Regarded as the world’s ‘last paradise’, Lord Howe Island lies 600km east of the Australian mainland. A World Heritage-listed ‘treasure island’ of extraordinary contrasts, it has long been recognised for its pristine natural environment characterised by volcanic peaks, lush forests, serene lagoons, coral reefs and prolific marine and bird life.
Lord Howe Island and its surrounding isles are the remains of a seven million-year-old shield volcano. The island is considered an astounding example of an ecosystem developed from submarine volcanic activity, and being isolated from the mainland, it has an incredibly rare diversity of flora, fauna and landscapes.
These ten facts highlight just how incredible Lord Howe Island is:
1. WORLD HERITAGE
Lord Howe Island was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site of global natural significance in 1982, in recognition of the island’s unparalleled beauty and biodiversity. More than 70% of the island is a permanent protected park reserve, and the surrounding ocean is also protected as a Marine Park. Lord Howe is home to the world’s southernmost coral reef, meaning swimmers, snorkelers and divers can explore the reefs in warm temperatures, without worrying about marine stingers.
2. ISLAND DISCOVERY
Lord Howe was first discovered by Lieutenant Henry Lidgbird Ball, Commander of the oldest and smallest of the First Fleet ships, Supply, in 1788. Ball was enroute to Norfolk Island to establish a penal settlement, and named the then uninhabited island of Lord Howe after British Admiral, Richard Howe. He named the sea stack situated to the island’s south, Ball’s Pyramid, after himself.
3. BALL’S PYRAMID
Ball’s Pyramid sits 23km to the south of the island and is the world’s largest sea stack. The 550-metre spearhead of grey basalt is isolated in the Pacific Ocean, home to extraordinary bird and marine life. Whilst recreational climbing is prohibited, the surrounding coral reefs make it a sort-after diving and snorkeling destination.
4. THE LORD HOWE ISLAND PHASMID
More than 1600 terrestrial insect species have been recorded on Lord Howe, of which approximately 60% are found nowhere else in the world. One of the most remarkable is the Lord Howe Island Phasmid, a large stick insect that was believed extinct before being rediscovered in 2001 on Ball’s Pyramid’s sheer cliffs. The Phasmid is native to Lord Howe Island, but was thought to be extinct after the supply ship S.S Makambo ran aground in 1918, accidentally introducing rats which decimated the Phasmid population. The Phasmid has since been bred successfully in captivity at Melbourne Zoo, and is nearing a planned re-introduction to the island.
5. IT’S A BIRDS LIFE
Arguably offering the best bird watching in Australia, Lord Howe Island has a recorded 202 bird species. The island is also home to two endemic bird species, the Lord Howe Island Woodhen and the Lord Howe Island Silvereye, named for the white ring of feathers around its eyes. The island is also the only known breeding ground for the Providence Petrel. This extremely friendly bird can be called out of the air, will land at your feet and often even climb onto your lap! Many seabirds also come to nest on the island throughout the year, including red-tailed tropicbirds and the large masked boobies.
6. A SINGLE MAMMAL
Whilst there are a multitude of endemic birds, plants and insects on Lord Howe, there is only one native mammal remaining on the island: the large forest bat. Also a result from the introduction of the ship rats, the endemic Lord Howe long-eared bat is now presumed extinct and is known only from a skull having not been sighted in some time.
7. THE KENTIA PALM
Lord Howe has a recorded 241 species of indigenous plants of which 44% are endemic to the island, including the famous Kentia palm. The island was a provisioning port for the whaling industry in the 1800s, before the Kentia palm caught worldwide attention as a popular decorative plant and became a major export. The Lord Howe Kentia palm is ideal for indoor conditions and extremely popular with hotels and motels around the world. Visitors to Lord Howe can purchase Kentia palm seedlings from the airport on departure, a living memory of time spent in paradise!
8. CAPPED VISITORS
Only 400 visitors are allowed on Lord Howe at any one time, with a resident population of 382 people recorded in the 2016 census. Just about everything is within walking or cycling distance, so it’s uncommon to see cars. Lord Howe is only 11km long and between 0.3 and 2km wide, so it’s possible to cycle end to end in as little as 25 minutes. With a 25kmh speed limit, everyone always waves ‘hello’ as they pass!
9. AUSTRALIA’S BEST BEACH?
Ned’s Beach is located oceanside on the island’s north-east and is considered the most popular swimming spot on Lord Howe. Best known for its tame fish, visitors can wade into the shallows to hand feed the mullet, garfish, silver-drummer, spangled-emperor and the royalty of Lord Howe fish: metre-long yellowtail kingfish. It’s also an ideal spot for picnicking and snorkeling, with rich pastures and beautiful coral reefs. Masks, fins and bodyboards are available at the beach with a dollar contribution to the ‘honesty box’, a testament to times past
The 2016 film The Shallows starring Hollywood A-lister Blake Lively was filmed at Ned’s Beach. Whilst most of what you see in the movie is fabricated – the rock Lively takes shelter on, the mechanical Great White shark, the underwater scenes from a studio tank – the elements of the movie they didn’t have to edit was the pristine, secluded beach and untouched, wild surrounds of Lord Howe. Whilst Great Whites aren’t commonly found around Lord Howe, the small Galapagos shark is frequently spotted swimming off the coral shelf. But not to fear, Galapagos sharks are considered harmless to humans and primarily feed on fish and octopus!