Norfolk Island, a small pine-covered island in the South Pacific Ocean, is perhaps best known for its fascinating social history. Once occupied by Polynesians, then twice used as a penal colony by Australia between 1788 and 1855, Norfolk was eventually settled by the descendants of the mutineers from the HMS Bounty. Just 35 square kilometres in size, Norfolk is two-and-half hours from Australia’s east coast and a 90-minute flight from Auckland, New Zealand.
Why go? From its extraordinary convict buildings set in a UNESCO World Heritage site to the crystal clear waters of Emily Bay, Norfolk Island is a haven for history buffs, foodies and people who love exploring the outdoors. The kin of British mutineers once washed up on its shores, which are today enjoyed by travellers who walk the coastline, snorkel the bay and pick their way throughout the remnants of the former convict colony. Throw in an increasing organic food scene and warm year-round temperatures and you have a perfect stop off on any trip Down Under.
What to do. Many of the activities in Norfolk center around its early history – and there is a limitless selection of things to do. Visit Fletcher’s Mutiny Cyclorama, an award-winning cyclorama at Burnt Pine that explores the history behind the mutiny of the Bounty. Walk, bike or golf your way through Kingston’s historic convict ruins. Snorkel within a stone’s throw of a settlers’ cemetery dating back to the late 1700s or take in any one of the island’s many heritage museums.
If you’re in Norfolk on Sunday, then head to St Barnabas chapel – a stone church built for Church of England missionaries in 1880 from the ruins of the island’s first gaol (jail). For outdoor fun, drive to the top of Mt Pitt (316m) on sunset for a stunning panoramic view of the island, walk to the top of Mt Bates (318m, the highest point of the island) or book a horse and carriage ride on Culla & Co’s beautiful Clydesdale ponies. If you’ve got a day to fill, consider taking a bird watching or fishing tour. Or you can keep your feet dry by booking a glass bottom boat tour of the island’s lagoons.
Where to eat and drink. Norfolk has an impressive seasonal, fresh and island-grown food scene – and plenty of paddock-to-plate options. Start the day with some home grown Anson coffee (look out for Fred’s mobile van serving Anson coffee). Then join the Xtian Brothers for a honey and cheese tasting tour. When you’re finished, pop into Hilli Restaurant & Cafe for lunch. It’s open 7 days and serves fresh, local cuisine. Another great place to eat is The Blue Bull Café. Spend your afternoon at the Liqueur Factory for a free liqueur tasting or head to Two Chimney’s Winery for wine tasting.
Where to meet the locals. Of the 1,500 people who live on Norfolk Island, most can still trace their roots back to 194 Bounty mutineer descendants relocated from Pitcairn to Norfolk in 1856. To meet the locals, get along to Norfolk’s farmers’ produce market (Saturday from 7.30am) or the island markets (Sundays from 8.30am) held in the Bi-Centennial Complex on Taylors Road. Talk to stallholders. Learn about the island’s rich history. Check out local history books for sale at the bookstalls. Books by famous Australian author and Norfolk Island resident Colleen McCullough are firm favourites. Or you can tour her homestead (open to the public since her death in 2015) and buy her books there.
Trip tip. The best way to get around Norfolk is by hire car. Keep in mind the speed limit is a laid back 25 miles per hour (40kms per hour) and it is common practice to wave to all passing traffic.
- For more on Norfolk Island, what to do and where to stay, check out Norfolk Island Tourism’s website. www.norfolkisland.com.au
- The Bounty is a 1984 British historical drama starring Mel Gibson as Fletcher Christian and Anthony Hopkins as Captain Bligh. (It is the fifth film version of the story).
- Morgan’s Run, a historical novel by the late Australian writer and Norfolk Island resident Colleen McCullough about the life of an English prisoner in the first penal colonies of Australia. Much of the novel is set in Norfolk Island.
Currency is the Australian dollar. Time is 18 hours ahead of Los Angeles and 10 hours ahead of London. Average winter temperature is 66.2F (18C) and 75.2F (24C) in summer.
Air New Zealand flies weekly to Norfolk Island from Auckland (New Zealand) and twice a week from Brisbane (Australia). For more on flights, check out Air New Zealand’s website www.airnz.co.nz