Norfolk Island: Australia’s best kept secret?

Norfolk Island is a quaint – almost quirky – forgotten corner of Australia. And that’s a huge part of its appeal. I went back recently, after not having visited for over a decade. It was a sweet reminder of how naturally beautiful Norfolk Island is. In fact not a lot has changed in that time, and in today’s world, that can be pretty appealing.

It’s a relaxing flight from Sydney or Brisbane, 1400kms east of Byron Bay, into the sunny side of the Pacific. It’s far enough to make you feel you’re on holiday, without the jet lag. If you’re lucky enough to score a left -side window seat on the plane you see the lush, green swathe of island from a distance & then descend over crescent-shaped Emily Bay and Kingston, the original British colonial penal settlement. It’s an exhilarating snapshot.

Founded shortly after Governor Phillip established Port Jackson in 1788, Norfolk Island was intended to be both a supply base & prison for Sydney. Today, the mix of abandoned sandstone barracks, old port buildings & a row of exquisite Georgian houses – including one of the oldest Government House buildings in Australia – may be the greatest collection of its type anywhere in the world. Norfolk Island is quite different to the stark remnants of Port Arthur in Tasmania but its history is equally violent and barbaric, and the ghost tales just as colourful, I suspect.

The whine of a chill wind through the pines on a pitch-black night beyond the dismantled gallows and the old graveyard, with Bloody Bridge at your back, is enough to frighten the pants off a scarecrow. I once had a war–hardened 6o Minutes cameraman refuse to spend an hour amongst the tombstones at night, even though the crew collectively offered him two hundred dollars incentive. “Stick that up your ….” he told us, as he headed for a well-lit bar up town.

Up town is a pleasant assortment of one-story shops, cafes, an RSL club, a couple of bowling greens and the pub – and that’s pretty much the charm of the place. Central to the town area is a metal-boat memorial to HMAV Bounty. It’s a reminder for Norfolk Island’s population of their ancestors who infamously mutinied with Fletcher Chritian onboard the Bounty and settled on Pitcairn Island. Years later their decendants took refuge on Norfolk Island in 1856, when they’d outgrown Pitcairn Island, 3700 miles away in the far South Pacific.

The family connection with Fletcher Christian & his mates thrives on Norfolk Island today, as every second local you meet has the spirit of The Bounty mutineers in their blood. Literally. They’re a friendly, colourful mob who naturally greet you as people always did.

Beyond the rogues and rascals of colonial days I found a lot to soak up as I drove my bright orange Mini Moke hire-car (great fun for a holiday) around the island’s narrow lanes – mindful of the road rules that require you to always wave to passers-by and give right-of-way to cattle. No traffic lights and one lonely roundabout make touring a breeze.

Norfolk Island is a foodies treasure trove, driven – like Tasmania and New Zealand – by its clean ‘n’ green reality. It offers the cleanest air & water, with the greenest pastures in a world where cities face blinding pollution & farmlands are laced with toxic chemicals. You’ll find home-grown cattle aplenty, colourful feral roosters running freely, unbothered and plenty of fruit & vegies too, with what the Norfolk ‘folk’ declare to be ‘the world’s best avocado’. Maybe it is!

While there’s no shortage of New Zealand or Aussie wines there’s only one vineyard and one goat farm. They both offer the most delicious picnic hampers of succulent local cheeses, breads & spreads, to take to your own private paddock or cliff-top – and indulge!

Similarly, restaurant chefs are totally dependent on the island’s seasonal crops. This makes for fascinating and inventive cooking because of Norfolk’s sensible quarantine laws – with no chance to import Californian grapes or fruit from New South Wales. However, local fish are plentiful, either at the wharf as they unload the day’s catch or from a line you’ve cast yourself. I much prefer the latter option.

For golfers, the locals lay claim to having a world’s only public course on ‘heritage listed’ land. (The Kingston & Arthurs Vale Historic Area, KAVHA, was inscribed on the World Heritage list as one of the 11 sites that make up the Australian Convict Sites.) Even if it’s not the only one in the galaxy, it’s still a gorgeous nine-hole course that will certainly test your skills when the sea breeze rocks in.

Hiking trails seem to be endless, as are secluded beaches and seductive forests, including a copse of magnificent Morton Bay fig trees with an above-ground root system big enough to house an itinerant family. I’ve never seen anything like these natives, in size or stature.

Finally, two cultural diversions not to be missed on Norfolk Island – Take a tour to visit Colleen McCullough’s house and study, where Australia’s best-selling female author wrote her extraordinary novels, surrounded by a conflagration of wildly coloured walls and tiles and chairs. It’s clear that Colleen’s taste in furnishings was as loud as her personality.

Visiting Norfolk Island may mean turning back the clock to a quieter, more relaxed era, but don’t let anyone tell you that this lovely place is strictly for retirees or your grandparents. That’s utter nonsense. No matter what your age, or the age of your kids, it’s a place that can be as ‘full on’ as you make it. It’s great for hyper-active families, honeymoon couples or simply a long weekend to find yourselves again.

Finally, if you like to take photos – which happens to be an obsession of mine – well, grab some extra batteries for the camera. Sunrises and sunsets on Norfolk Island are spectacular and the night skies are simply breathtaking.

If I sound a bit besotted by the place, well it’s because I am. I even signed-on as a tourism Ambassador. So, c’mon and do yourself a huge favour and discover one of Australia’s best-kept secrets.


Ray Martin is a five-time Gold Logie winning Australian television journalist and entertainment personality. He is best known for his various on-air roles on Channel Nine from 1978. (Wikipedia)

Ray Martin signed on as an Ambassador for Norfolk Island Tourism in 2016.
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Image Credit: Robin Nisbet


Article content disclaimer: Article first published in Discover Norfolk, Volume 01 Issue 01, 2017. Please note that details of specific travel, accommodation and touring options may be outdated. References to people, places and businesses, including operating days and times may be have changed. References to Government structure and Government businesses/entities may no longer be applicable. Please check directly with businesses and/or Government websites directly rather than relying on any information contained in this article before you make travel arrangements.


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