Pine and dandy

Whim­si­cal wan­der­ings on Nor­folk Is­land

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - MICHELLE ROWE

THE Nor­folk Is­land phone book con­tains so lit­tle diver­sity of fam­ily names ( there are dozens of Buffetts, Chris­tians, Nobb­ses, Quin­tals and Youngs) that there’s a sec­tion headed: ‘ ‘ Fast find a per­son by their nick­name’’.

What fol­lows is a smor­gas­bord of so­bri­quets — I could have a yak with Quack, call up Cane Toad or Car­rots, shoot the breeze with Scotty, Skeeters or Snob­bles, or tri­fle with Toy­boy if Tardy’s too slow to the phone. Such evoca­tive monikers are an amus­ing start to a long week­end on this whim­si­cal is­land 1400km north­east of Sydney. There could be few other places where cows are af­forded right of way on the roads, the wear­ing of seat­belts is a nov­elty, and the first in a list of handy lo­cal phrases pub­lished in the Nor­folk Is­land Cook­ery Book is: ‘‘That lit­tle child is stuck in that pine tree.’’

This is not as ridicu­lous as it sounds. Nor­folk Is­land is vir­tu­ally cov­ered with the epony­mous pines that first at­tracted Cap­tain James Cook’s at­ten­tion in 1774 (the wood was in de­mand for mak­ing ships’ masts).

Nor­folk was thrown into tur­moil af­ter the 2002 murder of Sydney woman Janelle Patton. Dur­ing the in­quiry, sev­eral res­i­dents were named ‘‘per­sons of in­ter­est’’, which cast a shadow over the tight-knit community. A New Zealan­der was even­tu­ally con­victed, but the dam­age was done. ‘‘It’s what ev­ery­body asks about,’’ says one lo­cal with a sigh when I men­tion the case.

But Nor­folk, an 8km by 5km sub­trop­i­cal oa­sis that’s home to 1800 peo­ple, has much to cel­e­brate. The un­du­lat­ing land­scapes (al­most 20 per cent of the is­land is na­tional park or pub­lic re­serve) are thick with more than 180 na­tive plant species, from gi­ant vines and ferns to lush palms, and birdlife such as richly coloured crim­son rosel­las that dart in and out of the forests like car­toon char­ac­ters. Walk­ing trails crisscross the vol­canic ter­rain (be pre­pared to share the tracks with feral chooks and as­sorted cows) and pris­tine beaches are ideal for snorkelling and swim­ming.

I take a tour with guide Rick Kleiner who, like many lo­cals, can trace his his­tory back to the mutiny on the Bounty. His great­great grand­fa­ther was the chief mag­is­trate on Pit­cairn, the tiny is­land on which the Bounty mu­ti­neers set­tled be­fore re­lo­cat- ing to Nor­folk in 1856. Raised in Cal­i­for­nia, Kleiner moved to Nor­folk 15 years ago for ‘‘the life­style’’. He points out tran­quil Emily Bay, one of the loveli­est beaches I’ve seen — a blem­ish-free stretch of white sand bor­der­ing crys­tal­clear wa­ter pro­tected by a reef. ‘‘Kids can leave their surf­boards be­hind and ex­pect them to be there days later. There are no se­cu­rity is­sues, our kids have no idea how lucky they are,’’ he says.

He takes me to the World Her­itage- listed Kingston and Arthur’s Vale, first set­tled in 1788. The lack of a har­bour and the sink­ing of sup­ply ship Sir­ius off the coast in 1790 has­tened the set­tle­ment’s demise and in 1825 came the sec­ond tranche of ar­rivals — the worst crim­i­nals from NSW. The con­victs were kept in ap­palling con­di­tions and the re­mains of the jail, bar­racks and of­fi­cers’ houses are stark re­minders.

Many of the Ge­or­gian build­ings have been re­stored and given new life as mu­se­ums, churches and ad­min­is­tra­tive cen­tres; the World Her­itage-listed golf course is nearby.

The is­land’s bleak his­tory makes its only grave­yard, be­side the aptly named Ceme­tery Bay, a fas­ci­nat­ing spec­tre. The head­stones, re­silient against the head­winds buf­fet­ing the coast, are per­haps the most tan­gi­ble ev­i­dence of the fam­i­lies that shaped Nor­folk’s his­tory.

Many de­scen­dants of the Bounty mu­ti­neers are in­terred here. I am riv­eted by the epi­taphs, in­clud­ing one for York­shire­man Thomas Sauls­bury Wright, a twice- con­victed coun­ter­feiter sent to Nor­folk af­ter fail­ing to mend his ways. He pre­sum­ably had the last laugh when con­victed of the same of­fence a third time and sen­tenced to life at the ripe old age of 103. Wright rests along­side clus­ters of ex­e­cuted con­victs, and one un­for­tu­nate ‘ ‘ ac­ci­den­tally killed by a whale’’.

You can barely swing a sex­tant on to­day’s Nor­folk with­out hit­ting, say, a Buf­fett, a Chris­tian or a Nobbs. The smart-as-a-whip Glen ‘ ‘ Spud’’ Buf­fett heads Nor­folk Is­land Tourism; An­dre Nobbs, a man with myr­iad ideas for at­tract­ing new vis­i­tors to the is­land, is tourism min­is­ter, while Marie Bai­ley, a descen­dant of Fletcher Chris­tian, com­mis­sioned the mag­nif­i­cent Fletcher’s Mutiny Cy­clo­rama, a 3.6m-high, 50mlong de­pic­tion of the Bounty’s story painted by two lo­cal artists near the town cen­tre.

Nor­folk still has no work­ing har­bour. Two piers are the only means of bring­ing in freight, which must be loaded on to smaller craft and brought to shore in mil­i­tary-style ma­noeu­vres. Such tricky lo­gis­tics, cou­pled with strict quar­an­tine reg­u­la­tions, means lit­tle fresh pro­duce can be im­ported (pota­toes, onions, gin­ger and gar­lic are the only ex­cep­tions) so is­lan­ders must rely on the few com­mer­cial farm­ers, such as Matt Biggs of Bigg Fresh (one of just three stall­hold­ers at the is­land’s Satur­day morn­ing pro­duce mar­ket), or grow their own sup­plies.

Chefs must be cre­ative, mak­ing the most of the is­land’s sea­sonal crops, such as bananas, guavas, kumera, cauliflow­ers and pump­kins, says ex-Queens­lan­der Damien David­son-Kelly. ‘‘I had the best peach I’ve ever tasted on this is­land,’’ he tells me. ‘ ‘ But peaches are avail­able here for all of two weeks.’’

David­son-Kelly, pre­vi­ously ex­ec­u­tive chef at Moo Moo The Wine Bar + Grill and Chill on Ted­der on the Gold Coast, now works for Nor­folk’s pop­u­lar Hilli retaurant and also does pri­vate din­ing. He vis­its my lux­ury clifftop cottage at the ex­cel­lent For­rester Court com­plex on the is­land’s north­east coast and pre­pares an ex­trav­a­gant three-course meal. I meet him again the next day at Mas­ter­ing Taste Chef School and Gar­den Tour, a new cook­ing ex­pe­ri­ence run by Hilli’s owner Kim Wil­son on her glo­ri­ous prop­erty in the is­land’s north.

Wil­son’s head gar­dener Peter Bar­ney tends a flour­ish­ing crop of fruits and ve­g­ies, which are in­cor­po­rated into dishes demon­strated by David­son-Kelly. Our small group clus­ters around as he shows us how to whip up a risotto, crowned by locally caught steamed trum­peter and fin­ished off with a ba­nana pud with caramel sauce and hon­ey­comb, which we eat on Wil­son’s bal­cony.

‘‘Nor­folk is the only place in the world that ac­tu­ally looks more beau­ti­ful than the pho­tos,’’ Wil­son says, and it’s not hard to agree.

On my fi­nal day, I pop into the buzzing Olive Cafe, owned by for­mer Syd­neysider Naomi Thomp­son, for a bite to eat and a flick through The Nor­folk Is­lander news­pa­per. My eyes fall on a head­line in the po­lice in­ci­dent re­ports: ‘‘Flare sight­ings’’.

I mis­in­ter­pret it, at first, as a ref­er­ence to bell-bot­tomed trousers, as this is an is­land where you can count on be­ing in­stantly trans­ported to the past. Michelle Rowe was a guest of Nor­folk Is­land Tourism, Air New Zealand and For­rester Court.

Don’t miss the lift-off of T&I’s Se­cret Shop­per se­ries fea­tur­ing all Aus­tralian cap­i­tals and main hol­i­day cen­tres.

NOR­FOLK IS­LAND TOURISM

Nor­folk Is­land is de­scribed by one of its res­i­dents as

‘the only place in the world that ac­tu­ally looks more beau­ti­ful than the pho­tos’

PIC­TURES: MICHELLE ROWE

Chef Damien David­son-Kelly con­ducts a cook­ing class

Tour guide Rick Kleiner

Naomi Thomp­son, a for­mer Syd­neysider, at The Olive Cafe

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