Heavenly Lord Howe

G Magazine

World Heritage listed Lord Howe Island well and truly earned its place.

Lord Howe Island

Mt Gower, right, and Mt Lidbird dominating the Lord Howe Island scenery.

Credit: Louise Southerden

Lord Howe Island

Cycling is just about the only way to get around on the 11-km long island.

Credit: Louise Southerden

Lord Howe Island

The walk up Mt Gower is rated as one of the best day walks in Australia.

Credit: Louise Southerden

Lord Howe Island

Feeding the fish at Ned's Beach. The reef around Lord Howe is the most southerly coral reef in the world.

Credit: Louise Southerden

Masked booby

Masked Booby, one of many sea birds that inhabit Lord Howe.

Credit: Tourism NSW

Ball's Pyramid

Ball's Pyramid, at 562 m is the world's tallest sea stack. It is about 20km southeast of Lord Howe Island and home to the Lord Howe Island stick insect, thought to be extinct until 2001.

Credit: Tourism NSW

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It's hard not to be swept off your feet by Lord Howe Island.

After two hours of flying over featureless blue, suddenly there it is, an oasis of natural beauty: the twin peaks of Mt Lidgbird and Mt Gower that dominate the island's southern end; isolated northern beaches populated by hundreds of thousands of seabirds and accessible only by sea kayaking or walking; a settlement of 350 locals and just 400 visitors; and a long, blue lagoon bounded by the most southerly coral reef in the world.

Even David Attenborough once wrote that it is "so extraordinary it is almost unbelievable…Few islands, surely, can be so accessible, so remarkable, yet so unspoilt."

But Lord Howe is not just a pretty face. Because of its isolation, the island is an important site for "in situ" conservation of many rare and endemic species - almost half its 241 native plant species are found nowhere else in the world; the same goes for both the island's reptiles, a skink and a gecko, and almost a thousand insect species.

According to Ian Hutton, Lord Howe's resident naturalist and author of 10 books on the island (he was also awarded an Order of Australia medal in 2006 for his contribution to conservation and tourism), "People talk about the Galápagos Islands because of Darwin's connection, but there's more diversity on Lord Howe Island and it's so intact - the island is very much as it was when it was first discovered."

Sea, birds

Within an hour of arriving, we'd 'rented' (by leaving a donation in the honesty box) masks, snorkels and fins at Ned's Beach and were communing with the fishes.

The water was tropically warm, the visibility an astonishing 25 metres. Just by stepping off the beach, we had entered a world of butterfly fish and rainbow-coloured wrasse, green turtles and black-tipped reef sharks, stingrays, clownfish, giant clams, corals and 14 kinds of sea urchin.

It was like snorkelling through an aquarium, and no wonder: the warm East Australian Current that swirls down the Australian coast flows out to Lord Howe too, where it meets the cold southern currents, bringing together more than 500 fish species and 90 different corals.

This array of tropical and temperate marine creatures is protected within the Lord Howe Island Marine Park.

Lord Howe is also the best place in Australia to watch seabirds. Almost 170 species have been recorded living on or visiting the island group, and hundreds of thousands nest there every year. Between September and March, just standing on the beach at dusk, you can see hundreds of mutton birds skid ashore then dash through the palm forest to their burrows.

The day we went birdwatching with Ian Hutton at North Bay, we walked past sooty terns sitting silently on their nests just metres from our sandy feet, then entered a dark forest of Norfolk pines where, looking up into the branches, we saw dozens of nesting black noddies, some within easy reach of human hands. All the birds seemed supremely unbothered by us.

"That's one of the really special things about seabirds on Lord Howe Island," Hutton told us. "The birds have been on this predator-free island for millions of years, so they don't see us as anything but another bit of nature."

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