It’s always strange seeing someone you’ve known in one set of surroundings, in a completely different scenario. As I mentioned I know Kira from my time onboard Disney Cruise Line, when we both wore white adjustable pants and gold stripes on our shoulders. This week I’m getting to see her in jeans, Uggs and an apron while feeding the chickens, harvesting herbs and mowing the lawn. It’s fun to see and, as we all know my fondness for nicknames, Kira will now be referred to “Farmer Jane.” As her boyfriend Brenden is known on the island as Kongy, adapted from his last name, “Kong,” we’ll just use that.
Tonight, Kongy and Farmer Jane are hosting a barbecue. And, as the island has approximately 350 residents, around ten-percent of the island has been invited. While Farmer Jane mows the lawn and sets up the outdoor space, I head to the museum to grab some of their very expensive WiFi. When I walk in, there’s no one in sight, so I take a seat at a table and begin working. After about ten-minutes, an elderly man approaches and informs me that the museum is closed today. This is a simple mistake as, well, the door wasn’t locked. His name is George and, as he’s doing a bit of work, he says I can stay as long as he’s inside. George really wants to chat but, as I’m trying to finish working and get off this wallet-breaking internet. I finally explain that I just need to finish a bit more work and I’ll be all good to chat.
As I continued working, more people have joined George inside to get ready for tomorrow’s big grand-opening of the Coral Café, a new café which will be housed in the museum. I complete my work and chat for a while with George, his wife Robin and Stevie and Janet, the owners of the Coral Café. George shows me the fancy sign which he’s made for the Coral Café and describes how he’ll embed coral in it. Lord Howe Island (LHI)- life is slow, and people have time for creative pursuits which they may come up with on a whim. Due to this, there seems to be a lot of creativity here.
I head back to Thornleigh, and Farmer Jane and I head out to pick up various supplies for tonight’s barbecue. We return with ingredients for our recipes, ice, wine and beer. We return to cook some food and feed the ladies. The ladies are 29-hens and they hang around with two roosters. It’s a bit like a chicken-version of The Bachelor. We toss old food-scraps out to the cackling brood who pounce on it like teenage girls meeting One Direction on the street. The feed includes some discarded eggshells which, Farmer Jane tells me, helps the chickens produce quality eggs. To me, it seems a tiny bit cannibalistic.
Finally, food prepped, salads prepared and, thanks to Kongy, bonfire burning, the first guests arrive. We spend the next eight-hours enjoying all of the pot-luck food, great company, and adult beverages. There’s some ukulele playing, some drumming, and roasted marshmallows. Tonight is my chance to meet many of the colorful locals as well as find out how everybody ended up on this tiny island. While many were born here on
LHI – which has definite advantages including being able to own land, have a dog and other rights without dealing with a waiting period – others were working on the mainland and, through someone who knew someone who knew someone, got them a job here. There are also those who had a relative who moved here and told them about their paradise. The one thing they all have in common is their love and appreciation for living here. Most tell me of their love of the slow and peaceful lifestyle here as well as it being the best place to raise children who aren’t glued to computers but instead, go snorkeling, play in tree-houses and learn ukulele in school.
I’m entertained by Yvette, a bawdy Australian whose boisterous, devil-may-care attitude entertains a crowd. Her husband, Bert, is friendly, bearded guy who says things like, “What a jolly little blaze,” when commenting on the bonfire brightly burning. We decide that I’m probably the first person in history whose first stop in Australia was tiny Lord Howe Island, a place many Australians haven’t even heard of. I ask if I’ll be receiving a key to the island though, as nobody locks their doors here, what would be the point? The last guests leave just around midnight and Farmer Jane, Kongy and I sit around the fire enjoying the view of the thousands of stars overhead.
I awake in the morning feeling much better than some (I’m pleased with myself for switching from wine to water early on) and, after a couple of cups of coffee, I leave Farmer Jane to find some relief from her hangover (Kongy’s off at work) while I go for a hike. A tourist couple I met the other day told me about the hike to Kim’s Lookout saying it led to the incredible view shown in all of the photos of LHI. I walk up Lagoon Road, the road off of which Thornleigh is located and which travels, nearly tip-to-tip from the north to the south of the island. Thornleigh is in the north end of the island, I head further north and Lagoon Road to the end and continue onto the path along Old Settlement Beach which puts the beautiful Tasman Sea on one side the striking, green fields which lead up to even more striking, green mountains. The path soon curves inward as I merge onto Memorial Track. Memorial Track might also be called Stairclimber Track as it begins with well-maintained planks which gently lead to higher levels before reaching steps formed from logs and pressed dirt. I climb and climb, and climb, and climb, and, well, climb. This is a test for my injured hips to see if the famous island-hike of Mt. Gower is in my future this week. Due to the injury and constant travel, hiking and the gym have been very limited and, well, I’m not exactly in fighting-form. I’ve taken a prescription pain-killer and am hiking on an unstable hip along sheer drop-offs from the cliffs I’m hiking along the edge of. What could go wrong?
I finally reach the top of Memorial Track where it intersects with Kim’s Lookout. I take a seat on the round platform resting area and spend the next half-hour chatting with a mother and daughter from mainland Australia. Mom has surprised the daughter with a last-minute trip to LHI for her thirtieth-birthday. They’ve brought vacuum-packed food with them from the mainland as they’d heard about how expensive food is here. They figure they’ll only need to eat out one night during the week they’re here.
I continue on to Kim’s Lookout which has me doing more stair-climbing as well as some ups and downs along a dirt trail. The trail follows the ridge-line of the cliff and provides stunning views or the sea-currents far below, as well as some tiny, uninhabited islands. When I reach the intersection of Kim’s Viewpoint and Malabar Hill I take a break to enjoy the spectacular view from 208 meters (682 feet). It reminds me of the Cliffs of Moher which we saw in Ireland (read about it here). I take a seat on the rocks and, eventually, find myself lying down on the ground, listening to music and enjoying the magical view while basking in the sunshine (I’m finally warm!).
After twenty-minutes of lying on the ground, as well as stretching my hips and hamstrings, I reluctantly stand up and head on down Malabar Ridge. Traveling straight down through the dense forest, this is the opposite of the stair-climber. Finally, the forest parts and the only way forward seems to be through three gates spread out down a grass-covered hill which seems to be someone’s farm. I search around the immediate vicinity and find no other obvious trail so I reluctantly proceed down the hill which I’m sure is private property, as well as being somewhat manure covered. I go through the last gate and find myself within one of the island’s many lodges. Apparently I took a wrong turn, as I was supposed to end up at Ned’s Beach. As it’s a small island and you’re never too far from where you want to be, well, this is not a problem. I walk down the road to the jetty, where the supply ship arrives at the island every two-weeks in the summer, and every four-weeks during a couple of the winter months. I sit and listen to music while watching the waves crash over the off-shore reef. Lord Howe Island is a place to just stop and enjoy the moment, and I take advantage of it today.
I make my way back, stopping at the Anchorage Restaurant for a coffee and well-deserved piece of cake before arriving at Thornleigh to see Farmer Jane sitting on the porch feeding the chickens.
Tomorrow – a bus tour around the island and an evening at the golf club.