Nourishing Norfolk Island

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Susie discovers something old that’s new again.

Dust off the cobwebs, discard your preconceptions, reject images of the folksy 1950s: if that’s your view of Norfolk Island, you’re behind the times. Closer to home than Cairns, Fiji or Bali, this offshore destination and refreshingly different culture thoroughly fulfils 21st century traveller desires. There’s great mod Oz food, excellent accommodation choices, agreeable climate (due east of Byron Bay), restful atmosphere, sensational scenery, fresh air and clean forests, sustainable produce, local cheeses and a vineyard. There are the family-inclusive attractions of good beaches, watersports, golf, walking trails, art galleries, artisan stores, photography opportunities, markets, duty-free shopping, cafes, coach tours, ghost tours, farm tours, cycling, picnicking, bird-watching, goat-milking!, a safe environment for kids and a fascinating history, with beautifully preserved colonial buildings offering an intimate experience. No longer dwelling in a bygone era in the aftermath of the Bounty mutiny, Norfolk’s sailed headlong into modern-day tourist-catering excellence, yet not forgetting its background: celebrating its unique ethos from Cook’s discovery 230 years ago into 2017 and beyond.

I’d underestimated Norfolk, recalling a holiday 30 years back, in less sophisticated times. On arrival on Air New Zealand’s non-stop flight from Sydney last month I discovered while the island was indeed rudimentary decades ago … what a beauty she is today! To get there, I enjoyed excellent service by Air NZ (the carrier for NI) whose flights leave from Sydney and Brisbane international terminals. A mere two hours or so on: Norfolk! What a revelation and welcome on landing: lodge hosts greeting guests, cheery NI Tourism reps helping visitors seeking information. In just ten minutes I was settled in my serene timbered haven at Jacaranda Holiday Cottages: stunners! Just five self-contained cabins, the island’s No 1 speciality lodging, secluded amid glorious Norfolk Pines with gun-barrel valley views northwards to the sea. For its size, NI probably has the most diverse accommodation options anywhere. A mere 1600 residents support some 60 varied places to stay: top-line hotel-resorts, motels, apartments, B&B, spa villas, house rentals – wheelchair accessible too. They’re nicely scattered, blending unobtrusively with the topography for uncrowded appeal. My cabin’s king bed looks through stacker doors to a long timbered balcony and sun lounges, out to the panorama. Accoutrements include desk, sitting room, TV/DVD/CD/radio, WiFi, spa bath, shower, full laundry, gas stove/oven, microwave, fridge, dishwasher, picnic basket, beach towels, BBQ and mobile phone with local SIM. Hosts Vanessa and “Bookie” McCowan have thought of everything in this immaculate “cubby house”.

I strike out in my new hot orange Mini Moke – fun! Norfolk’s nourishing of both body and soul: fabulous casual and restaurant dining, a breathtaking 19th century church tucked in an isolated vale, the cultural delight of a perfectly hand-painted spellbinding cyclorama … spiced with its brutal past: magnificent convict- and colonial-era buildings; tales of inhuman acts related by a descendant of the original Pitcairners; visits to the bloody sites of cruelty that led prisoners to suicide rather than suffer. Many tiny infants, unable to survive the harshness, perished. Love the contrast of its various pasts: the dialect still used daily by locals and heard on community radio; the late author “Col” McCullough’s astoundingly outré home … and the present: thriving annual events/festivals including food, jazz, country music, theatre, archery, tennis, golf, FMX, ocean outriggers and lawn bowls. Next time: 101 things to do.

* Air NZ: Sydney to NI Mondays and Fridays with an extra, Sunday, service from Sept 24; from Brisbane to NI on Saturdays, and on Tuesdays and Saturdays from Sept 2. www.airnewzealand.com A hire car’s essential to get around. Visitors with mobility issues should consult Oxley Travel for advice. Jacaranda Park Cottages: www.jacarandapark.nlk.nf Susie was a guest of Air NZ and NI Tourism. At www.norfolkisland.com.au, an excellent website, find in-depth info and booking facilities. E: nitourism@nirc.gov.nf or 1800 214 603.

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