History and heart on Norfolk Island
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.
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.