NORFOLK ISLAND: Isle of ExilesFor me, getting exiled to Norfolk Island in the midst of a cold, wet springtime in New Zealand was worth the price of an air ticket alone. Just a one hour fifty minute flight from Auckland, makes this little sub-tropical speck in the Pacific our closest foreign neighbour, albeit an external territory of Australia.
AUTHOR and PHOTOGRAPHER: Shane Boocock ©2010
There’s 160km of roads, a 50km speed limit, one roundabout and no traffic lights. Is it any wonder the rest of the driving rules are fairly relaxed too – keys left in the ignition, car doors unlocked and seatbelt rules are almost always ignored – oh and the only traffic jam you’ll encounter is giving way to cows and Kingston geese! Call me old-fashioned, but doesn’t this sound like paradise?
For me, getting exiled to Norfolk Island in the midst of a cold, wet springtime in New Zealand was worth the price of an air ticket alone. Just a one hour fifty minute flight from Auckland, makes this little sub-tropical speck in the Pacific our closest foreign neighbour, albeit an external territory of Australia.
Norfolk Island has always had its fare share of exiles – a notorious former colonial penal colony, not once but twice. The first European settlers stepped ashore here in 1788, to establish the first penal colony, only to see it abandoned in 1814. The next wave of 19th century convicts, murders and cutthroats arrived in 1825, and this time it was a far crueler and harder existence. It was thus described as a place of infamy and dread.
But there is a lot more to this three by five kilometer, three million year old volcanic outcrop and its nearly 8000 acres of undulating farmland, national park and pine tree covered hillsides, which includes a wealth of natural assets from wonderful coral reefs, rugged sheer cliffs and hidden sandy beaches.
At just before 6am on my second day I slipped out into the pre-dawn air and drove 10 minutes down to the former penal colony at what is now called Kingston and Arthur’s Vale Historic Area. I waited for the sun to breach the horizon above the old fortified walls and remaining buildings and above the well tended convict cemetery – a place where Norfolk islanders are today buried alongside their direct descendants.
It was early Sunday morning and the only things on the move were cows wandering the grass banks of the walled settlement. As crashing waves pounded the shore, and the onshore wind ventilated my mind, it was not hard to imagine how completely isolated this location would have been over 200 years ago. For the convicted, loneliness, longing, deprivation, dysentery and hard labour would have made any serene morning sunrise look like the gates of hell!
As cows made cow noises, the rising sun poured through portcullis arches and rifle slits in the walls. Weathered stone ramparts, and the remains of buildings suddenly started steaming slightly as the rays of sunlight warmed the pitted walls.
History came alive that dawn day on an island, a place not dissimilar to the coastline of Great Barrier Island or the rolling farmland of Waiheke Island. Yet colonial history was omnipresent in all its non-regal glory.
The convict settlement was finally dissolved in 1855, and a year later the island turned back to the peaceful land it once was with the arrival of 194 pious descendants of the Bounty mutineers who made the 6400km journey from Pitcairn Island, a place by then overpopulated. It was a magnanimous gesture from Queen Victoria that entered into the annals of British Empire’s history books.
The new immigrants brought with them their well-versed values of island living as free persons, but yet they had never seen a cow on Pitcairn Island, or an internal fireplace, the result born of total isolation. In their new surroundings they quickly adapted. They also brought with them one of the rarest languages in the world, part 18th century seafaring English imbued with a mix of Tahitian. Such is the uniqueness it is still heard daily on Norfolk Island and is even taught as part of the curriculum in the local public school.
“It’s free to get buried here,” said Eddy, “well almost! We just give the gravediggers two cartons of beer and the job gets done.” On Norfolk Island down-to-earth rules apply in a very down-to-earth manner. Eddy was our tour guide on a half day trip around the island. Originally born in Vanuatu, his father married a Norfolk Islander, one of only two ways outsiders can reside here. The only other approach is to buy a business.
Like many island communities, life moves a little slower here. What’s the rush anyway? Norfolk Island is uncrowded, uncluttered and unhurried, and that’s the way locals and visitors like it. There is a remarkable sense of community here too. The Norfolk wave is another friendly oddity, a raised hand sign from other drivers, given to locals and visitors alike!
Quirkiness is also an island trait. The telephone directory even has a page listing nicknames. As Wally, one of the many characters I met on N’folk remarked, “I’ve lived here all my life and there are some people I still don’t know their real name.” On top of that the people here are sincerely warm, friendly, authentic, rustic, nurturing and high spirited too.
Whatever you do don’t miss the island’s three museums. The raw worth of cultural history is there to be discovered. At the Pier Store I found the story of the sinking of the HMS Sirus and its recovered artifacts. On the first floor is the Pitcairn-Norfolk gallery with significant artifacts recovered from the HMS Bounty. There is also a wealth of archaeological history that’s been uncovered dating back to Polynesian settlement at the Commissariat Store, as well as a fascinating look into the past when I visited No. 10 Quality Row, a restored Georgian house of the period.
With 30 odd restaurants it’s of little surprise cuisine is also an important aspect of the island. There are a host of options from progressive dinners offering four courses at four local homes, to fine dining experiences at restaurants like Dino’s or Governor’s Lodge, or even food platters for lunch at Two Chimney Winery.
Norfolk Island, discovered and named by Capt. Cook in 1774, has always attracted mainly older Australian and New Zealander tourists. Certainly the gentile lifestyle and laidback approach entices this type of traveller, yet second honeymooners and a younger breed of people are nowadays discovering more than just the island’s key features.
Walking tracks, scuba diving, surfing, sea kayaking, mountain biking, 4-wheel driving, superb fishing, horse trekking, golf, and annual events such as the jazz, opera and literary festivals as well as local cultural festivals such as Bounty Day every June 8, are attracting a growing number of new visitors.
On my third day, I found myself nine miles out in the Pacific Ocean on Darren Bates’ 31ft fishing boat. It was a calm day and slightly overcast. On board was Vincent an American now residing in Sydney, Mary and her husband Bill and her father John, all from Tauranga.
On our first drop four of us hooked fish. We caught scorpion cod – better known as ‘Poor Man’s Lobster’ which Darren filleted and used as bait, as well as trumpeter fish, which locals call ‘Sweet Lips’ and a bin-full of bonito and kingfish. We were hooking fish on every drop. Once we started trolling the rods Darren had set went whistling as we hooked fast running bonito. Then the frenzy continued when we switched to jigging, as a school of kingfish bent rods double time and again – the frenzy even attracted a large bronze whaler! As the Kiwis on board smiled wildly, Mary said, “We caught more today than we would in a week off Tauranga. This is what I call fishing.”
Norfolk Island is only 1120km from Auckland yet the Norfolkese sign on author Colleen McCulloch’s driveway gate really says it all, OUTYENNA – Out Yonder.
Where to Stay, Where to Eat, What to Do
There is a full range of accommodation to suit all types of budget from self contained apartments, holiday homes, bungalows, lodges, hotels and a couple of five-start luxury hideaways.
Two Chimneys Winery: Two Chimneys Road, Steeles Point. T: 6723 E: firstname.lastname@example.org
Dino’s Restaurant, Bumboras Road, T: 24225
REO Café – this is an historic building and a great lunch spot. At the wharf Kingston T: 23088
Governors Lodge Restaurant, Queen Elizabeth Avenue, T: 24400
Advance Rentals Cars, T: 23119 or 50777. Located in Burnt Pine and open Mon-sat 8.30am-1pm.
Pine Tree Tours. Offer a number of tour variations for visitors, priced between Aud$36-$42 per person
Bush Walk and Breakfast, Every Wednesday at 8am - Aud$45.00 and allow 2.5 hours
Advance Fishing and Cruising, Darren Bates charges Aud$120 per person. T: 23363, M: 50500, email@example.com
The Norfolk Island museums are open Mon-Sat 11am-3pm. Aud$25.00 for Adults allows multiple entry to all three museums at any time during your stay. Children have free entry to the museums. Single ticket entry is Aud$10.00 for adults. T: 23788, E: firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.museums.gov.nf
Trial of the Fifteen - This play is put on by the museum. Monday and Wednesday only 4.45pm to 6.15pm Cost: Aud$25 adults, children under 12 Aud$12.50. Contact the museum. T: 23088 or visit www.museums.gov.nf
Shane Boocock travelled and stayed on Norfolk Island courtesy of Norfolk Island Tourism. E: email@example.com
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