The South Pacific's Norfolk Island is an oldie but a goodie

"HOW about Norfolk Island ?" my wife queried while working her way through a pile of holiday brochures.

"No way," was my reply.

"That's for old people."

So we went.

And guess what, this South Pacific island on the way to New Zealand is not just for old people who want to be effectively spoonfed for a week or so.

There's something also for a more active group, as we found out after seven days during which we went on only one tour - the informative, introductory half-day one which I'd recommend for even the most independently-minded visitor.

So, if you're into walking and self-driving around the island's at-times horrendously bumpy roads to see the dramatic 32km of coastline and pleasant (but dry when we were there) countryside, then consider staying for a week or so.

Of course, Norfolk's target audience is of a certain age ... those who enjoy being picked up from their accommodation to go on seemingly endless organised tours and functions, be they sightseeing, dining or history, recalling the early convict days and Bounty times.

But there is still something if you're a touch more independent and active.

We had no trouble in finding enough spots to visit and things to do.

Grab a rental car and go for a leisurely drive (it has to be leisurely with a speed limit of 50kmh) and get a feeling for the place before deciding on your holiday course of action.

Do check out the dramatic coastline complete with massive strands of what else but majestic Norfolk pines.

Pines dominate Norfolk Island along with beautiful sand stretches and picturesque views.
Pines dominate Norfolk Island along with beautiful sand stretches and picturesque views. Contributed

Most of the coastline has to be viewed from above because of limited beach access.

One spot you can access is Anson Bay.

It's not a demanding trek and nearby are west-coast scenic spots such as Puppy's Point which is used regularly by tour operators for afternoon-early night fish fry-ups.

One line from the warm-up singer at one of those and we decided to have our own fry-up at the local bowls club (good value with no warbling).

Clearly the most impressive beach is the sheltered Emily Bay on the southern side of the island, from which glass-bottom boats head out to the adjacent reef.

Emily Bay also was at the centre of the annual March 6 re-enactment of the British arrival to begin a convict colony, just six weeks after the First Fleet sailed into Sydney.

The government house next door is well worth a stickybeak at $14 a pop.

The house is one of several historic buildings in this southern strip of the island that are must-sees.

Buy a museum pass for about $25 to get entry to three in the area.

Emily Bay is the centre of the March 6 re-enactment of the British arrival to begin a convict colony.
Emily Bay is the centre of the March 6 re-enactment of the British arrival to begin a convict colony.

While there, climb Flagstaff Hill (not too steep) for a stunning panoramic view over the entire early settlement area at Kingston, and further south to the impressively barren (in parts) Phillip Island.

A variety of walking areas are available, such as the Hundred Acres in the south-west corner.

It was also a birdwatcher's dream with white terns turning up in numbers.

One even got up very close and personal to warn us off.

Hundred Acres is next to an impressive line of massive Moreton Bay fig trees so the pines don't have it all their own way.

The jewels in the walking crown are the coastal stretches in the national park at the northern end, particularly the Bridle Track.

This gives you stunning views of the island's own little "12 Apostles" - the likes of Cathedral Rock and its mates, notably Bird Rock, which was, as you'd expect, chockers with the likes of masked boobies, tropic and frigate birds. My wife, a bird enthusiast, was impressed.

We took lunch on the seat at the end of Bird Rock Track to get a bird's-eye view of the, well, birds.

Other walks in the national park are worth trying, and none are too taxing although you will find occasional uphill hauls.

On the eastern side near Simon's Water, you can trudge across privately-owned land to the cliff edge.

Cresswell Bay in the south provides more dramatic scenery, particularly on a wild-and-woolly, windy day.

A word of warning about driving: be careful. We rounded a corner to find a cow deciding it was time to have a good time with another, right in the middle of the road.

We beat a not-so hasty retreat.

On the island, you have to give right of way to cows and geese which roam free.

Given its reliance on tourism, Norfoilk Island has an adequate supply of accommodation and eateries although the biggest supermarket looked like a relic from the '60s and getting fresh milk was like winning the lottery.

Fruit and veg were also a bit thin on the ground.

Oh, and take a torch because there are no street lights. It's an eerie feeling at night until you get used to it.

We bought a packaged tour - Air New Zealand flights (about two hours direct from Brisbane), accommodation (Governor's Lodge, perfectly all right) and car (a shocker).

Ours simply said "Group A Budget".

We were served up one almost 20 years old, with a slashed front passenger seat providing little support, a jelly-like steering wheel and external mirrors taped on!

When I queried the condition, the car rental employee politely said, "What do you expect for $12 a day?" To their credit, they gave us a marginally better vehicle.

In my many years of hiring cars, I've found that Group A Budget usually means a modest but relatively new vehicle. Not on Norfolk, it seems, so check before you drive or fly.

Still, it was not enough to put a dampener on what was a pleasant, peaceful week.

Just watch out for those frisky cows when you round a corner.



Getting There

Air New Zealand flies twice a week from Brisbane. It's an international departure and as an external territory of Australia, you'll need a passport.

Where To Stay

There are seemingly no shortage of accommodation possibilities. Check websites.

Googling 'Norfolk Island' is a good start. Alternatively, tour companies in Australia offer package deals .

Getting Around

It's either a hire car or a tour bus.

There are a few local hire car companies but check the car's condition before you hand over your hard-earned.

Site To See

For more information visit www.norfolkisland.


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