Far beyond Australia's eastern horizon lies tiny Norfolk Island — just 35 square kilometres of verdant farmland and dramatic coastline, encircled by the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. It's a richly historic destination that many Aussies have on their bucket list, and Roslyn Jolly checks in with suggestions for ten top things to do...
This remote speck of land in the Pacific Ocean, 1,500 kilometres east of Brisbane, is one of the very few overseas destinations Australians can travel to at the moment.
Luckily, Norfolk Island — an external territory of Australia — has such an unusual mélange of cultures and landscapes that a visit here will definitely give you the feeling of being ‘abroad’. With scenery reminiscent of Hawaii, New Zealand and England all at once, the island has an equally mixed cultural heritage, including Polynesian, British and Australian influences. Apparent everywhere is the legacy of the Bounty mutineers and their descendants, who made the island their home. They’ve given it a character unlike any other place on earth.
Here are ten of the best things to do on Norfolk Island.
1. Learn the lingo
That’s right, this remote island with fewer than 2,000 inhabitants has its own language, officially recognised by the United Nations. While all the Islanders speak English to visitors, many long-term residents use ‘Norf’k’ to communicate among themselves. ‘Norf’k Laengwij’ classes are included in several holiday packages and are by no means a gimmick. The language, which combines Tahitian, Creole and eighteenth-century English, provides an incredible insight into the island’s unique history at the cultural crossroads of the Pacific.
2. Step back in time at the convict precinct
Norfolk Island was settled by English soldiers and convicts only six weeks after the First Fleet reached Australia in 1788. For the next 26 years, and then again from 1825 to 1855, the island functioned as a vital — and increasingly notorious — offshoot of the Sydney penal colony. Today, the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Kingston and Arthur’s Vale Historic Area on the south coast of the island provides an unparalleled insight into the convict era.
The site includes four museum venues, a research centre, the elegant Georgian houses of ‘Quality Row’, and the eerie ruins of the infamous nineteenth-century prison. Explore the precinct yourself using the downloadable visitor guide and map, or book an informative museum tour.
3. Snorkel the crystal clear water of Emily Bay
Safe, clean and stunningly beautiful, Emily Bay is a near perfect holiday retreat. An outer reef protects the shallow lagoon from ocean waves, making it a perfect place for young children to swim, while an inner reef provides easily accessible snorkelling amidst brightly coloured coral and tropical fish. You can also take a glass-bottomed boat tour, explore rockpools at low tide, or enjoy a picnic on emerald-green grass sheltered by tall Norfolk pines, while you overlook the turquoise water.
4. Hike to the top of the island
Norfolk Island National Park offers outstanding bushwalking opportunities over a range of diverse settings. From the Captain Cook Monument, which overlooks an archipelago of strangely shaped islets, the Bridle Track is a short forest walk with incredible coastal views. The Palm Glen Circuit Track winds through lush rainforest that includes giant tree ferns and rare Norfolk Island palms, while the Summit Track connects the island’s two highest points, Mount Bates and Mount Pitt, providing panoramic views along the way. Connecting all three is the Red Road Track, where you may be lucky enough to see Norfolk Island green parrots flitting between pines, palms and ferns.
5. Pay your respects to the Queen
When Norfolk Islanders talk about ‘the Queen’, they are usually referring to Queen Victoria — the English monarch who allowed the struggling inhabitants of the even tinier and more isolated Pitcairn Island to move here in 1856. Queen Victoria’s generosity has never been forgotten, which is why Norfolk Islanders sing God Save the Queen rather than Advance Australia Fair as their national anthem. In the peaceful Queen Victoria Memorial Gardens, a wooden rotunda houses a small exhibition telling the story of the Queen’s gift. The building also records the names of the eight original families — all linked to the famous 1789 mutiny on the Bounty — who relocated from Pitcairn to Norfolk.
6. Explore the historic burial ground
Norfolk Island Cemetery, which dates back to the beginning of European settlement and continues to be used by the community today, has to be one of the most picturesque and fascinating in Australia. Here you can see the graves of First Fleeters, convict rebels and Bounty mutineers. The early headstones are masterpieces of naïve art, and it’s worth lingering over the inscriptions, which tell stories of extraordinary adventure and suffering. Book the guided tour operated by the Norfolk Island Museum and get even more from your visit.
7. Soak up an ocean sunset
Seeing an ocean sunset is a rare treat for east coast Australians, and Norfolk Island is one of the most beautiful places in the world to do it. There are three renowned spots on the island’s west coast where you can watch the sun go down in style. The legendary Island Fish Fry, held twice a week at Puppy’s Point, makes sunset-watching a social occasion, with a buffet dinner and live music. For a more secluded experience, head to the Hundred Acres Reserve in the southwest corner of the island or to the rugged cliffs above Anson Bay in the north — both prime locations for catching an oceanic sunset.
8. Enjoy duty-free shopping
As an external territory, Norfolk Island is free from the taxes and duties normally imposed by the Australian government on liquor and imported goods. That’s excellent news for visitors, who can find plenty of bargains amongst the shops in Burnt Pine (the island’s only town). Look out for high-quality European shoes and clothing at vastly reduced prices, and make sure you arrive with room in your suitcase to take away your treasures!
9. Feast on fresh local produce
By local tradition, cows have right of way on Norfolk’s roads. As you drive or walk around the island you’re sure to see plenty of these glossy and contented-looking creatures grazing on the roadside, along with chickens roaming at will. The island’s free-range ethos is a good omen for diners, who have their pick of high-quality island-raised beef, locally caught seafood and a range of other fresh produce, including lush papaya and some of the world’s purest honey.
For the best of paddock-to-plate eating, sample the artisan cheeses and ‘edible gardens’ at The Hilli Goat Farm above scenic Anson Bay. More bounty from across the island is on the menu at the charming Hilli Restaurant and Cafe, located right beside the Queen Victoria Memorial Gardens.
10. Visit the home of Colleen McCullough
The much-loved author of The Thorn Birds was Norfolk Island’s most famous resident for nearly forty years, and is buried in the island’s cemetery. The tour of her exuberantly decorated house provide insights into the Australian novelist’s personality, lifestyle and work. Even non-fans will be amazed by the luxurious property. It’s a kind of Pacific answer to the USA’s Graceland.
Do you have any suggestions to add to our list of the best things to do on Norfolk Island? We would love to hear from you. Please leave a comment below.
Additional images: Bigstock
About the writer
Roslyn Jolly is a freelance travel writer whose work has appeared in Luxury Travel, Get Up & Go, The Sunday Telegraph and The Australian. In her former career as an English Literature academic, she studied and taught the work of great travel writers, such as Henry James, Herman Melville and Robert Louis Stevenson, and became fascinated by the history of travel and tourism. Two years at school in Wales and three years at university in England allowed Roslyn to travel extensively in Europe and North America, which she continues to do.