Should we adopt Norfolk Island? Snapshot of the isle that wants to be part of NZ video

JASON DORDAY/STUFF

Jane Evans, Ronald Ward, and Noelene and Roderick McAlpine are all Norfolk Islanders with a common, defiant, political bond.

Despite being just a short flight away, Norfolk Island - the palm-covered Pacific isle whose chequered past has inspired multiple Hollywood movies - remains a mystery to many New Zealanders.

A territory of Australia since 1914, the island nonetheless governed itself for 40 years until Canberra controversially asserted full control last year and set up a new regional council to govern it.

Many Norfolk Islanders, who are famously proud of their heritage, were appalled and a resistance group is in the process of having the island's right to self-rule recognised by the United Nations. If successful, Norfolk Island could remain a territory of a host country but once again have its own parliament and make its own laws.

Andre Nobbs, a former chief minister of the disbanded Norfolk Island government, has said he is open to the island becoming a territory of New Zealand as, unlike Australia, it generally allows its territories to govern themselves.

The Australian territory has more in common with New Zealand than many may realise.
THE UNIQUE TOURISM COLLECTIVE

The Australian territory has more in common with New Zealand than many may realise.

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With a pioneering history and DIY culture not dissimilar to our own and people renowned, as Kiwis are, for their ingenuity and hospitality, it could make sense to welcome Norfolk Islanders into our extended whanau.

Here's a quick rundown on the island which could become a part of our (enlarged) backyard.

OUTDOOR HAVEN 

With its secluded beaches, expansive national parkland and clear waters perfect for snorkelling, surfing, fishing and kayaking, Norfolk Island should be a holiday hot spot for Kiwis.

The Australian government has removed Norfolk Islanders' right to govern themselves despite vocal objections and a ...
JASON DORDAY/STUFF

The Australian government has removed Norfolk Islanders' right to govern themselves despite vocal objections and a petition to the United Nations.

Closer to "Kiwi", as the islanders call NZ, than Australia and part of the submarine continental ridge that connects us with New Caledonia, it's an easy 90-minute flight from Auckland.

Historically, however, it's been mainly older New Zealanders who've made the journey to the tiny, five by eight kilometre island; the relatively infrequent flights dissuading some.

In May, Air New Zealand scrapped its direct Auckland to Norfolk Island service, making it a far longer - and more expensive - destination for Kiwis, requiring them to travel via Australia. 

Matt Zarb, the Australian owner of the popular Jolly Roger Bar & Restaurant on Norfolk, described the move as "debilitating" to the island, which relies heavily on tourism.

Norfolk Island Airlines introduced weekly direct flights from Auckland in June but Zarb said many Kiwis are unsure about how to get there.

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FASCINATING HISTORY

For Zarb, who moved to the island with his family 18 months ago, Norfolk is unlike anywhere else in the world.

It's a paradisiacal island with a nightmarish history, Zarb says. A combination that has created a tight and resourceful community and a wondrous place for visitors to explore.

"The best thing about it, for me, is the history," Zarb says. "The history and culture are unique - they're not Australian, they're not New Zealand, they're something all their own.

An aerial view of Norfolk Island, one of the most remote island communities in the world.

An aerial view of Norfolk Island, one of the most remote island communities in the world.

"One of the things I love most is speaking to the older Norfolk Islanders. The famous names [from the 1790 mutiny on British navy ship the Bounty] are just six or seven generations away, so they're still very close to their history and have fantastic stories. Their ancestors survived incredible atrocities and become very inventive and resilient as a result."

Like New Zealand, Norfolk Island was a sanctuary to plants and birds before its first human inhabitants - Polynesians - arrived, according to Norfolk Island tourism.  

Remains of houses, earthen ovens similar to Maori umu and even a marae have been discovered in the dunes behind idyllic Emily Bay on the island's southern coast, suggesting the first settlers were en route to New Zealand as part of the last great wave of the Polynesian diaspora.

Water sports such as canoeing, kayaking, snorkelling, surfing and fishing are popular pursuits on the island.
JASON DORDAY/STUFF

Water sports such as canoeing, kayaking, snorkelling, surfing and fishing are popular pursuits on the island.

Captain James Cook was the first European to set foot in both places. In the latter case, he was the instigator behind the British penal colony that was established in 1788 to source masts and sails for the British navy.

The Brits soon discovered the native pines were unsuitable for masts and the Irish weavers couldn't figure out how to turn flax into sails, but the settlement survived until 1814, supplying New South Wales with produce, until the Australian state decided it could do without it.

In 1825, a second group of convicts arrived - this time made up of some of the worst offenders from New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land, as Tasmania was then known.

Cemetery Bay contains graves that date from the first British settlement (1788-1814) on the island.
JASON DORDAY/STUFF

Cemetery Bay contains graves that date from the first British settlement (1788-1814) on the island.

Norfolk Online News describes this period as "the dark days of the island, both in terms of human cruelty and degradation". Reports of inhumane treatment finally forced the closure of the penal settlement in 1855.

The following year, the British offered the island to Pitcairn Islanders - descendants of the Bounty mutineers and their Tahitian wives and children.

UNIQUE CULTURE

Kiwi journalist Craig Hoyle likens Norfolk Island to small-town New Zealand.
JASON DORDAY/STUFF

Kiwi journalist Craig Hoyle likens Norfolk Island to small-town New Zealand.

Today, most Norfolk Islanders are direct descendants of the mutineers and speak their own language - Norf'k - a blend of 18th century English and Tahitian.

Tourism is now the island's biggest earner, although agriculture and fishing are still prevalent.

While the island's remoteness can still make life tough at times, Zarb enjoys being part of a community where "everyone's success is everyone else's".

Norfolk Island former chief minister Andre Nobbs says residents are fed up with being governed by Australia.
Delwyn Dickey

Norfolk Island former chief minister Andre Nobbs says residents are fed up with being governed by Australia.

Despite their dark history, Zarb says the islanders know how to have fun. At weekends, you'll typically find the local kids on the sports fields and the parents at the golf course  - or down the local pub. And then there's their shared backyard to enjoy, which includes strands of subtropical rainforest and cliff-backed bays untouched by human development.

THE BAY OF ISLANDS OF THE NORTH

Craig Hoyle, a New Zealand journalist who visited Norfolk Island earlier this year, says it feels like a (very) small NZ town; the kind of place where people wave at each other as they pass in their cars and invite tourists back to their house for a beer.

He likens the island to our own Bay of Islands, saying its familiar feel would make it an ideal destination for those looking for a subtropical break with (most) of the comforts of home. And plenty of time to relax.

It's not hard to adjust to a slower pace of life on an island where cows have the right of way on roads and there are no traffic lights or fast food restaurants.

The handful of museums - such as Pier Store, which has artefacts dating back to the Bounty mutiny - are a magnet for visitors interested in the island's history, as is the convict cemetery adjacent to the nine-hole golf course.

Foodies are well catered for with a weekly farmers' market selling tropical fruit and other local produce, several high-quality restaurants, a boutique winery and Norfolk Island Liqueurs, where macadamia nuts, guavas, bananas and other homegrown goodies emerge from a German still as sweetly intoxicating beverages.

For Hoyle though, the island's greatest asset is its people.  

"They're all really friendly and they all know each other. It feels like small-town New Zealand." ​

 - Stuff

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