The sea shimmers over a rainbow-coloured reef; tufts of cotton-candy clouds drift across the bright blue sky. Plunging cliffs and soaring Norfolk pines hug the rugged coastline. 1600km of ocean separates Australia from Norfolk Island and although it is not that far in physical distance, a Norfolk Island holiday is a universe away from life in Australia.
Where is Norfolk Island?
Norfolk Island is surrounded by the Pacific Ocean and as an external territory of Australia, travel between Norfolk Island and mainland Australia is considered a domestic trip.
Australian Commonwealth laws extend to Norfolk Island. Taxation and social security benefits along with immigration, customs and health care are the same as mainland Australia.
On 1 July 2016, the final steps to make Norfolk Island part of Australia occurred.
Norfolk Island language
At Norfolk Island airport, the beginning of my Norfolk Island holiday, a sign in the local lingo catches my eye. It says ‘welkum tu norf’k ailen’. Welcome to Norfolk Island, where the Norf’k lingo is the lingua franca of one third of the island’s 1800 residents.
Hearing the blend of 18th-century seafaring English and Tahitian spoken around me, I feel like I can almost grasp what people are trying to say. But comprehension of the full meaning of their words eludes me.
More than 30 percent of the islanders are descendants of the HMS Bounty mutineers who fled to Pitcairn Island after the 1789 revolt.
Norfolk Island is a place with no neon lights or fast-food outlets. There are no tall buildings or traffic jams.
My Norfolk Island holiday is filled with clear starry skies, local farms and country lanes.
Living on Norfolk Island
The islanders have a unique way of life which they cherish.
There are no traffic lights, no seatbelt laws the speed limit is 50 km/h. You’re more likely to encounter a traffic jam of cows crossing the road on your Norfolk Island holiday.
Life on Norfolk Island is green and clean. Farming and fishing are popular occupations. The sea is a bounty of nature’s blessings.
A few hours of fishing on a Norfolk Island holiday can yield a bounty of sweet lip or yellowfin tuna.
What’s more, people who live on Norfolk care deeply for the environment and practice sustainable living. Almost everyone on Norfolk Island grows fruit and vegetables, bartering what they don’t consume with friends and neighbours.
The island’s water supply comes from the sky, collected through rainwater. Each home has at least one 10,000 gallon tank and water is also drawn from the ground from bores.
Norfolk Island is sustainable by default and nothing is wasted. For example, sweet potato vines are trimmed and fed to the pigs. Pig manure is used to fertilise fruit trees and excess fruit is used in recipes for local cakes.
Norfolk Island holiday
Norfolk Island may be far away but there are lots of things for active travellers to do, such as walking and mountain biking in the national park.
You can go horse riding, snorkelling and diving. The sea kayaking is spectacular and the fishing is fantastic.
My favourite place is Phillip Island. Phillip Island is a reddish mass of land six kilometres south of Norfolk Island and part of Norfolk Island National Park (managed by Parks Australia).
There are no marinas or deep water ports anywhere on Norfolk Island.
At Kingston pier, we board a yellow motor boat that is lowered alongside the pier using an old truck, ropes and a pulley-hoist system.
Pulleys and winches have been a way of life since the Pitcairn Islanders first arrived.
These days, cargo ships still have to anchor quite a distance from shore and animals, vehicles and pallets of cargo are transported to land in lighters (old whaling boats) towed by launches.
Phillip Island adventure
At Phillip Island, we climb out of the boat onto moss-covered rocks.
With brilliant aquamarine ocean, rocky islets and soaring cliffs, Phillip Island looks like something out of the Mediterranean.
Past the fisherman’s shack, which is half-hidden by rocks, we climb the cliff using ropes and steps hewn into the cliff face.
It’s a little tough going at first but the steep sections flatten out into easy hiking stretches, followed by sections of uphill trekking. The entire hike is doable for anyone with an average level of fitness.
Along the way, we see masked boobys, petrels and Australian gannets nesting among the cliffs. Chicks hide behind low-lying shrubs. 14 species of seabirds breed on the island, along with two unique and threatened reptiles, a skink and a gecko, and an endemic giant centipede that can grow to over 15cm long.
The island was grazed intensively by goats, pigs and rabbits (brought to Phillip Island by the British when Norfolk Island was a penal colony).
The only salvation from overgrazing is the barren volcanic rock is a spectacular sight, a rainbow of pink, orange and purple hues.
The last rabbit was removed from the island about 20 years ago and local volunteers and national park staff have been weeding and re-seeding the island with Norfolk pines and Phillip Island Hibiscus.
From the highest point on Phillip Island, I gaze back at Norfolk Island marvelling at the island’s history and how this green Garden of Eden has flourished in the South Pacific.
From the top of Phillip Island, at 280 metres above sea level, I gaze back at Norfolk Island marvelling at how this green Garden of Eden has flourished in the South Pacific.
Christina Pfeiffer travelled to Norfolk Island as a guest of Norfolk Island Tourism