Norfolk Island, NSW

Norfolk Island, NSW (Photo: AAP Images)
Norfolk Island, NSW (Photo: AAP Images)
Page 1 of 1: Norfolk Island

Norfolk Island is a green speck in the vast South Pacific Ocean, 1600km northeast of Sydney and 1000km northwest of Auckland. It's the largest of a cluster of three islands emerging from the Norfolk Ridge, which stretches from New Zealand to New Caledonia, the closest landfall, almost 700km north.

Norfolk Island is particularly popular with older Australians and New Zealanders on package holidays. Tourism accounts for more than 90% of the local economy, but it is not a cheap destination. Airfares are expensive and there is no budget accommodation available. Norfolk Island is not subject to Australian tax laws, which has led on the one hand to the strip of duty-free outlets in Burnt Pine and on the other to the sprinkling of millionaires who live on the island.

History

Norfolk Island, which appears never to have been settled by Polynesians, was first sighted by James Cook on 10 October 1774. Fifteen convicts were among the first settlers who arrived on 6 March 1788, only weeks after the First Fleet reached Port Jackson to found Sydney. As a result of food shortages, shipwrecks and native timber that proved too brittle for building, many gave up and moved to New Norfolk, Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania).

Norfolk Island was abandoned for 11 years before colonial authorities decided to try again in 1825. Governor Darling planned this second penal settlement as 'a place of the extremest punishment short of death'. Under such notorious sadists as commandant John Giles Price, Norfolk became known as 'hell in the Pacific'.

The second penal colony lasted until 1855, when the prisoners were shipped off to Van Diemen's Land and the island was handed over by Queen Victoria to the descendants of the mutineers from the HMS Bounty, who had outgrown their adopted Pitcairn Island. About a third of the present population is descended from the 194 Pitcairners who arrived on 8 June 1856.

Orientation & information

The island measures only 8km by 5km, with vertical cliffs surrounding much of the coastline. Kingston, the principal settlement in convict days and now largely an open-air museum, is on the small coastal plain (once a swamp) at Slaughter Bay on the island's southern coast. The service town of Burnt Pine is at the centre of the island, near the airport, while Norfolk Island National Park encompasses the hillier northern part of the island.

The visitor centre (22 147; www.norfolkisland.com.au; Taylors Rd; 8.30am-5pm Mon-Fri, to 3pm Sat & Sun) is next to the post office in Burnt Pine.

Westpac Bank (22 120) and the Commonwealth Bank (22 144) have branches nearby, the latter with an ATM. Most shops have Eftpos.

The Communications Centre (Norfolk Telecom; 22 244) on New Cascade Rd has telephone, fax and internet facilities.

Visas

All visitors to Norfolk Island must have a valid passport and a return airline ticket. The only exception is for Australian citizens who do not have a passport; they can obtain a Document of Identity through Australia Post. Australian and New Zealand passport holders do not require visas, but all other nationalities must obtain an Australian visa for entry to Australia prior to entry to Norfolk Island.

Sights & activities

Kingston, built by convicts of the second penal colony, is Norfolk's star attraction. Many historic buildings have been restored and the finest of these along Quality Row still house the island's administrators, as well as four small but interesting museums (23 088; www.museums.gov.nf; single/combined tickets $8/20; 11am-3pm).

By the shore sits the ruins of an early pentagonal prison, a lime pit into which convict murder victims were sometimes thrown, and the picturesque convict cemetery with some poignant epitaphs, including that of 105-year-old Thomas Wright, a convict who at 101 had been sentenced to 14 years!

You could easily spend an hour poking around the Bounty Folk Museum (22 592; Middlegate Rd; admission $7.50; 10am-4pm), crammed with motley souvenirs from the convict era and Bounty mutineers.

Fletcher's Mutiny Cyclorama (23 871; Queen Elizabeth Ave; 9am-5pm Mon-Sat, 10am-3pm Sun) is a 360-degree panoramic painting depicting the Bounty mutiny and the Norfolk Islanders' unique history.

West of Burnt Pine, magnificent St Barnabas Chapel (Douglas Dr; tours adult/child $12/6) was built by the (Anglican) Melanesian Mission, which was based on the island from 1866 to 1920. It's never really closed; visitors are asked to close the door behind them.

Nature lovers will enjoy the island's lush vegetation and rugged coastline. The enriched volcanic soil and mild, subtropical climate provide perfect growing conditions for the 40-odd plant species unique to the island, including the ubiquitous Norfolk Island pine.

Covering the northern part of the island, Norfolk Island National Park offers various bushwalking tracks, with excellent views afforded from Mt Pitt (316m) and Mt Bates (318m).

There's a sheltered beach with pristine waters at Emily Bay in the south, from where glass-bottom boats depart to view the coral reef.

The snorkelling in front of the Kingston breakwater is worthwhile; you can hire some gear in Burnt Pine, or several companies arrange snorkelling, diving and fishing trips. Bounty Divers (24 375; www.bountydivers.com) operates dives around the wreck of the HMS Sirius from $100 per person.

Getting there & away

Most flights are booked as part of a package deal. There's a departure tax of $30, payable at the airport or in advance at the visitor centre, although some packages now incorporate this into the cost.

Norfolk Air (1300 663 913; www.norfolkair.com) flies from Brisbane four times a week and from Sydney during summer. This airline also offers holiday packages.

Air New Zealand (New Zealand 800 737 000; www.airnewzealand.co.nz) flies to and from Auckland on Wednesday and Sunday.

Getting around

Car hire can be organised at the airport for as little as $30 a day. The speed limit around most of the island is 50km/h. Cows have right of way on the island's roads, and there's a $300 fine for hitting one.

Bicycle hire can be arranged through the visitor centre.

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