History and heart on Norfolk Island

02:23, Jul 19 2012
Norfolk Island
BEACHED AS: A rotting longboat pays tribute to the island's seafarering history.

Beaches and sunshine? Or convict  era ruins, archaeology and museums? Then again, superior wine,  tasty local cuisine and duty-free goods?

All this plus a history dating back to 1150 makes Norfolk  Island, a rocky outcrop 1600km east of mainland Australia, a  remarkable place to visit.

For those who venture to this time-stalled island the points of  interest are legion. For moi (who landed here just two hours ago) it's been an  experience of love at first fly-over.

The moment the plane's smooth nose honed in on this island,  rising like a giant humpback in the South Pacific Ocean, I was in  love.

I first fell for the island's bumps and curves - its  wineglass-shape beaches, emerald peaks and tall pine trees. Then  between the plane and the tiny terminal I slipped deeper in love - the local folk are all smiles and chitchat and the air is warm  (Norfolk is almost at the same latitude as Byron Bay).

I'm travelling alone on this four-day jaunt, but now that I'm  here I wish I'd brought my husband and daughter.

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At the airport, the marketing coordinator for Norfolk Island  Tourism, Tania Anderson, meets me and carries my bag to her car.

As we motor along the blink-and-you'd-miss-it main street,  Taylors Road, and through the island's only round-about towards my  temporary abode, Broad Leaf Villas, Tania explains that the maximum  speed limit is 50kmh and cows have right of way.

There's little to fear on this 32km square island as there are  no snakes or poisonous spiders and there's no crime worth  mentioning so no one locks their doors, Tania says as we pull into  the drive way of Broad Leaf.

I'm shown to my one-bedroom cottage that rests amid a  sub-tropical garden on Taylors Road. The accommodation is not  overly fancy but it's contemporary and comfortable and there are  some nice touches _ a welcome basket brimming with giant oranges,  bananas and hand-made chocolates and fresh red hibiscus flowers  have been placed in the bathroom.

Driving about and discovering the island will be the formula for  my stay over the coming days and as my villa includes a car (you  just pay NZ$26 per day for insurance) so pottering about will be a  breeze.

Over lunch, Tania explains that the population of Norfolk Island  is about 1900 and the locals are mostly descendants of Fletcher  Christian and his tiny band of British rogues and their Tahitian  wives, who executed one of the great maritime heists of all time,  the mutiny on the Bounty.

Prior to the mutineers' arrival in 1856, Norfolk was home to one  of the harshest penal colonies ever administered by Britain.

The dwellings left behind by the British, in addition to the  stories of whale-hunting mutineers and Polynesian seafarers, who  first visited these shores in 1150, make for fascinating  sightseeing on Norfolk Island.
One of the highlights during my stay includes the moment I  tootle down the scarp, past contented cows, into the Georgian  architecture and convict ruins of the World Heritage-listed  Kingston area. In the space of five minutes I experienced time  travel to the 1700s.

Another highlight is the tour of the cemetery where headstones  describe men who died at a very young age _ and my guide tells  accompanying stories of grizzly punishments, riots and executions.

Also deserving of a lingering visit is Fletcher's Mutiny  Cyclorama, which also houses a gift shop with irresistible  locally-made jewellery and the excellent Hilli's restaurant. The cyclorama is a 360-degree panoramic painting telling the  story of the Bounty and the families who eventually came to settle  on this unique island.

This three-million-year-old volcanic remnant was first spotted  in 1774 by Captain James Cook, who named the isle after his patron,  the Duchess of Norfolk. In his journal Cook described Norfolk Island as ''paradise'' - a  word he did not use for any of his other discoveries.

After putting my feet in the glistening sea at Emily Bay at  Kingston, against a backdrop of the setting sun and with white  terns as my only companions, I agree that Cook could not have  chosen a more apt adjective to describe Norfolk Island.

IF YOU GO:

GETTING THERE: Norfolk Island is 1600km east of mainland  Australia. Air New Zealand), the only  airline that flies to Norfolk Island, offers regular flights from  Auckland (1.5 hours).

STAYING THERE: Broad Leaf Villas (broadleafvillas.com) has a  mix of one-bedroom and two-bedroom villas. All have private  balconies over looking the valley canopy, fully-equipped kitchens  and private BBQ facilities. Rates from NZ$189 per night for two,  including car hire (excluding petrol and insurance of $20 per day),  bike hire, return airport transfers, welcome pack and use of mobile  phone with $10 credit.

NEED TO KNOW: Norfolk Island is a self-governing Australian  Territory. All travellers to Norfolk Island must hold valid passports.

MORE: Norfolk Island Tourism (norfolkisland.com.au) has  information on all accommodation, tours and packages available.

The writer was a guest of Norfolk Island Tourism.

AAP