Anyone who has stayed at Capella knows lodge managers Libby Grant and Mark McKillop. Resident managers since the lodge opened as a Baillie Lodges property in 2003, Mark and Libby have welcomed every guest to Capella with their genuine, relaxed warmth.
Guests might go out with Libby on her ‘tiki tour’ of Lord Howe, get Mark’s tips to organise a snorkelling tour on the reef, a swim with turtles or a dive in the world’s southernmost coral reef. They’ll certainly get together for sunset drinks and canapés at the end of each day, to share island adventures and plan the next day.
Many guests return to Capella year after year and catch up with Mark and Libby as they would old friends at a favourite holiday spot.
We interviewed Mark and Libby to find out the highlights of 15 years spent running Capella Lodge on tiny Lord Howe Island, a crescent-shaped tropical paradise found some 600km off Australia’s east coast in the Tasman Sea.
Q: This year marks 15 years since Capella opened under your management and James and Hayley Baillie’s ownership. What are some of the highlights or standout memories you can share with us?
Too many to write about! I think the first refurbishment that we did in 2004 was a huge highlight as the lodge was transformed from a very tired guesthouse to a stunning property with great design. This, along with the hiring of fantastic staff, resulted in a great guest experience which remains the same all these years later.
Q: What brought you to Lord Howe Island, and what has kept you there?
Mark and I have lived on island resorts since the early 1980s. We left Lizard Island to come to Lord Howe Island and work with James and Hayley. It was exciting to share the Baillies’ vision for Capella.
Q: What’s your favourite place to go to/thing to do on the Island on your days off?
We enjoy the walks and ocean but our favourite thing to do is have a breakfast barbecue on one of the many outdoor wood-fired barbecues set around the island.
Q: There’s little Wi-Fi and no mobile phone coverage on Lord Howe, has this impacted you in positive and/or negative ways?
We are used to not having mobile coverage from our other island homes. The world has changed so I couldn’t work without Wi-Fi now which is a bit sad. I think that no mobile coverage is a positive thing for our guests, who can take a break from their busy mainland lives.
Q: You’ve hosted many thousands of guests over the past 15 years, what have been some of your funniest requests?
Haha – probably strange rather than funny! I don’t think we should repeat them!
Q: Prior to working at Capella Lodge, you worked with James at some of the great Queensland resorts like Heron Island, it must be an amazing working relationship you share with the Baillies?
We loved working with James Baillie at Heron, Dunk and Lizard Islands and still love working with him now. Working with James is like working with a good friend.
Q: What are the most amazing dive locations that you have experienced?
We loved diving on Heron Island and we both spent so much time in the water there, diving most days. Mark spent time in Fiji which he really loved, and I loved diving in the Caribbean and Mexico. We are both diving again on Lord Howe which is pretty good too!
Q: You join guests for sunset drinks and canapés each night, what are some of the surprising stories you hear?
Again, there are too many to write about, but guests’ stories are all so different, from one whose daughter dated Prince Harry to elderly guests describing how they grew up in Nepal climbing in the Himalayas. Another guest explained to us how he ended up travelling with freedom fighters in Afghanistan when the Russians were invading. His best comment was that you could tell the Russians as they wore traditional dress but wore army boots as part of their outfit!
Q: Lord Howe produces an abundance of fabulous fresh seafood. What’s your favourite dish at Capella?
Our chef Cooper is always coming up with new dishes that ends up being my favourite. At present it is a Moreton Bay Bug entrée with sauce eaten from the shell. It’s the sort of dish where you want to lick the plate clean!
Q: What do you think it is about Capella that keeps guests returning year after year?
The island, leaving behind their busy lives, having time to reconnect with family and partners. Hopefully Capella and our wonderful team are part of the reason they come back year after year.
Q: You’ve stayed as guests at sister properties Southern Ocean Lodge on Kangaroo Island and Longitude 131° at Uluru-Kata Tjuta, would you ever consider swapping locations?
Whilst we love our other Baillie Lodges properties, Capella is the one for us. After living on islands for more than 30 years it is wonderful to live on Lord Howe with a real community, to be able to socialise with people other than those you work with and to dine out whenever you want. Sometimes it’s great for us to take a break from work too!