Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Happy Lord Howe

In his 1933 novel Lost Horizon, James Hilton immortalizes Shangri La, an earthly paradise where humans and nature live in perfect harmony – a utopia one never expects to find in the real life. But it exists.

Lord Howe, a tiny island in the vast Pacific about 600 km northeast of Sydney Australia is just such a place. I was there recently with my husband, daughter and two nieces. And here’s the thing. From the moment we stepped off the plane, we never uttered a cross word nor did we hear one. We never made or received a phone call because there is no mobile reception. We never needed a car because everyone rides bikes. Remarkably, in the 5 days we were there, we never had an unpleasant moment.

Every inch of the island is gorgeous and much of it spectacular. The wildlife seem to know they are protected - like the large turtle who spent a lazy morning swimming with my girls in the lagoon. And even though Lord Howe is idyllic, it is hardly precious. Instead, the vibe is super relaxed and friendly. Everyone knows everyone and after a day or so, they know you too. Everyone on the island, whether walking, biking or in a car, waves.  Snorkel equipment lies around in a hut at Ned’s beach and is based on an honesty system. The fish swim right up to you in the hopes of being fed and are way too smart to get caught by young girls with fishing poles.

The harmony that is Lord Howe owes much to the fact that it was one of the last islands on earth to be discovered. Uninhabited until 1834 (so no displaced humans), the real natives of Lord Howe are birds, fish and plants, many of which are found nowhere else on the planet. With a limit of 400 licensed tourist beds and an airstrip that restricts flights to 36 seat aircraft there is little humans can do to destroy this earthly paradise.  But there is still tons of stuff for humans to do and everything seemed easy to organize. You can swim, surf, dive, hike, climb, bike, fish, golf, lawn bowl and play tennis. (There is not a decent tennis ball on the island so be sure to bring your own.) Or you can happily do nothing.

As for food and accommodation, there are three main resorts: Capella, Arajilla and Pinetrees and an assortment of apartments and guest houses. We stayed at Arajilla and recommend it highly. We loved the location nestled in a banyan tree grove steps from the beach.  The staff is some of the nicest and most accommodating people I have encountered. The food was consistently excellent and I loved the fact that the owners were present and engaged in our having the best possible time.

Down the road from Arajilla is Pinetrees, operated by the same family since 1848 and the original place to stay for generations of Australians coming to Lord Howe. Capella Lodge at the other end of the island looked very smart but our girls enjoyed being closer to the “action” at Arajilla.

But no place is perfect, right? If there is a fly in the ointment on Lord Howe, it is the question of price. No Crowds does not often endorse really expensive travel experiences because the folks who tend to go to terribly expensive places are often not much fun. Well, that’s not the case on Lord Howe plus some things are worth the expense and I would argue that it is far better to save up for Lord Howe than to go somewhere else. Never has the notion of no crowds been more delightfully delivered than on this happy, harmonious island.

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