This really is an island idyll; all palm trees, beaches and coral, mountains – and rain. Keeps everything green! An eco hotspot, only a limited number of tourists are allowed onto the island at any one time – I think something like 400. Even at peak season (Christmas/New Year) it was easy to imagine yourself in the desert island scenario from the number of people about. Only without the desert. No native land animals (just a few non native cows and dogs; there used to be goats but they became a pest and were ‘removed’).
Most people come here for the amazing scenery, birdlife, fantastic diving and snorkelling, and generally to kick back & enjoy the lack of mobile phone coverage. It’s a slower pace here, for sure. Birds have to be shooed off the roads. Baby snowy terns stare at you from low tree branches. Turtles swim up to you in the lagoon.
Nightlife is loud – but not because of bars and human cavorting – mostly it’s the birds. This is a bird watcher’s paradise – even for non twitchers as we, it was a delight. The mutton birds (shearwaters) in particular were gorgeous – despite the downside of them calling all night on the east side of the island, I forgave them, as their calls of “pick me! pick me!” were utterly charming and made us squeal with the cuteness of them all. Graceful in the air, each evening they transform into clumsy land beasts; they roost on the ground in scrapes or just where they land, wobbling comically on drunken legs as they squabble loudly amongst themselves for the best sleep spot. It’s deafening, endearing and infuriating all at once.
Mutton bird on its ‘nest’
Food wise, pretty much all of the accommodation options have food built in – whether as an onsite restaurant, optional or all inclusive, or – as in our case – available to be bought, as we were self catering. There are grocery stores on the island; Thompsons and the poorly named Joy’s (she didn’t appear too joyous to us) plus a bottle shop for your wine and beer requirements. Both stocked a pretty wide range of foods – frozen meats, tinned and grocery goods. Some veggies, though the selection was poor while we were there. There was even lactose free milk – UHT – much to my surprise. The best meat I saw came from a third grocers up near Ebbtide apartments, Top End, on the Ned’s Beach side of the island. Great thai beef and coconut sausages from there. Earl’s Anchorage, an all purpose cafe / restaurant / bar and the main hang out on the island, had some terrific bakery items and breads baked onsite too.
Most useful of all is the local co-operative; opposite Earl’s, you can buy small amounts of dried foodstuffs in takeaway recycled containers, weigh and save style. Perfect for short stay self catering. There’s locally grown veggies too.
Protein wise, fresh fish is the way to go here – everything has to be shipped over from the mainland if it can’t be grown or harvested locally. It also means foodstuffs grown on or caught off the island will be way fresher – unless you’re lucky enough to catch the mainland boat delivery. Kingfish was very much on the menu wherever we went, whether as sashimi, carpaccio, battered, grilled or pan fried; in pasta or with chips in our case. Though I did have a Morton bay bug linguine – in an astoundingly salty sauce – thinned at my request. Yellow fin tuna also appeared at the Anchorage café/restaurant/bakery towards the end of our stay. I never can remember which of the tuna species are endangered – I know Bluefin is, & skipjack is OK; yellowfin falls into a brain fart for me – I think it’s ‘only’ threatened. So I hope it was OK to be eating poor Mr Yellow-Fin.
Naively we’d assumed it would be OK to rock up at restaurants of an evening for our dinners – in fact being New Year, pretty much everywhere was fully booked already. Good job we were self catering or we’d have gone hungry! We managed to get into Pandanus on NYE; food was nice enough though not outstanding. Expensive, but then it was New Year’s Eve.
In the end we fell back on our own self catering standbys most of the time. It’s amazing what you can do with a tin of tomatoes, some pasta and sausages. Lentils from the cooperative were also a find. We ate a lot of eggs. We were on a budget, having splashed out for the holiday in the first place, so here are my top tips for enjoying a frugal Lord Howe holiday:
- Go self catering – even if you decide to eat out in the evenings, it’s still a huge money saver when you factor in lunches and brekkies made yourself;
- Take a selection of spices with you to liven up your home cooked foods. Taking just enough saves you buying lots when you arrive, at inflated prices.
- There’s no problem with taking your own food with you generally, as long as you observe the same rules as you would flying into NSW from interstate. I’m not vegetarian and I was seriously pining for fresh veg by the end of the week!!
- You can take bottles of wine with you on the plane (if you are starting your trip in Australia!) and they will be cheaper than the equivalent locally available. We took a 10 year old Zinfandel from Lowe in Mudgee for our special occasion – no way that would have been sourced from the liquor store!
- QantasLink have a weight limit of 14kg checked baggage – most places on the island have honesty systems for borrowing stuff like snorkelling gear or books so borrow or hire on island to save weight.
- Book restaurants in advance if you want to eat out peak season. Earl’s Anchorage was available most nights, and is nice, but that could get old if you were here for a fortnight;
- Use the co-op for topping up your pantry items for self catering.
We can’t wait to go back!