Isle of Exiles
By Shane Boocock
Only 160km of roads, a 50km speed limit, one roundabout and no traffic lights – is it any wonder the driving rules are fairly relaxed? Keys are left in the ignition, car doors remain unlocked and seatbelt rules are almost always ignored – oh, and the only traffic jam you’ll encounter is giving way to cows and Kingston geese! Call me old-fashioned, but doesn’t this sound like paradise?
Getting exiled to Norfolk Island in the midst of a cold, wet springtime in New Zealand was worth the price of an air ticket alone. A one hour fifty minute flight from Auckland makes this little sub-tropical speck in the Pacific our closest foreign neighbour, albeit an external territory of Australia.
Norfolk Island has always had its fare share of exiles – a notorious former colonial penal colony, not once but twice. The first European settlers stepped ashore here in 1788 to establish the first penal colony, only to see it abandoned in 1814. The next wave of 19th century convicts, murderers and cutthroats arrived in 1825, and this time it was a far crueller and harder existence. It was thus described as a place of infamy and dread.
But there is a lot more to this eight by five kilometre, three million year old volcanic outcrop and its nearly 8,000 acres of undulating farmland, national park and pine tree covered hillsides, which includes a wealth of natural assets in wonderful coral reefs, rugged sheer cliffs and hidden sandy beaches.
At just before 6am on my second day I slipped out into the pre-dawn air and drove 10 minutes down to the former penal colony at what is now called Kingston and Arthur’s Vale Historic Area. I waited for the sun to breach the horizon above the old fortified walls and remaining buildings and to rise above the well occupied convict cemetery – a place where Norfolk islanders are today buried alongside their direct descendants.
It was early Sunday morning and the only things on the move were cows wandering the grassy banks of the walled settlement. As crashing waves pounded the shore and the onshore wind ventilated my mind, it wasn’t hard to imagine how completely isolated this location would have been 200 years ago. For the convicted, loneliness, longing, deprivation, dysentery and hard labour would have made any serene morning sunrise look like the gates of hell!
As cows made cow noises, the rising sun poured through portcullis arches and rifle slits in the walls. Weathered stone ramparts, and the remains of buildings suddenly started steaming slightly as the rays of sunlight warmed the pitted walls. History came alive that dawn day on an island, a place not dissimilar to the coastline of Great Barrier Island or the rolling farmland of Waiheke Island. Yet colonial history was omnipresent in all its non-regal glory.
The convict settlement was finally dissolved in 1855. A year later the island turned back to the peaceful land it once was with the arrival of 194 pious descendants of the Bounty mutineers who made the 6,400km journey from Pitcairn Island, a place by then overpopulated. It was a magnanimous gesture from Queen Victoria that entered into the annals of British Empire’s history books. The new immigrants brought with them their well-versed values of island living as free persons, yet they had never seen a cow on Pitcairn Island, or an internal fireplace, the result born of total isolation.
In their new surroundings they quickly adapted. They also brought with them one of the rarest languages in the world, part 18th century seafaring English imbued with a mix of Tahitian. Such is the uniqueness it is still heard daily on Norfolk Island and is even taught as part of the curriculum in the local public school.
“It’s free to get buried here,” said Eddy, “well almost! We just give the gravediggers two cartons of beer and the job gets done.” On Norfolk Island down-to-earth rules apply in a very down-to-earth manner. Eddy was our tour guide on a half day trip around the island. Originally born in Vanuatu, his father married a Norfolk Islander, one of only two ways outsiders can reside here. The only other approach is to buy a business.
Like many island communities, life moves a little slower here. What’s the rush anyway? Norfolk Island is uncrowded, uncluttered and unhurried, and that’s the way locals and visitors like it. There is a remarkable sense of community here, too. The Norfolk wave is another friendly oddity, a raised hand sign from other drivers, given to locals and visitors alike!
Quirkiness is also an island trait. The telephone directory even has a page listing nicknames. As Wally, one of the many characters I met on N’folk remarked, “I’ve lived here all my life and there are some people I still don’t know their real name.” On top of that, the people here are sincerely warm, friendly, authentic, rustic, nurturing and high spirited, too. Whatever you do don’t miss the island’s three museums. The raw worth of cultural history is there to be discovered.
At the Pier Store I found the story of the sinking of the HMS Sirius and its recovered artifacts. On the first floor the Pitcairn- Norfolk gallery displayed significant artifacts recovered from the HMS Bounty. There’s also a wealth of archaeological history that’s been uncovered, dating back to Polynesian settlement at the Commissariat Store, as well as a fascinating look into the past when I visited No. 10 Quality Row, a restored Georgian house of the period.
With 30 odd restaurants it’s of little surprise cuisine is an important aspect on the island. There are a host of options from progressive dinners offering four courses at four local homes, to fine dining experiences at restaurants like Dino’s or Governor’s Lodge, or even food platters for lunch at Two Chimney Winery.
Norfolk Island, discovered and named by Captain Cook in 1774, has always attracted mainly older Australian and New Zealander tourists. Certainly the gentile lifestyle and laidback approach entices this type of traveller, yet second honeymooners and a younger breed of people are nowadays discovering more than just the island’s key features. Walking tracks, scuba diving, surfing, sea kayaking, mountain biking, 4-wheel driving, superb fishing, horse trekking, golf, and annual events such as the jazz, opera and literary festivals, as well as local cultural festivals such as Bounty Day every June 8, are attracting a growing number of new visitors.
On my third day, I found myself nine miles out in the Pacific Ocean on Darren Bates’ 31ft fishing boat. It was a calm day and slightly overcast. On board was Vincent, an American now residing in Sydney, as well as Mary, her husband Bill and her father John, all from Tauranga. On our first drop, four of us hooked fish. We caught scorpion cod, better known as ‘Poor Man’s Lobster’ which Darren filleted and used as bait, as well as trumpeter fish, which locals call ‘Sweet Lips’ and a bin-full of bonito and kingfish. We were hooking fish on every drop. Once we started trolling, the rods Darren had set were whistling as we hooked fast running bonito. The frenzy continued when we switched to jigging, as a school of kingfish bent rods double time and again – the frenzy even attracted a large bronze whaler! As the Kiwis on board smiled wildly, Mary said, “We caught more today than we would in a week off Tauranga. This is what I call fishing.”
Norfolk Island is only 1,120km from Auckland, yet the Norfolkese sign on author Colleen McCulloch’s driveway gate really says it all, OUTYENNA – Out Yonder.
Where to stay, Where to eat, What to do
For all Norfolk Island bookings contact: the ‘World of Norfolk’ specialists Our Pacific on Freephone 0800 500 598.
Norfolk Island tourism. E: firstname.lastname@example.org
There is a full range of accommodation to suit all budgets, from self-contained apartments, holiday homes and bungalows to lodges, hotels and a couple of five-start luxury hideaways.
We stayed at Governors Lodge Resort. Executive lodge including breakfast and hire car and insurance, AUD$290. For some 5 star luxury try one of the newest accommodation options on Norfolk Island. Included in the tariff: airport pick-up, automatic car with insurance included (petrol extra), breakfast provisions for week.
As Australian and New Zealand mobile phones will not operate on Norfolk Island, they provide each guest with a mobile phone for use whilst on the island.
Informal drinks and canapés early evening prior to departure.
Rates: Clifftop cottage: 2 people in a 1 bedroom AUD$500 per cottage per night; 4 people in two bedroom cottage, AUD$650 per cottage per night, Gazebo: 2 people in a 1 bedroom cottage, AUD$400 per night, Strathlands, 2 people in a 1 bedroom cottage, AUD$400 per night
Forrester court – Clifftop cottages, t: +6723 22838, http://www.forrestercourt.com
Two chimneys winery: t: +6723 24410, E: email@example.com
Dino’s Restaurant, t: +6723 24225
REO Café – an historic building and great lunch spot at the wharf, t: +6723 23088
Governors Lodge Resort & Restaurant, t: +6723 24400, http://www.governorslodge.nf
Advance Rentals cars, t: +6723 23119 / 50777, open Mon-sat 8.30am-1pm. AUD$40 a day includes insurance.
Pine Tree Tours offer a number of tour variations for visitors, priced between AUD$36-$42 per person. t: +6723 22424, http://www.pinetreetours.com
Bush Walk and Breakfast every wednesday at 8am, allow 2.5 hours – AUD$45.00.
Baunti Escapes also offer fishing, diving, sea kayaking, mountain biking, 4-wheel drive, horse riding and trips to Phillip Island. t: 23693, http://www.worldofbounty.com
Advance Fishing and Cruising with Darren Bates, AUD$120 per person. t: +6723 23363, M: +6723 50500, firstname.lastname@example.org
Cyclorama: open Mon-sat 9am-5pm, sun 10am-3pm. Adults AUD$14.00, child $5.00. t: +6723 23871, http://www.norfolkcyclorama.nlk.nf
The Norfolk Island museums are open Mon-sat 11am-3pm. AUD$25.00 for Adults allows multiple entry to all three museums at any time during your stay. Children have free entry to the museums. Single ticket entry is AUD$10.00 for adults. t: +6723 23788, http://www.museums.gov.nf
Trial of the Fifteen – this play is put on by the museum. Monday and Wednesday only, 4.45 to 6.15pm. AUD$25 adults, children under 12 $12.50. t: +6723 23088, http://www.museums.gov.nf
Duty Free shopping – a wide variety and some of the best prices in the world.