A love affair with Lord Howe Island

It was 2004 and I was 27 years old. I’d cracked it. I had a week at work that was beyond words. I took a sick day and went to the Sanctuary Cove Boat Show with Dad, and dropped twenty grand on safety equipment. The boat was at Cat One and I was ready to go.

Mount Gower, when the weather is right, has a cloud impersonating a volcano.

Where? I wanted an ocean passage, away from the coast, away form my mobile phone and email. I was addicted to my day-timer; I couldn’t live without a list. My first thought was New Caledonia. About seven days each way, it seemed like just the thing to snap me out of work and the digital world. But it was July and by the time I got organized it would be October, starting to get a bit late, and my boat wasn’t Australian registered. I went in to Boat Books, as I so often did when I actually took a lunch break, and asked the guy behind the counter (who I knew quite well as I was in there all the time). He said go to Lord Howe Island.

He said its far enough that you feel like you have gone somewhere, but you won’t need Australian registration. You will get the challenge of ocean sailing, but it is only four days. He said, you aren’t going to another country, but you will experience another culture, that is really special. You will see beautiful landscapes, and beautiful snorkelling. And the people are lovely.

So the decision was made, I booked in four weeks holiday, and worked frantically to fit, and learn how to use, my new equipment. It was a long fifteen years ago, I can’t remember the detail, but I remember that it was an important time for my Dad and I as we worked together to prepare my yacht. I remember tension and arguments; I remember him telling me, when I safely returned that he was anxious that work he had done on the yacht would cause me harm or death. That made him cranky and anxious, and he apologized.

The last job I remember doing was to screw in a bracket for my laptop computer (for weather fax) in the nav table, which I did at about 1800 the night before departure. Some good friends joined Dad and I at a local restaurant, and I departed at 0400 the next morning, Dad waving from the dock (he was never up that early usually). I wanted to clear Moreton Bay and the get at least 50 miles offshore before my first sleep. Clearing Cape Moreton at about 0830, I set a spinnaker in the mild westerly and powered south east with the current.

It was a glorious three and a half days. I have a vivid memory of the second day, as the boat rolled along assisted by the southerly set, full main and poled out #2. I looked up towards the sun as the music played and the boat romped south east on the long ocean swells. The music was playing on the stereo, and I felt relaxed and happy.

Besides 25 knots on the nose for about eight hours, it was a plain sailing. The mountains of LHI appear early at a distance, from about 60 miles, and time slows down as you approach them (read: cabin fever). I arrived too late in the day to get into the lagoon (the sun was too low), so anchored off Ned’s Beach for the first night. Ned’s isn’t a great anchorage; a lot of boats have been lost there, but I enjoyed the night on the pick… And the bottle of champagne I had brought for the occasion.

28 year old me, taking a selfie with a film camera. Neds Beach, c 2008 after my first big passage alone.
Well reefed down, heading into a Tasman Sea blow.

The next morning I hoisted the anchor (after it getting badly snagged) and then sailed around to the lagoon, realizing how rugged the island is. The pass is a little “animated”; there is a wreck either side to help show you where to avoid. The harbourmaster stood on the shore on the cliff and guided me in; a handheld VHF in one hand and the tiller in the other. I picked up the mooring, inflated the dinghy and then my real adventure began.

The “CBD”. At rush hour. One car and one bike.

I had consciously done no research on the island, other than booking a mooring and checking what supplies I could replenish there. Walking up the road, each new turn was unexpected and brand new. I stumbled across the “CBD”. (Town hall and three shops).

I had decided at the last minute to fly Dad across to have a holiday with me.  The main form of transport on the island is bicycle which you can hire, and I rode mine with excitement to meet him at the “reminiscent of the sixties” airport.

I was retrenched while on LHI, so I left Lucas there with our yacht to fly back for a job interview. The only time I have flown into the island.

One of the highlights of LHI is the fantastic restaurants. We went to one on the first night, over a bottle of wine I told Dad that the boat was uninsured. He told me if he had of known he would have talked me out of coming. I said I know, that’s why I didn’t tell you. Well he said “you better get home safe!”. My insurance company is more comfortable with me now, and have provided me with an extension to LHI, single-handed.

Afternoon drinks at the CBD. We met so many fantastic people here.

Ten fabulous days of snorkeling, bushwalking, swimming, exploring and eating followed, with some golf thrown in for Dad. The island is stunningly beautiful, with incredible, and unique wildlife. At sunset, at the right time of year, the birds circle then crash land into the bush at Ned’s Beach. You can also hand feed the Kingfish by hand in knee deep water. It is spectacular. It is magic. There is no time to get bored.

But the there are two highlights for me. Firstly the people. With about 400 local residents, and the same in holiday beds, the island is not densely populated. The locals are relaxed and friendly. And as for the holiday makers…… Well I don’t know about you but I am a much more fun person to be around when I am on holidays!

And secondly, dropping out of modern life.  There is no mobile phones, so everyone communicates with a handheld VHF. On my first trip there was an internet kiosk with a few keys missing, so not much use. On the last trip one place had wifi, but it was so expensive and slow we didn’t use it. The papers arrive on the plane but are generally late. And who cares. Don’t go there if you want to stay in touch. It is the only time in my adult life I have used a public phone box.

But don’t worry, there is a meteorological station at the airport. And over the last fifteen years I think I have met six meteorologists there, all who guided me home.

But beware, the cheapest thing about the island is the $30 per night you have to pay for your mooring, plus a modest environmental levy. The restaurants are fabulous, as in really great, but the price is affected by the remoteness. On my last trip there, a lovely family we met were tossing up whether to go to Europe or LHI. They were about the same cost, but I think they made the right choice. But this is the advantage of arriving in your sailing mobile home. You can stay at the cheapest place on the island, with the best view and the most comfortable and familiar bed. You can negotiate with the fishing charter operators to buy some fresh fish and eat aboard – delicious and inexpensive.

The most expensive BBQ chook ever ($25). We had to order it a day in advance. It was worth every cent.

On one trip, we were at the golf club on the table next to Kelly Slater and his entourage.  The surfing is apparently quite good.

There is also a beautiful museum, the local post office which does a slide show on “Birds of a Feather” (they flying boats and the birds of LHI), guided bush walks, and hiking to remote parts of the island – all of it is fabulous.

I’ve been back seven times in total, including one planned visit on my way to New Zealand for the Trans-Tasman Solo Yacht Race and one unplanned return on the same trip when a D1 broke.  I have two photos of two beautiful yachts on the same mooring.

Lucas, nearing the end of his first “ocean” passage. It is about 400 miles in the Tasman Sea.

If you are looking to stretch your sea legs, or just a really relaxing holiday, Lord Howe is at the top of my list.

On our last trip we joined a charter to Balls Pyramid – well worth the money.

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