LORD HOWE ISLAND: ‘IT’S LIKE LIVING IN A DAVID ATTENBOROUGH DOCUMENTARY’
GOWER Wilson calls out to his dairy queens by name, each cow dutifully milling in for her turn. He positions the bucket under her udder and slowly and methodically pinches and pulls – the fresh milk hitting the bucket in rhythmical tones.
Every day, locals place a $2 coin and an empty glass milk bottle on Gower’s fence for him to refill and return.
“I’ve been milking cows since I was five years old,” he tells me, the small crinkles around his eyes belying his 78 years.
Gower grew up on Lord Howe’s rolling green hills, one of the three or four landowning families. Asked about change, he says, “I’ve seen it change with TVs and telephones and electricity before that. But I was pretty young then.”
Electricity aside, Lord Howe Island has managed to stay in a blissful time warp – free of mobile phone service, seatbelt laws and shoes at the primary school. It might have something to do with the fact it was pretty much the last island on Earth to be discovered.
Somehow, this nature nirvana remained hidden in the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean until 1788 when it was spotted by Lieutenant Henry Lidgbird Ball, sailing First Fleet ship Supply from Sydney to Norfolk Island. No sign of earlier human contact has been found.
I’d read much about the island – the place Sir David Attenborough declared was “so extraordinary it is almost unbelievable” – but after flying for two hours from Brisbane over the deep blue, the iridescent coral-strewn lagoon beamed up at me as we landed at the foot of primordial peaks Mt Gower and Mt Lidgbird and I was rendered speechless.
That’s Lord Howe. You don’t get room keys when you check in because no one locks their doors. Keys dangle from the ignition of parked cars. And if your bike isn’t where you left it, rest assured, it will show up.
With a resident population of 350 and a maximum of 400 visitors at one time, Lord Howe is like a floating country town.
Lord Howe’s human story has been a slow evolution but its environment reacts and changes within a lifetime.
Before the runway was built in the late 1970s, flying boats used to deliver visitors to Lord Howe Island, taking off from Rose Bay in Sydney. Glamorous though they were with oversized seats and threecourse meals served on fine china, they weren’t very kind to the lagoon.
In the relatively short time since, coral and seagrass have regrown and the turtle population is increasing every year. I lose count of the number of green and hawksbill turtles we glide over in our glass-bottom boat before playing hide and seek with surge wrasse and striped catfish snorkelling a shipwreck.
This protected pocket of the planet offers up such an intense hit of nature, “It’s like living in a David Attenborough documentary,” says Ian Hutton, naturalist and curator of the excellent Lord Howe Island Museum.
Ian came to the island for what he thought would be two years for work and never left.
The plant ecologist has since started Friends of Lord Howe Island – leading more than 83 weeding eco-tours.
He’s also written more than 20 books, leads weekly reef walks and delivers five lectures on the island every week. He’s a living encyclopedia of Lord Howe.
On my final morning, my host, Sharon, lets me know my flight is on schedule after weather caused cancellations on previous days and I feel a rush of disappointment.
Like Lord Howe’s endemic endangered woodhens, my feet could well become rooted here.
POCKET OF PARADISE: Adventure awaits in every direction on Lord Howe Island.