Destination: The Islands Off Eastern Australia

Sonia and Sarah with Mount Gower in the background on Lord Howe Island.

By Sonia and Sarah Zimmermann

Sonia is a French and German teacher, realty renovator and student completing her third degree. Sonia and her 11-year-old daughter, Sarah, live in Melbourne, Australia. At 40 countries and territories, Sarah hopes for a TCC youth group in the future.

Lord Howe Island

A UNESCO heritage island and marine park with outstanding biodiversity (some endemic species), Lord Howe offers low-density old- world island charm, the world’s most southern coral reef, and the biggest sea stack in the world at Ball’s Pyramid.

When to go and for how long?
Definitely plan one year ahead. This is a pristine, exclusive and unique destination with visitors capped at 400. Visiting during Septem- ber to May is best for a water temperature up to 26°C/79°F. Explore for one week!

How to get there?
Located 700 km (435 miles) northeast of Sydney, two airlines fly into LHI: QANTAS (reduced
service via Sydney due to COVID-19; expect Melbourne and Brisbane service to resume in the future), and Eastern Airlines (via Newcastle, Port Macquarie and Gold Coast.)

Where to stay?
There are no budget options. However, medium range solutions include the Pinetree Lodge and Leanda-Lei Apartments. The Blue Lagoon Lodge and Somerset Apartments provide the best location on the main street near Thompson’s Store, Anchorage Restaurant, tour operators, and offer great proximity to the Lagoon and Ned’s Beach. Capella Lodge and Arajilla Retreat are the most exclusive accommodations. They include catering and a golf cart.

What to do?
This island is great for the fit but offers opportunities for all. Climb Mount Gower to see the endemic species: Little Mountain Palm. Feed the fish at Ned’s Beach, bird-watch (the flightless woodhen is an endemic evolutionary wonder), go fishing, check out the island museum for incredible documentation on the island’s biodiversity, snorkel in the lagoon, scuba dive around the island and meet the locals.

You can easily bicycle or walk around the is- land (no car hire.) Accommodation near Ned’s Beach has some hills, but the area along the la- goon to the golf course is quite flat.

Important links

Great Barrier Reef

The world’s largest coral reef system is made up of 2,900 reefs and approximately 900 islands. It is classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the favorite home of Nemo, and a tropical, homegrown paradise for Australians.

When to go and for how long?
You can plan one to three weeks ahead to visit between April and September (late Australian fall, winter and early spring, which avoids the rainy period from November to March). First time? Go for a week in Cairns and four days in Airlie Beach.

Where to go for what?
Considering the Great Barrier Reef is 2,300km/1,430 miles in length, several major hubs exist. Here are four main hubs:

Cairns is the gateway to the healthiest reef and cays including Upolu Reef, Saxon Reef, Norman Reef, Hastings Reef, and Michaelmas Cay. These are among the best places to dive and snorkel on the Great Barrier Reef. Cairns also connects you to Lizard Island, Fitzroy Island and Green Island. But before you set off to the islands, drive to where the rainforest meets the reef at Cape Tribulation via breathtaking Mossman Gorge and the Daintree Forest, or take the Kuranda Scenic Railway for stunning ocean views, or explore the Atherton Tablelands where you can witness Millaa Millaa falls.

Airlie Beach connects you to 74 Whitsunday islands, including Hamilton Island, Daydream Island and Hayman Island. All are great for sailing charters or helicopter rides to see Heart Reef. Go for a picnic to Whitehaven Beach. It is known as the longest silica beach in the world, and often rated the world’s best beach.

Gladstone is closest to Heron Island, which is on the reef itself. Step in the water and snorkel away, or put a clear plastic bucket on the water to see the reef!

Fraser Island, known as K’Gari, is the longest sand island in the world. Stunning, but be on the watch for dingoes.

Where to stay?
Cairns has popular seaside resorts around Palm Cove and Port Douglas. Airbnbs offer waterfront views around surrounding villages (or within two to three streets of the water- front) for quieter and personalised service.

Airlie Beach is cheaper than any of the is- land resorts for Whitsunday Islands.

Important links

Norfolk Island

Settled first by Polynesians, then by the descendants of the Bounty mutineers, islanders have their own dialect — a mix of English and Tahitian. It is an island paradise with a complex history, having been settled four times and abandoned three times. The second penal colony was abandoned in 1855, and then resettled by 194 Pitcairners (descendants of the Bounty’s mutineers who lived on Pitcairn Island). Queen Victoria pardoned and gave them 50 acres each to resettle the island in 1856. There are knotty but straight Norfolk pines, convict buildings and history, bird-watching and lagoon exploration to see.

When to go and for how long?
November to March for air temperatures in the 20°C/68°F. Stay for five to seven days.

How to get there? Where to stay?
Brisbane and Sydney have direct flights with Qantas or Virgin Australia. It is best to plan 3-6 months ahead, and secure any accommodation that comes with a car rental!

What to do?
Visit preserved convict era Kingston — a UNESCO World Heritage Site — a cemetery with convict graves from the First Fleet (arrived in 1788), snorkel in several bays or play golf. Eat at The Homestead Restaurant and the Hilli Goat (books up months ahead), or take in a progressive dinner to visit the homes of the descendants from the Mutiny.

Important links

Sarah plays in front of Emily Bay where Norfolk Island’s iconic lone pine tree stands tall.