Lord Howe Island

By John Game, on flickr

Lord Howe Island. A hiker’s paradise. A crescent-shaped volcanic remnant rising majestically from the Tasman Sea, World Heritage listed for its beauty and biodiversity.

It’s the kind of place I dream about visiting.

When I’m most in need of a holiday, whether because I haven’t had one for a long time or because I’m particularly stressed out, I tend to do some pretty detailed research on potential destinations. Lord Howe Island has long been one of them.

I’ve generally only written here about places I actually visit, but at times like these I figure why not share my bucket list. I do so much research, regardless of how far away this hypothetical trip might be, that it’s probably worth sharing. This is the first in what will hopefully be a long line of posts that share the hypothetical; the far off trips that might not happen for another 20 years, though hopefully I’m wrong.

Lorde Howe Island looks extraordinary. It’s tiny, at just 11 kilometres long and on average two kilometres wide. Its permanent population is around 350, and there are only beds for 400 guests at any one time. There are very few cars on the island, so the focus is on getting from A to B by cycling, and walking. So much walking. Just the way I like it.

The island is home to countless hiking trails that suit everyone from children to experienced and fit adult adventurers. There are flat, sea-level hikes, half-day walks to stunning landscapes, or mountainous hikes that would make even the fittest hiker weep. Nearly two thirds of Lord Howe is permanent park preserve, and it can be explored by an extensive series of well-signed and well-worn trails.

It’s even been compared to the Galapagos Islands. Almost half of its native plant species and much of its wildlife are found nowhere else in the world.

“…so extraordinary it is almost unbelievable… Few islands, surely, can be so accessible, so remarkable, yet so unspoilt.”

– David Attenborough

So I present to you what look to be the three best hikes on Lord Howe Island – the three I’d plan to hike if I could visit – ranging from a relatively easy stroll to one hell of a challenge.

The Clear Place & Valley of the Shadows

Valley of the Shadows - Lord Howe Island

Valley of the Shadows

Image courtesy of Destination NSW

Take an easy stroll to a high grassy clearing called The Clear Place, with incredible views over the south end of Lord Howe Island, across Intermediate Hill and Mount Lidgbird and as far as Ball’s Pyramid on a good day.

Bird enthusiasts will enjoy many Flesh-footed shearwater burrows along the way. Though completing this hike in the dark isn’t a good idea, it might be worth bringing a torch and timing it to finish just after dusk when you’ll witness them circling and eventually landing to return home for the night.

Your next stop is The Valley of the Shadows, one of Lord Howe Island’s most extraordinary locations, named for the dappled sunlight from the giant Banyan Trees and Kentia Palms in the surrounding 40-metre high forest.

Banyan Trees are a ‘Strangler Fig’. A parasite that germinates in the branches of other trees and sends down roots, which eventually strangle the host tree. These roots create a unique forest understorey of what looks like cages, or trees with legs. Apparently, there’s a Banyan Tree here with limbs stretching out to the size of a football field.

Need to know

Length: 3 km
Time: 2 hours
Grade: Easy / Grade 2 (according to the Australian Walking Track Grading System).
Style: Return
Park: Lord Howe Island Permanent Park Preserve
Access: Leave your bike at the end of Andersons Road, near Middle Beach. This listing on the Bushwalking NSW website has a great set of blow-by-blow directions for the trail. They’re dated now but the trails on Lord Howe Island are very well kept.

Mount Eliza, Kim’s Lookout & Old Gulch

View from Mount Eliza - Lord Howe Island

View of Lord Howe Island from Mt. Eliza

By Tracey Hind, on flickr

Many people believe Mount Eliza is one of the best views on Lord Howe Island. It may be a short hike but the steep climb to the summit makes for a good workout.

Unfortunately, the summit is closed in the warmer months to help protect the Sooty Terns that nest around this stunning peak. The track to the summit still offers impressive views, even if you don’t make it all the way.

Along the way, hikers can take short detours to Kim’s Lookout (1 km return) and Old Gulch (400 m return). The “Need to Know” section below assumes you’re taking both side trips.

Kim’s Lookout affords magnificent views over Old Settlement Beach, while Old Gulch is a deep cavity in the cliffs where you’ll find a stunning rocky inlet. At low tide, rock-hop around to the east (right) to find the Herring Pools. Bright blue rockpools that are teeming with sea life (you’ll need to allow extra time), since they refill at every high tide.

Need to know

Length: 6 km
Time: 3 hours
Grade: Medium / Grade 3 (according to the Australian Walking Track Grading System).
Style: Return
Park: Lord Howe Island Permanent Park Preserve
Access: Leave your bikes at Old Settlement Beach. This website has a good description of the trail.
Further Info: The Mount Eliza summit is closed over the warmer months. The exact dates vary from year to year but ask around to get an idea. The hike is still worth doing even if you don’t get to the summit. Please follow any signs and do your bit to help protect this species.

Mount Gower

Mount Gower Hike - Lord Howe Island

Mount Gower

Image courtesy of Destination NSW

If hiking is your passion, Mount Gower is the real reason to visit Lord Howe Island.

The hike to the summit of Mount Gower has been named as one of the world’s toughest day hikes and is arguably Australia’s best.

Unfortunately, a guide is compulsory if you want to complete the Mount Gower Summit Hike. While that may be off-putting for the hardcore hikers among us, it’s the way things are. There are probably even good reasons for the rule. One being that the tracks are completely unmarked in parts, and another being that the island is just as popular with less seasoned hikers as it is with the hardcore.

To me, this is not that big a sacrifice and it even has its advantages, like the guide’s extensive local knowledge of the flora, fauna, and history of the area.

By all reports, the guides on Lord Howe are pretty fantastic company, too.

Starting from near sea level and hitting 875 m at the summit, over only 7 kilometres, it’s fair to say the hike is strenuous for most of the way. Some sections even have ropes affixed to the rock to aid hikers in traversing safely. If you’re terrified of heights, this may not be the hike for you.

Views across the island from the summit are spectacular, but even if it’s covered in cloud – as it often is – they’re just as incredible on the way up and back.

It isn’t all about the views either. The flora and fauna are something else. Lord Howe Island is one of only a few islands in the world with true cloud forests. You’ll love the unique vegetation near the summit as you enter the cloud forest, teeming with a variety of ferns, mosses and orchids.

Need to know

Length: 14 km
Time: 8 – 10 hours
Grade: Difficult / Grade 5 (according to the Australian Walking Track Grading System).
Style: Return
Park: Lord Howe Island Permanent Park Preserve
Access: Your meeting place will depend on your tour guide but the trail starts near the far south end of Lagoon Road. If your tour starts from here, there’s a bike rack where you can leave your bike.
Further Info: Mount Gower can only be accessed with a licenced guide, but tours start from as little as $70 per adult. Ask your lodge proprietor for recommendations on a guide and make sure you book early as places are limited. This hike should only be attempted by the fit and agile, who are okay with heights. Check out this post from Hiking With Ben or this article from the Herald Sun for a better description of the experience.

What else is there to do on Lord Howe Island?

Aside from being a brilliant place for hikers or a relaxing island holiday, Lord Howe is the perfect destination for other nature lovers and outdoor adventurers. It’s loved by bird watchers, scuba divers and snorkelers, kayakers, surfers and fisherman.

When’s the best time to visit Lord Howe Island?

The most popular time to visit Lord Howe Island is between September and June. That’s right. Most of the year.

The Lord Howe Island weather is mild all year round. Between July and August, the average maximum temperature is 19 degrees celsius. For the rest of the year, it’s around 25 degrees. Daily minimum temperatures range from 20 degrees in summer to 12 – 14 degrees in winter.

Lord Howe Island Accommodation: Pinetrees Lodge

Camping isn’t allowed anywhere on Lord Howe Island and accommodation options are limited. One of the better options is the biggest lodging on the island, Pinetrees Lodge, which is equipped to accommodate 85 people at a time.

Pinetrees Lodge is one of Australia’s oldest family businesses and has been operating as a guesthouse for over a century. It’s currently run by the sixth generation of the same family that kicked things off back in 1848.

Set on the beach beside a 6-kilometre long turquoise lagoon, Pinetrees offers incredible service (just read the TripAdvisor reviews), exquisite food, a boatshed with various water craft for hire, a tennis court, and even an onsite day spa.

Your stay includes 4 gourmet meals a day, and the Lodge is happy to pack a picnic lunch for you to take on your hiking adventures or just enjoy on the beach. Local seafood is the feature that most visitors seem to rave about. Those visiting with kids will love the babysitting service and kid’s meals.

Check out the Pinetrees Lodge website for current pricing and booking information.

Need to know

Getting There: Lorde Howe Island is off the coast of New South Wales, about 700 km from either Brisbane or Sydney. QantasLink has daily direct flights from both Sydney and Brisbane.
Getting Around: There are very few cars on Lord Howe Island so bikes are the main mode of transport. They are available to hire from any of the island’s rental shops. Bike racks are provided all over the place, even at the start of many hiking trails.
Further Info: Contact Lord Howe Island Visitor Information Centre on 1800 240 937.
Hiking Maps: The Lord Howe Island Walking Brochure provides a rough guide to most of the island’s trails. A good 1:25,000 scale topographic map is available from Carto Graphics for $9.95. If you’re happy to use your phone as your topographic map you can download the free Avenza Maps app (on Android, iPhone, or Windows) and purchase a map that covers these hikes for AUD$1.49.
 

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Disclaimer: This review is brought to you by The Bushwalking Blog and Pinetrees Lodge. This has no influence on the opinions presented in my review.

 

Have you been to Lord Howe Island? Got any questions, comments, updates or corrections? Let us know by commenting below.

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