Are you after some serious Jurassic Park vibes? Do you yearn to stand where a famous Attenborough once stood? Alas, you probably won’t find dinosaurs here, but the landscapes, isolation and sheer beauty of Lord Howe Island will have you second-guessing whether the ‘real world’ is worth returning to at all.
1. Climb Mt Gower
Chances are, if you’ve seen photos from Lord Howe Island, they feature these two peaks. Located at the southern end of the island, Mt Lidgbird (777m) sits to the left and the incredible 875m Mt Gower to the right. The Class 5 (goddamn steep and exposed) track takes roughly 6-8 vertigo-inducing hours round trip depending on your fitness level and break times.
Not for the faint-hearted, this day walk has it all; ledges, ropes, mist forests, wildlife, cliffs, and that ultimate sense of accomplishment when you reach the summit. Mt Gower must be climbed with a guide as there are sketchy sections where helmets are required. There is a genuine chance of serious injury so you definitely want someone with you who knows the place like the back of their hand.
We climbed with Dean from Lord Howe Environmental Tours. Dean has a wealth of knowledge and experience about the mountain and island itself which really makes for the complete hiking package. It’s easy to see why this is rated as one of the best adventure day hikes in Australia.
2. Dive Ball’s Pyramid
Forget the Faroe Islands — Balls Pyramid rises an incredible 552m out of the ocean making it the tallest volcano stack in the world. Looking out over the ocean you could be forgiven for thinking this peak was a mere stone’s throw away. In actual fact the Pyramid sits at just over 20km from the main island, meaning if you want to visit it, you’d best book a tour.
Boats head out to Ball’s Pyramid when conditions are calm. If the weather is fine, jump into the water to explore sea caves rich in marine life — some of the rarest underwater species in the world call these caves home. Chances are you’ll be surrounded by 50 or more Galapagos sharks putting on a dazzling show.
There are two companies that operate off the island Pro Dive Lord Howe Island and Howea Divers. Both operate a variety of scuba dives around depths of 20-30m, requiring advanced or above certification. They also have recreational dives suitable for the inexperienced or Open Water certified divers. You can even go snorkelling, pending boat space.
3. Kayak The Admiralty Islands
Kayaking, diving, and wildlife, what more do you need? Perhaps a sea arch?
The Admiralty Islands lie at the northeastern end of Lord Howe Island. A short 15 min boat ride from the island, the Admiralty Islands feature around 25 dive sites scattered through the atoll’s harbour.
When the seas are calm, dive and kayak tours venture into the sanctuary to explore the abundant marine life in this one of a kind location. You can even kayak or dive through the arch if the conditions are good! As you edge closer to the island you’ll find an enormous colony of birds circling overhead, giving you that complete sensory overload of a wild ocean adventure.
There are a number of tour companies that take people to the islands, most can be found along Lagoon Road, just near Thompson Memorial Park.
4. Malabar To Mt Eliza Circuit
For adventurous hikers keen to cover the entire northern head of the island in a single bound, you can’t go past the Malabar to Mt Eliza round trip. While technically a walk that combines multiple marked walking sections, it’s a great way to see a lot in one 8-9 hour day.
Park the car/bike at Ned’s Beach and head up the grassy hill to Pooles Lookout. If it’s a tourist shot you’re after then this is your spot. Continue on a short way, and you’ll find yourself at Malabar Hill Summit (208m) — it’s an excellent place for a sunrise. Once you’ve snapped some photos continue along Dawsons Point Ridge towards Kim’s Lookout which is a great spot to see the island in its entirety.
Continue on until you come to a fork in the track. You may opt to head back to the carpark or continue right towards North Beach and Mt Eliza. Don’t like stairs? Then turn around now. Love the burn? Then you will be rewarded with a golden pot of sunset island views at the end.
Take a dip at North Beach before making your way up the exposed slope to Mt Eliza (147m). The sunset views from here are second to none. Don’t forget to take a head torch as you backtrack through the rainforest stair climb up to the fork and then down to Old Settlement Beach. From here take the public roads back to the car.
5. Swim With The Fishes At Ned’s Beach
Short on time? Or looking for an experience on the more relaxing end of the scale? You’d be hard-pressed to find a place as unique and accessible as Ned’s Beach. Ask anyone who’s made the journey to Lord Howe Island, young and old and it’s guaranteed they’ll mention this stunning place.
Take 3 steps into the water and you’ll be surrounded by schools of fish, big and small as they come to your feet in search of food. There’s a vending machine in the nearby hut where you can purchase pellets for $1 AUD that send the fish into a feeding frenzy. You’ll also find a variety of fun aquatic items in the shed such as wetsuits, masks, snorkels, fins, body and surfboards that you can hire based on honesty donations. Don’t leave this one off the list.
6. Test Your Fear Of Heights At Goat House Cave
Not quite up to the 8 hour slog to the top of Mt Gower? Then test your fear of heights with the next best thing – a hike to Goat House Cave.
The 4km track rises some 400m in as little as 2 hours of climbing. There are enough exposed ledges and cliffs to test even the most seasoned of hikers with a variety of rope sections, and shaky cliff shuffles to rattle those nerves. Goat House Cave itself is a sizeable overhanging cave that provides stunning views back over Lord Howe Island. Allow a good 4-5 hours return including lunch and photo stops.
During and after heavy rain the hike is super dangerous, and it is highly advisable to wait for drier conditions.
7. Snorkel The Crystal Blue Lagoon
Rain, hail or shine, as your plane descends onto the island, you can’t help but notice the crystal blue waters of ‘The Lagoon’.
Lord Howe Island’s consistently warm waters (17℃ – 26℃) are teeming with around 500 types of marine species. It’s not uncommon to see massive rays, Galapagos sharks, turtles, enormous schools of fish, and vibrant coloured coral as you make your way along the lagoon.
Take a glass-bottomed boat out to Erscott’s Hole where you can explore for hours on end in the search of the chameleon-like bluefish – it can change its colours at will. Ditch the boat, hire a snorkel kit and walk from the shore to explore Sylphs Hole where it’s not uncommon to swim with numerous turtles and giant swarms of catfish. Careful though, catfish sport poisonous barbs on their fins.
For some snorkelling a little further afield, hike around to North Bay where you can visit the shipwreck of the Favourite, which has rested here since 1965.
As with many snorkelling sites, it’s best to visit these areas as high tide is about to peak.
8. Claim Every Wave And Surf The Barrels
Traditionally you wouldn’t think of Lord Howe Island as a primo surfing destination, which is possibly what the locals love about it the most. Summer is the ideal time to surf here, and the majority of consistently good breaks happen along the shallow reef on the western side of the island. Depending on wind and tides the east coast can produce some fantastic conditions as well.
Be prepared to paddle over 1km to reach some spots on the outskirts of the lagoon but rest assured, you’ll be rewarded with consistent year-round breaks, relatively warm waters and one of the best, if not THE best backdrops to surf against in Australia. And guess what? You’ll probably have it all to yourself.
Feature image by Tom Archer