eco and nature

Life in slow motion on Lord Howe Island

Adam Bub
Life in slow motion on Lord Howe Island
Lord Howe Island from above. Image: Arajilla Retreat
"The island has zero mobile phone reception (zilch!), limited internet access and an enforced 25 km per hour speed limit (you don't want to hit any woodhens, mutton birds or stray cattle, let alone other tranced-out tourists)."
Adam Bub

"Take it easy" — those three words can prove near-impossible to follow when you live a go-go-go city life. Island time, on the other hand, is all about taking it easy.

So, in search of the ultimate "slow-down, switch-off" island holiday, Adam Bub dips his toes into the turtle-paced island life of Australia's most underrated eco-paradise: Lord Howe Island.

Instant island detox

"You can always find a place for yourself," says Doug, the affable driver, chef and all-round nice guy at Arajilla Retreat, the destination for my three-day slug-paced detox from my office, laptop, mobile phone, public transportation, meals either on-the-go or at my desk, and everything metropolitan. "It's good like that."

It seems I've come to the right place; the island has zero mobile phone reception (zilch!), limited internet access and an enforced 25 km per hour speed limit (you don't want to hit any woodhens, mutton birds or stray cattle, let alone other tranced-out tourists). There's very little to distract you from the natural wonders on show here.

The flight to Lord Howe is just under two hours from Sydney or Brisbane, so the relaxation begins without any jetlag weariness, and instant views of the crystal-clear lagoon upon arriving by QantasLink plane (I'll take that over a 12-hour flight to the Maldives…for now, at least).

It's not a tough undertaking, really. Lord Howe Island is one of the few places in the world to impose a tourist cap; just 400 visitors are allowed on the island at any one time. True to Doug's words, I found it common to be the only person at one time on any one of the island's 11 beaches.

Beached …

By the crystal-clear waters of Old Settlement Beach, I feel like Tom Hanks in Castaway, minus a talking volleyball. And that's probably a good thing. Instead, I have turtles, stingrays, more than 500 fish species and 130 bird species to commune with. That's the best thing about Lord Howe Island — it's a natural wonderland, recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site, disguised as a tropical island getaway.

I take a trip down to Neds Beach — the best way to get around the island is to hire a bike, walk or take a van with Doug — where schools of kingfish of all shapes and sizes swim up to the shore for all-day bread-feeding sessions. Flapping about my feet, these friendly fishies display the only sense of frenzy I experience on the island.

My fellow tourists seem just as blissed-out as they ride bikes and walk along the Kentia and Banyan palm-lined roads, all in a dreamy daze of island jollies (you can't walk past someone without a halcyon smile and wave coming your way — are these people on something?). One chilled granny grins at me and drawls, "it's a tough life, isn't it?"

Resort life

Staying at Arajilla Retreat is enough to slow your heart rate alone (in a good way). It's one of the island's two main eco-luxury resorts (the other is Capella Lodge, although there are 18 accommodation options, including cheaper, more family-oriented apartments and lodges across the island).

My room is beach-shack-cum-modern-eco-retreat, complete with a retro-inspired couch area (for lazy afternoon nana naps), and a verandah that looks out onto the elaborate palm plantation that weaves in and around the resort.

All paths lead to the centrepiece of the resort: a wide, open, Balinese-tinged lounge, bar and restaurant space, where I later enjoy a luxe serving of sumptuous local trevally, an inspired pick from Dougie's daily-changing menu.

Trouble in paradise?

I go to lock my door and realise ... I have no key! It turns out that there's a no-key policy on the whole island. What the hell, let's roll with it. There's no place for city paranoia in this island bubble.

Locals implicitly trust the visiting clientele because the island doesn't attract rowdy Schoolies types; the main kinds of people that visit are lovers (on a get-away-from-it-all honeymoon), and old-school nature lovers. Both sub-groups have plenty to do here.

Like what?

Bird-watching, snorkelling, scuba diving, mountain hiking and bushwalking, kayaking, bike riding, yachting, surfing (even though I'm told the island's "way too expensive for surfers"), spa treatments and yoga — these are just a few of the things to do on Lord Howe.

Mount Gower, an 875-metre-high 10-hour survival-of-the-fittest is a hikers' challenge par excellence, complete with bouts of vertigo and momentary breathlessness. The pay-off is priceless — waiting at the top is a cloud-cloaked fairytale-like dew-dropped forest (not to mention a dazzling roll-call of endemic birds and insects along the way).

For more relaxed (read: lazy) walkers like myself, a three-hour climb up and down Malabar Hill (210 m) is just enough physical exertion to get your heart pumping. The panoramic ocean, reef and full island views from Kim's Lookout make every footstep worth it.

Slow motion — in the ocean

By now, the fresh air and "she'll be right" attitude is well and truly in my veins. But there's one final lesson in slow-motion island life I have to learn, and it unfolds on a bird-watching and turtle-spotting tour of the coral reef in the island's see-through-blue lagoon, by local operator Marine Adventures.

We take a glass bottom boat out onto the lagoon for a guided tour and snorkel, where we see purple, blue and yellow-bleached coral, and the populous local marine life comprising rainbow-coloured fish, sea urchins, starfish, and my new best friend, Simba.

Simba's no lion king, he's the oldest turtle of the island, a100-and-something-year-old, possibly160 kg (that's how heavy these loggerheads can weigh) behemoth of the ocean.

He, and other surrounding turtles are expectedly sluggish underwater, but they're surprisingly quick to evade our collective camera flashes with their split-second rises to the surface for a blink-and-you'll-miss-it breath (which they can remarkably hold for up to two hours).

I'm mesmerised by these old creatures, and think about their talents — they travel the world for 20-30 years, and they know exactly where to come home when they're ready to mate. No mobile phone call to say "honey, I'll be home soon" — just a smart, visceral knowledge of place.

Just like Simba, my body feels at one with the place. I'm uninterrupted by ringtones, Twitter feeds and bus timetables, and that's just how I like it. I leave with a sense that I'll be back some day — but hopefully sooner than in 20 or 30 years.

Related video: Lord Howe Island, a wonder down under

Where do you go for a slow-motion island holiday? Have you been to Lord Howe Island? Share your stories with us below.

User comments
I am embarking, on my 5th visit to Lord Howe, in November, I go for the annual Lord Howe golf open, tournament, but always stay for two weeks, We have made some wonderful friends on the Island, and met many new friends from the mainland, and overseas, who have been going for this two week period for many years. Its our little piece of paradise, and we love it. Yes it is a little pricey, but everything has to be shipped, or flown in from the mainland. No mobile, very little television, no nightclubs, just good friends, having a wonderful time, and relaxing. I would recomend, that everyone, visit paradise, at least one time.
Why is Lord Howe Island just so-ooo bloody expensive to get there, to stay and to eat etc ? We would go back one day but never again given the price of the total package ----and it's part of NSW, for goodness sake ! Our agent told us that most people never go back for a second holiday, given the highs prices and the "nothing-to-do -factor", anyway "for what purpose", she concluded. They have some very "strange ways" over there, I must say !
Having been to Lord Howe Island in November last year I am slightly bitter about this article, not because what was written was inaccurate, in fact quite the opposite... it's a perfect reflection of what can only be described as heaven on earth. I am nothing but jealous. I am also hanging out for my next trip to the wonderland and hope that it is sooner rather than later.