Lord Howe Island: Australia’s Most Exclusive Destination
At a time when space and a connection with nature are arguably life’s greatest luxuries, Lord Howe Island delivers.
Sipping champagne in Capella Lodge’s pool overlooking ravishing Mount Gower, time itself slows. The flap of petrels creates a melodic, meditative hum, clouds pause their movement, waves calm. Turning down the tempo is the mantra on Lord Howe Island, a place so slow-paced that the maximum driving speed is just 25 km/h.
The crescent-shaped drop of land in the Tasman Sea, 600 kilometres east of Sydney, is nature writ large. The volcanic soils in this mini-Eden covet enormous groves of kentia palms, ancient banyan trees and soaring screw pines. In fact, 105 floral species thrive here uniquely in the world. Jurassic cliffs tower over powdery stretches of sand, where terns and shearwaters nestle in to breed during season. It’s also one of Australia’s most important bird habitats, and a haven for the Lord Howe Island woodhen—an endemic species which has been saved from extinction by local conservation efforts.
Opaline outer bays host an unimaginable number of bottlenose dolphins and Galapagos sharks. And gin-clear lagoons—protected by the world’s most southern barrier reef—invite travellers to snorkel with more than 500 species of fish and surging bales of green, hawksbill and loggerhead turtles in numbers infinitely larger than the resident population of humans (circa 380) or the daily permitted allocation of visitors (400). It’s a setting so wild and wonderful, it has earned a UNESCO World Heritage listing for natural beauty—one of only four global archipelagos thus recognised.
Most visitors explore the island by bike, while the lucky few guests at Capella can also tootle about in a golf cart—particularly handy if you’re the undesignated driver en route to a seafood barbecue at a postcard-worthy picnic spot beside Ned’s Beach, armed with a cooler stocked with Hunter Valley chardonnay, prawns, oysters and lobster. Back at the lodge, meals are as fresh as they are refined, with daily-changing menus featuring compositions like line-caught tuna, organic greens from the kitchen garden, foraged sea herbs or boutique-farmed meats. Anything that can be pickled, cured, fermented or smoked is done on-site. The dining room is shared with fellow occupants of the mere nine rooms here.
Each accommodation is individual in its design, channelling classic Australian holiday houses, but with the finest linens, polished timber floors, custom furniture and niceties like outdoor bathtubs. Depending on the wind’s current direction, the Wi-Fi may be working—it often isn’t, and that’s absolutely fine. Island-wide, there’s no phone reception either, which means any visit guarantees complete disconnection from the rest of the world.
Toward the north tip of Lord Howe lies Arajilla, the island’s other all-inclusive lodge, its breezy suites set among a tangle of jungle. A chorus of cicadas and frogs form the soundtrack to the open-air restaurant, where innovative dishes range from local lamb with feta ravioli to sesame-crusted kingfish atop tapioca bok choy.
Although only 14.5 square kilometres in size, Lord Howe is webbed with dozens of hiking trails. One, to the top of 875-metre Mount Gower, is so precipitous it requires a guide, a helmet and eight hours of your time. Less strenuous, but equally scenic, is the Malabar Hill trail, which loops from Arajilla’s doorstep. It’s a soul-stirring amble through kentia forest and along creek beds lined with curly palms, giant lily pillies and tree ferns. The reward from Kim’s Lookout is views over vivid green hills, the turquoise lagoon and infinite cobalt blue ocean all the way to the Admiralty Islands.
If you squint, you can also glimpse Lord Howe’s most exclusive lodging, the Island House, which accommodates eight guests and must be booked in its entirety. It’s secluded and effortlessly stylish, replete with Cheminees Philippe fireplaces, copper baths, marbled bathrooms opening to garden courtyards, authentic mid-century furniture, a full library stocked with glossy tomes, and kitchen shelves lined with hand-picked Japanese ceramics and designer accoutrements. This is where the likes of Chris Hemsworth and entourage stay when on holiday. The retreat also offers sports equipment, whether kayaks or bikes.
Two wheels can also be picked up from Arajilla for a cycle to the nearby jetty where, on calm days, boats depart for Ball’s Pyramid, a dramatic hunk of basalt
20 kilometres out in the Pacific. Jutting 562 metres out of the ocean, it represents the world’s tallest sea stack. Attempts to climb the spearhead date back to the 1960s, until humans were banned from the islet after the rediscovery of the stick-insect-like phasmid, once thought extinct, but now considered the planet’s rarest insect.
Luckily, diving is still permitted in the surrounding waters. In addition to swimming with huge schools of violet sweep, rainbow runners, rare Spanish dancers and Galapagos whalers, there’s a good chance of coming mask-to-whisker with some panda-coloured Ballina angelfish—the only place in the world where you can do this. Who needs Wi-Fi when this bounty—and luxury—beckons?