Caution - long report .. but we had too much fun to leave stuff out!
OH and I had been to Lord Howe in 2012, when we accidentally caught the first LHI Rockfest. We’d thoroughly enjoyed ourselves and were keen to go again, so as soon as we confirmed the dates for the 2014 Rockfest, we booked. Friends we had been raving to about LHI also booked, so we had some company. Previously we’d stayed at Leanda Lei & were very happy there, but they didn’t have any 1BR apartments for the dates we wanted, so after some TA research we opted for Blue Lagoon. The 1 BR apartment has cooking facilities so we would be able to cook a few meals etc. We opted for Sunday to Sunday – this missed the opening night of the Rockfest but allowed us to celebrate a birthday on the island.
Rockfest, for those that don't know, is basically a bunch of musician who come over and work with the school kids during the week and play at venues for free in the evenings. I gather most of them teach music in Sydney.They are what I'd call "good club quality" musicians and the particular line-up for evening performances seems to be fairly "organic".
We were right on our weight limit going over (7kg carry on and 14kg checked) – OH has some special dietary requirements so in addition to fins, snorkels and masks we had some food that we knew would either be difficult to find or expensive on the island.
OH and I were picked up at LHI airport by Janine from Blue Lagoon and shown our apartment. Janine’s family have been on LHI since the 1850’s so she is a true local. She picked up quickly taht we'd visited before, so only told us about things that had changed in the past 2 years (like who now runs the dining at the Bowls Club and that the Coral Cafe at the Museum now does evening meals some nights.) We had booked a 1 bedroom apartment, but were given a two bedroom unit – no complaints from us! Our friends were already there (had been drenched in a downpour shortly before we arrived). OH and I bought some supplies at Thompson's store, the Co-op (both right next door to Blue Lagoon) and from Joy's Store.
We had dinner that night at the Anchorage that night with our friends – we hadn't booked. Food was a bit more expensive than previously and the wine was significantly more expensive. Food was good though. We had the Mahi Mahi – and desserts!
Monday we went to Ned's Beach and snorkelled with the fish & over the coral. It was only 400-500 m walk from Blue Lagoon to Ned’s. There were 5 other people there when we arrived – we joked that this is pretty crowded for LHI & maybe we should come back later. The swarming fish blew our friends away – they’d never seen anything like it. They left us alone once we moved out in the water – obviously no food from us. It was low tide, so we were very close to the coral at times and could see some small fish among the polyps. After a simple lunch of sandwiches we did a short walk to Clear Place Point - a very pretty walk with Woodhens and Emerald Doves among the Kentia palms and Banyans. Several other birds obvious that I wasn’t too sure about. A great view at the end too. There is a shoe sterilisation point at the start of the walk which wasn’t there 2 years ago – aimed at preventing the spread of fungus. After we came back from there I spent $3 on the bird identification sheet.
Monday night was “Rock 'n Pie” night at the Bowls Club (Bowlo) for the Rockfest. We made our own dinner before catching the 6.30 shuttle bus there. People told us the pies were delicious, but OH can’t eat the pastry. Wine prices were reasonable. The first band started just after 8pm, playing with 3 musicians (sometimes 2) and was OK, but not great – the Bowlo isn’t great acoustically. It was crowded and some of the patrons were fairly noisy in their appreciation of a football game on TV. After a short break the bands were back at 9pm and it was much better. (The game had finished too, which helped.) We walked back to Blue Lagoon (about 15 minutes) under a beautiful starry sky.
On Tuesday we did a dive with Howea Divers. Brian from Howea dropped in at our unit at 8.30 to confirm we were good to go for our dive at 9.30. There was only one other diver, a very experienced guy who has been going to LHI to dive for over 20 years, in addition to our divemaster, a young guy named Billy. The dive was at Noddy's bommies – between Noddy Island and no name rock in the Admiralty Islands. The sea had a good swell going out, but the boat was anchored in a quiet spot. The bottom was at 18m and visibility down there was excellent at 25m – I was able to see the anchor line everywhere on the dive. The corals and fish were impressive. Lots of “pretties”. We had a ball.
We met up with our friends by accident at Thompson's store and all had burgers for lunch – the burgers are pretty good. Dodging some showery weather, we walked to the Liquor store and back. Around 4pm I went down to the lagoon to watch an RAAF Hercules doing “touch 'n goes” at the airport – an impressive sight. They were still doing it late into the evening.
We ate dinner at the Anchorage ( pre-booking a table was essential), and enjoyed a good meal while some bands played. Dessert was irresistible again. Only a short walk back to Blue Lagoon from there – around 50m.
Next morning I had a 7am pick up on Wednesday for the Mt Gower walk. There were 8 walkers and our guide, Dean Hiscox. He had been the ranger on the island for 18 years and does the walk up to Mt Gower about 4 times a week. The other walkers were all significantly younger than me – most were in their early 30’s. The early part of the walk was along an old 4WD track to Little Island, then up to a roped traverse across a ledge on the cliff above the sea. From there we walked up Erskine Valley to spot on the creek where we refilled our water bottles and had a break. To this point the walk had been steady, but I'd had no trouble keeping the pace of the younger ones. From there we ascended steadily to the saddle between Mt Lidgbird and Mt Gower where we could see the eastern side of the island. We were probably at about 450m by this stage. From there the route became very exposed, with lots of roped sections, some near vertical scrambles and generally a lot more physically demanding. At one point Dean called the Providence Petrels down out of the sky – their curiosity had them just dropping to our feet. It is the only nesting rookery for them in the world.
Some impressive views on the way up, but we were in pretty exposed spots most of the time, so not a lot of opportunity to take photos. We made it to the top around noon, to find that the top 50m of the mountain were in a cloud. We had lunch up there, with woodhens wandering among us, unafraid of the interlopers. (Do not feed the birds). It started to rain quite heavily making the rainforest very atmospheric (and a bit cold). Dean was keen to descend, as the ropes, rocks and tree roots all get very slippery with rain. It was pretty treacherous, but we got back down without any mishaps – the ropes really came into their own on the descent. We finished the walk in full sun at about 4pm.
OH had gone snorkelling at Settlement Beach in the afternoon and took some impressive photos of turtles.
I was a bit knackered from the walk so we didn’t go down to Ned’s beach for the afternoon Rockfest concert, but we could hear the music from bands drifting in every so often. We entertained our friends with dinner at our apartment.
We had a lazy morning on Thursday. OH and I did some walking including to the museum where I bought a souvenir shirt and to Joy's store where I bought a marine guide book (so I could figure out what all the “pretties” were). We booked at the Museum cafe for the Pandanus restaurant for Saturday (same owner).
I was saddened to find that the Kentia Palm Nursery has closed. The Island Board has taken responsibility for the phasmids (big stick insects) they were breeding, but they aren’t actively promoted or displayed any longer – a shame as they are exotic & rare & have some tourist draw.
In the afternoon we did a snorkelling tour with Islander Cruises and stopped at 4 different spots including Horseshoe Reef, Erscott's Hole & Comet's Hole. In some spots the coral was special, in others it was the diversity of fish. There were even a few reef sharks. We were tickled that after the first stop, one of our friends was first in the water and among the last to leave. Showers rolled in as the tour was winding up and it was quite cool – I was glad we hired the shortie wetsuits for $5. A lot of fun and an excellent tour. Our friends went straight from the boatshed to Settlement Beach and spent some time with the turtles.
We all met up for dinner at the Anchorage again – by this time we knew the names of some of the staff. We had booked from 5.30 and the bands were already playing. It was an Italian night and cocktail night with the bands playing until 8pm. We had risotto and pizzas. Once again, the desserts were irresistible. Another great night.
On Friday morning the satellite reception for the TV kept breaking up, and it seems there were issues with Internet access as well. With the weather so showery we decided that we'd give the finale to the Rockfest at the Golf Club a miss and instead have a BBQ dinner using the under-cover BBQ at Blue Lagoon. After a slow start we had a coffee at the Anchorage before walking up to the Top Shop (best spot for fresh fruit & veges and meat – but at a premium since it is air-freighted), then on to Joy's Shop. We had lunch at the Museum cafe (good!) before walking over to the liquor store to buy some wine. In the afternoon we went to Settlement Beach to see the turtles. The tide was a long way out and a lot of the seagrass beds were in very shallow water. It took about an hour until the water was getting deep enough for a turtle (a large female green turtle) to come in. We had probably 45 minutes watching her feed and swimming beside her and she seemed completely unconcerned. An exceptional experience. The rain was coming through quite heavily at times and with the wind it was quite cool.
Saturday was wet and windy and the internet access was worse than usual, probably disrupted by the weather. I went to Settlement Beach to see if I could see any turtles. I had a snorkel in the rain, but no turtles. On my way back stopped at the wharf, where the fortnightly island barge “Island Trader” was being unloaded. A Qantaslink flight came in while I was there and was really struggling with the cross winds. Most flights for that day were cancelled. I had a brief snorkel in the lagoon in front of the Anchorage – some nice fish and coral around the rocks just off shore there.
Feedback from others about the Rockfest finale was all good. We’d been concerned we might find it tricky to get back (Golf Club is a long way from Blue Lagoon), but apparently that was not an issue and everyone had a great time with the local school kids actively involved in performances once again.
We had dinner was at Pandanus that night and had a wonderful evening. Food was good and once again we had desserts.
The wind and rain stopped during the night and Sunday morning was clear and still. We left our room by about 9.30am. We caught up with our friends, who were supposed to be on the first flight of the day. After initially wishing us farewell, they were told their earlier flight had been cancelled. They spent until around 10 am finding out they wouldn't be going home until the following day. They were given their old room back (new people were on the flight that was cancelled), so put a load of washing on and went off swimming. Bye!! There was a lot of confusion about flights, with internet dropping out and slow, so we had to hang around the amenities room. We had lunch (burgers) at Thompson's store before heading out to the airport at around 1.15pm. Chaos reigned at the airport – 2 planes on the ground, a 3rd on the way and nowhere to put it until one of those on the ground left. But we got away around 30 minutes late. Our friends were disappointed to find their rescheduled departure for Monday would proceed as planned. They had not been charged for the extra night’s accommodation since the people who didn’t make it to LHI had already paid for the room and would be claiming it back from their travel insurance.
Once again, we thoroughly enjoyed ourselves on LHI - so many things we could do and no pressure to do any of them. Despite all the desserts, my clothes were telling me I hadn't put on any weight. Temptation to rip up our boarding passes and stay was strong. Locals (and other tourists) are so friendly and laid-back and we loved the way the local operators often suggested we settle the bill later – I guess they knew where we were staying!
We joked that LHI could have some light-hearted signs for tourists (pedestrians and cyclists) telling them that waving back is mandatory. (All the locals give a wave as they drive or cycle by).
There should also be a sign on the hill outside Joy’s warning cyclists there is a speed camera ahead
Definitely won't be the last time we visit.