventism) and the fact that they were the first settlers. On Pitcairn, the original Polynesians had died off or had left before the arrival of the Bounty mutineers.

On this westbound trip, we again encountered Australian Customs – they are always perfectly well-mannered, but their way of confiscating all our meat, fish and even frozen broccoli feels uncivilized. This time our pine nuts and some popcorn were saved when we pointed to the labels, which proved they’d been purchased on our previous stay in Australia. On reaching the Mainland and re-provisioning, we found that the confiscated broccoli florets purchased in New Zealand came in the same package with the same reference phone numbers for both countries!

Touring the Island

Once checked in by Australian Customs and ashore, we rented some bikes and started touring the Island. We did a lot of hiking, biking and scuba diving. Larry made a trip to the top of one of the Island’s two peaks. Visitors need to charter guides for this – an effort by the government to safeguard the island’s unique ecosystems. Many protected birds nest on the precarious mountain slopes and need to be protected from the curious visitors who, in turn, need to be kept from coming to grief on the steep cliffs.

Larry made it to the top.

Larry made it to the top.

Zealous efforts to protect the coral reefs here are being made. The underwater life has become the terrain of visiting biologists who have identified numerous unique, endemic species. As these reefs are the most southerly (known) coral reefs, there’s a great incentive to save them.

Coral reef.

Coral reef.

This is why sailors are not allowed to anchor … and in this case the government is willing and able to back rules against anchoring. There’s very little land here in the vast ocean, and by installing safe mooring balls and being able to regulate traffic, the Australian government protects (at least) these reefs.

Moray eel in the reef.

Moray eel in the reef.

Australians value this beautiful part of their country. There is no traffic and no crowds. There is warm water and sandy beaches. One retired woman I met spends several months there and pays to go diving every day. You can stay for a long time if you pay for air travel, hotel and restaurant. Visiting ‘cruisers’ are allowed only a short stay. But every minute on Lord Howe Island is beautiful.

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