Infinity Holidays recently sent some of our agents on a seldom-experienced South Seas Adventure to Norfolk Island, Selina Mutch from our head office in Brisbane gives an account of of the sights they experienced and they hotels they visited.
We waited eagerly at the gate before boarding our Air New Zealand flight to Norfolk Island. What I love about Air New Zealand (actually there are many things, but I’ll stick to a few) is that there is plenty of leg room. You don’t feel crammed in like some other airlines. The staff are genuinely friendly and attentive and never too busy to help out. Once we were all settled in and up in the air (it’s only a 2 hour flight from Brisbane). There was just enough time to watch a short film or a few TV episodes before we were touching town in Norfolk. Although Norfolk Island is an Australian Territory, for travel purposes it is considered an international destination so you will need your passport (or document of identity) and to clear customs upon arrival.
It sounds obvious, but the thing that struck me most as we glided in to the airstrip was all of the Norfolk Island pine trees! The island is green and lush, dotted with homes, farms, cattle roaming and a few friendly locals waved at us as we landed. I’d heard that the best thing about Norfolk Island is the people so I was keen to find out if this were indeed true. The terminal is small – a bit like a regional airport but the benefit is that you could have your luggage and are through customs within 15-20 minutes!
We were met on arrival by Tania and Trina from Norfolk Island and shown our hire cars for our stay on the island (the best way to experience the whole Norfolk experience). We were given a lovely welcome gift that included some of the local produce – handmade soap, strawberry and banana Pitcairn passion liqueur, guava chocolate and handy Norfolk Island keychain torch (this was really great as there is only 1 street light on the island and it gets very dark!) . We piled into our cars and headed to our accommodation at the Broad Leaf Villas.
As Norfolk is approximately 5 kms x 8 kms, everything is a 5 minute drive and though traffic is never an issue, you do need to watch for the local cattle that roam free along the roads. They have right of way and if you are unlucky enough to hit one there is a $200 fine as well as the cost to replace the animal! The speed limit is 50kms on all roads and 30km in town (Burnt Pine). What I really noticed as we drove around the Island is that everyone waves, I mean everyone!! The locals know everyone from the car they drive and it’s so safe that no one locks their car. One of the favourite practical jokes is to move someone’s car and park it outside another house!!
At Broad Leaf Villas we were met by the manager Karlene, who showed us to our Villas. The Villas were modern, clean, quiet and comfortable, with a fully equipped kitchen for anyone wanting to self-cater. In each room we had a selection of local produce including local bananas, eggs, honey and bok choy presented with a beautiful hibiscus flower. Although the villas did not have sea views, Norfolk can get very windy, Broad Leaf Villas had a beautiful sheltered area to sit and BBQ with the family or friends, and generally kick back and relax in Norfolk’s serenity
After we had settled in, Tania returned to give us a quick 360 tour of the island. Taking in some stunning sights of historic Kingston, Slaughter Bay (where you can snorkel the coral right off the beach), Lone Pine, Emily Bay and Mt Pitt (where you can virtually see the whole Island) – there were a great many ooh’s and aaah’s from the group.
Most properties offer a car and it is an ideal self-drive destination – you really can’t get lost! There is no public transport and only one taxi on the Island so a car is handy, but if you are staying close enough to town you could walk, but don’t forget your torch as it gets very dark! Most tours offer a free pick up from your accommodation.
We set off to see some of the other properties on the island. Our first site inspection was at the Tin Sheds. The first thing I noticed as we arrived were the three colourful Fiat’s parked in the carports that are provided to each guest staying. Tin Sheds had just recently received an award by the World Luxury Hotels award to be presented at a Gala Dinner later in the year. After viewing these beautiful apartments I could understand why!
There are laundry facilities available and an outdoor heated spa pool. There is a lovely treatment room where guests can be pampered with a selection of different treatments.
We were taken back to Broad Leaf Villas to get ready for our Ghost Tour that evening. The bus collected us from the hotel where we were greeted by our host in full character. We were driven down to the historic Kingston area where we disembarked the bus at number on Military road and greeted at the door by the ghostly spectre of ‘Elizabeth’. We were taken out the back to the old servant’s quarters – all original stone – walls and seated for dinner. As we ate, ‘Elizabeth’ told us stories of the buildings history and previous occupants as well as some of the ‘unexplained’ experiences of locals and visitors alike to the building and other sites in the area.
After dinner we once again embarked on our ‘horseless carriage’ and were taken to the site of the second convict settlement and given lanterns for our ghost walk. As we walked from building to building in the old Gaol site Elizabeth regaled us with stories of apparitions, strange encounters and ghastly histories. Whether the cold breeze or other, goose bumps were felt by all!
The next morning we met at the Olive cafe for breakfast. The food was amazing, fresh local produce and the cafe served Campo’s Coffee. Although much of the food on the island can be grown or bred, some does have to be shipped in and a cargo ship arrives every 4-6 weeks from NZ or Australia including nearly all fresh dairy products (there are no dairy cows on the island) fridges, TV’s, vehicles, tinned foods etc.
We then proceeded to the first of our site inspections. Crest apartments is set in beautiful gardens. The rooms have a lovely valley view (shared balconies). There are some beautiful sea views from the property’s garden. The accommodation is clean and comfortable offering great value for those on a budget.
Panorama Seaside Apartments is perched on the hills overlooking the beautiful and historic Kingston area, The end apartment (Kingston view) offers the best views of Kingston as well as lovely valley views. With full kitchen facilities, shared laundry, BBQ, onsite manager and use of the Highlands Eco lodge pool the Panorama would suit small families, couples or singles. You would definitely need a car for this property.
Tummys were rumbling at this point so we were looking forward to our Mastering Taste cooking class. Run by the owner’s of Hilli’s restaurant – Kym – the class takes place in her beautiful home. Kym greeted us on arrival and showed us through their incredible produce garden where they grow a huge variety of vegetables and herbs that are used in the restaurant.
Our Chef for the day Joel met us in the kitchen where we were given aprons and a delicious appetiser of spiced pumpkin and sweet potato soup and arancini balls (yum!) We watched on as Joel created a delicious banana tart and homemade honeycomb for after our lunch. Next Joel gave us our task for the day of making our own fish parcel using local ‘Sweetlip’ and veggies and herbs from the garden. After we had created our masterpieces they were carefully placed in the oven to cook while Joel gave us a demonstration of making a fish based risotto that would accompany our delicious creations. He took us through making the fish stock from scratch and a few shortcuts to make the perfect risotto quick and easy!
It was time for our Fun Car Rally. We met at the Tourism office where we were divided into 2 teams and given our instructions. A little like the Great Race, we had to fulfil a number of tasks while navigating around the Island. These included taking a photo with a local, counting the number of pine trees along a particular road, finding a grave site, sketching an historic building, noting the colour of the flag flying over the Golf Course Club house and taking a group selfie!
Finally to top off an amazing day, we were treated to a wine and cheese tasting at Puppies’ Point to watch the sunset. The sunset was beautiful and we watched as the ghost birds (mutton birds) flew in to nest in the cliff top.
Another early start and another delicious breakfast at the Olive Cafe. After breakky we headed off to our first site inspection of the day at the Paradise Hotel and Resort. Set in 11 acres of beautiful gardens, The Paradise has 55 rooms and so is one of the largest hotels on the Island. The rooms were basic but clean and comfortable. This resort is ideal for larger groups but also singles as they offer a budget room with only a small single supplement. There is a pool – which is unusual on the Island due to limited fresh water supplies (they are reliant on rain fall for fresh water). With a French style restaurant (La Perouse) with outdoor dining area, this is a great hotel for the older market, couples and singles, it has conference facilities and can accommodate larger groups.
Next we checked into the Kentia Apartments for our final night on Norfolk. With stunning views and a gorgeous garden setting, the Kentia is a comfortable, modern choice. The two bedroom villa was spacious with a lovely deck area taking in the spectacular view. The spacious 4 bedroom 2 bathroom garden cottage has plenty of room for everyone and the superior cottage has a lovely private balcony with stunning water views.
Once we were settled, we were off to the South Pacific Resort Hotel where we were greeted by our host. With 60 rooms, the South Pacific is the largest hotel on the Island and offers 3 different levels of accommodation. The standard garden rooms are basic but comfortable and clean. The superior rooms with their high ceilings and skylight give the impression of space and light. They are modern and updated and very comfortable for a couple or friends sharing. The penthouse rooms are just beautiful with amazing views and tastefully furnished. A full size pool, wooden outdoor heated spa and sauna are features as well as the restaurant and lobby area is full of interesting aircraft models and memorabilia. There is also a games room for the guests.
Our final site was the Cumberland Resort and Spa where we were greeted with a locally made sparkling apple juice and chocolate in the gazebo area before being guided around the resort. Each guest is greeted in this way and given a rundown of the resort and activities. A blackboard is updated daily with things to do around the island. With 1, 2 and 3 bedroom villas available romantic packages with a picnic hamper and special romantic touches in the room may be arranged.
We had been given a choice of activities for the rest of the afternoon so we split into 3 groups, some went Horse riding, others Sea Kayaking and I had chosen the 4WD adventure. John Christian collected us from Burnt Pine in a 4WD van and we headed off to explore some parts of the Island not accessible by normal car. The views were spectacular and John, our guide has lived on the Island almost his entire life, so as well as being a great fun 4WD trip, we learned a great deal about the Island including the fact there are 200 native plant species on the Island that and the Department of Forestry look after all of the plants and animals on the Island and it costs $140 per cow per year to graze them along the road. We ended up at Anson Bay where we spent some time getting to know some of the locals…
Once our tour had finished we had a little time for shopping in town – some great handmade soaps, locally grown coffee, chocolates and liqueur as well as beautifully crafted jewellery and woven hats
Dinner was at Norfolk Blue restaurant hosted by Tania from NI Tourism. Norfolk Blue is the breed of cattle produced on 100 Acre Farm. It is a unique heritage herd which has evolved on the Island over many years. Its origins are believed to be from a “Blue Bull”, Gillie Bailey brought to the Island over 100 years ago which the locals nicknamed “Dr. Blue Suit”. It is also believed that Dr Blue Suit was an Angus/Shorthorn cross. The restaurant offers fine dining with a fantastic menu, crackling fireplace and great wine menu.
Our final day on this beautiful, tranquil island began with a Bushwalk hosted by local ranger and avid conservationist ‘Dids’. Almost everyone on Norfolk Island has a nickname and you can even find them listed in the local phone directory under their nickname!!
Dids took us through Norfolk Island National Park where we were given the incredibly rare privilege of seeing a Green Parrot in the wild. At one point there were only 7 birds left on the island due to the problem of feral cats and other introduced species. With intensive breeding and protection programs now in place the numbers have increased to about 50 birds, but are still incredibly rare, so for us to see one in the wild was extraordinary – there are people who have lived on the Island for 50 years who haven’t seen one!
We took in amazing views including Bird Rock and Elephant Rock as well as seeing some of the endemic and native plant species on the Island. Our bushwalk finished at the Captain Cook Monument where Dids pointed to some of the beautiful lookouts he often gets to sit and his ‘smoko – what a great job!!
Brunch was at the Golden Orb Cafe in Burnt Pine where we were joined by the lovely Pixie from Pinetree Tours.
It was time to head back to the Kentia and check out and do a little last minute shopping before our flight back to Brisbane.
A few in the group did a tour of the cemetery to learn more about the history of the islands residents and others took in the house made entirely of bottles (40 000 to be exact) as well as the beautiful Anglican Church.
Finally it was time to head to the airport, we gave ourselves 15 minutes for the drive…it took 2!! With heavy hearts we said goodbye to this interesting, historic, natural, peaceful, relaxed, bountiful, beautiful….ok I’ve run out of superlatives!!…Island paradise. After 4 days of activities, stunning views, gourmet foods, history and adventure we had to say goodbye.
What made Norfolk Island so special? Well, all of the above, but I’d have to say it was the warmth and friendliness of the people who are so passionate about their home and who welcomed us with smiles and waves, showed us the best this small Isle has to offer and left us wanting to return as soon as we could.
Yorlye kum baek sun!! – “You all come back soon”, traditional farewell from the island.