Norfolk Island: basks in historical splendour
By Guest blogger - Rama Gaind
“Holy cow!” I exclaimed as I saw some of them break away from a herd and cross the road, while others kept nonchalantly chewing on the succulent green grass, oblivious of the hold-ups they had caused to vehicular traffic.
Les Quintal, our guide on the orientation drive around Norfolk Island, quickly replied: “this is their right”.
The farmers have grazing rights to the roadside pastures so cows have the right of way – and they know it!
What’s more, it’s not surprising to also see cars give way to chickens, ducks and geese crossing the road.
Norfolk is a pristine, petite island of 3455 hectares sitting splendidly in the Pacific Ocean, east of the Australian mainland and 1063 kilometres from Auckland.
You’ll be surprised not only by its sheer sprawling magnificence, but also the amiability, warmth, openness, and yes, a certain eccentricity that’s most appealing.
Norfolk Island was where the “worst of the worst” convicts were sent, for this was an infamous prison in the British Empire in the 1800s. Unpleasant stories of their mistreatment and anguish abound, but the island is inhabited by descendants of the original mutineers from Captain Bligh’s ill-fated voyage on the Bounty.
What’s more, the ghosts of the past are still very much alive among today’s living!
Discovered by Captain James Cook in 1774, the British used it as a penal colony, twice.
The original township of Kingston, which is in the world heritage-listed Kingston and Arthurs Vale Historic area, still stands guard on Slaughter Bay, and comprises a golf course and a cemetery where the headstone inscriptions impart unsettling stories.
The island’s sorrow becomes apparent as you meander through the ruins of the buildings built by the convicts. While some have been restored and are in use as museums, homes and government facilities, the roofless ones are exposed to the elements.
With a population of 1800—no, make that 1700 at present as the other 100 are working off-shore—Norfolk is eight kilometres by five kilometres with 170 kilometres of roads, no public transport and a surprising number of things to do for such a small place.
Scenic views abound from the top of Mt Pitt and Captain Cook’s Lookout; the ‘grand Gothic-style’ St Barnabas Chapel with its stained glass windows is precious; take a tour of Norfolk Blue to see how Robyn and Paul Menghetti produce a unique breed of cattle; and marvel at Cyclorama, the 360-degree giant panoramic painting that follows the story of the Bounty and its crew.
Driving is stress-free, with hardly any traffic, one roundabout, no traffic lights, a 50-kilometre speed limit (30 kilometres in school zones), seatbelts were only introduced a year ago and you must not forget to practise your ‘Norfolk wave’ by acknowledging the passing driver with the gentle lift of the hand or one finger.
Roads have quaint names like Poverty Row, Puppies Point, Cats Lane; phone numbers are five digits long; the residents are listed in the telephone book by their nicknames; and be enthralled by the special Norf’k language, a lilting blend of Tahitian and Old English.
This self-governing, external territory of Australia is a tax haven where tourism is the only source of income. It makes for an ideal destination for long weekend escapes.
Take your passport, there are no long queues at customs and the friendly officials will greet you with a beaming smile!
Rama Gaind was a guest of Norfolk Island Tourism and Air New Zealand.
Air New Zealand has direct flights from Sydney starting at $572 per person, from Brisbane at $535 per person and with a domestic connection ex-Melbourne from $960.
Bookings can be made at www.airnewzealand.com.au
Air New Zealand flies out of Sydney at 9.10am and leaves Norfolk Island at 2.30pm on Mondays and Fridays. It leaves Brisbane at 11am and Norfolk Island at 3.50pm on Tuesdays and Saturdays.
Splendid panoramic views can be seen from Norfolk Island, over the Pacific Ocean, to Nepean Island (foreground) and the uninhabited Phillip Island.
Captain Cook’s Lookout: on his second voyage around the world, Captain Cook discovered and named Norfolk Island on 10 October 1774. Photo: Rama Gaind