13 March 2016
Phone numbers are made up of five digits and drivers wave to each other. Welcome to Norfolk Island, writes Tatyana Leonov.
Kath runs to the car and grabs a ukulele. After some encouragement from a mate at the Sunday market, she begins to strum the instrument and hum softly. The corners of her mouth hint at a smile. A friend in the neighbouring stall joins in with a mix of singing and humming. And then, Kath can’t help herself. She starts to croon. Her smile widens and her fingers begin to move swiftly across the ukulele as she gains momentum.
Looking around these island markets, I see that everyone is smiling – shoppers, vendors, even passers-by. That’s just how it is here – Norfolk Island is home to Australia’s friendliest folk. Locals offer the two-finger wave when driving (referred to as the “Norfolk wave”), they regularly invite visitors into their homes (boutique businesses are often managed from residences), everyone takes Wednesday afternoon off, and the phone directory has a section for nicknames ... seriously.
It’s this welcoming nature that somehow elevates every experience here. And there’s plenty to do – I find that after four days, I could have easily whiled away another four ... or more.
From the island’s many sheer cliff-tops, you can enjoy spectacular views of both sunrises and sunsets, with hues of fiery oranges, candy pinks and brilliant yellows signalling the start or the end of another peaceful day. Captain Cook Lookout (where a monument commemorates Cook’s landing on the island in 1774) and a picnic area overlooking Anson Bay become my favourites.
Nestled at the bottom of a towering cliff face, Anson Bay is great for snorkelling in seclusion (not many visitors trek the steep path down the cliff, even though the reward is a private beach). Emily Bay, another pristine beach haven, is easier to get to and is often dotted with laughing families.
The Norfolk Island pine is a celebrated local symbol and these beautiful tall trees are found all over the island. One of the biggest and oldest pines, located in the main town of Kingston, is adorned with fairy lights each December, acting as a gigantic outdoor Christmas tree.
My favourite trees on the island, though, are the Moreton Bay figs. They stand confidently in prominent street-side positions, their huge roots offering an insight into their grand old age.
Norfolk Island itself is steeped in a rich, sometimes turbulent, history. The volcanic outcrop was formed about three million years ago and has shrunk to a third of its original size because of erosion. It’s also the last resting place of the First Fleet’s flagship, the Sirius, shipwrecked 226 years ago in the bay of Kingston.
The Kingston area is fascinating to explore (it received World Heritage Listing in 2010) and I allow myself plenty of time to stroll around the convict area and stop at the homes built for the penal convict settlement in 1788.
These residences were given a second life in 1856 as new homes to descendants from the Bounty. They had been living on tiny Pitcairn Island, which could no longer sustain its growing population.
Today, about a third of Norfolk Island locals are related to the rebellious crewmen who seized control of the Royal Navy’s Bounty in the South Pacific in 1789. Another third come from mainland Australia, and the rest hail from New Zealand. The mix of cultures creates a happy and proud 2000-strong population keen to share their history with visitors.
Bounty descendants John and Glen Christian manage a boutique cheese- making business. The brothers developed it around a novel idea: they asked locals if they could milk their cows (mostly bred for beef), offering a dollar a litre; owners were glad of the extra income.
I sample a variety of the Christians’ handmade cheeses – creamy feta, velvety haloumi, tangy cheddar, and a cheese they refer to as “Dars-et”, which simply means “that’s it” in the Norfolk dialect developed by the Bounty mutineers and their Polynesian wives.
The cheeses are served alongside local chutneys, pure local honey, home-made pawpaw jelly and silky avocados plucked straight from the tree. Sustainability and organically grown food is a way of life here.
Robyn Menghetti is one of the residents putting Norfolk Island on the foodie map. She moved to the island in 2001 to take on a corporate role, but married a local farmer and began breeding a unique heritage variety of blue-tinged cattle, the Norfolk blue.
I dine at Menghetti’s award-winning restaurant of the same name, savouring my succulent prime-cut eye fillet. Then, like most nights, I sit and chat among the locals into the wee hours.
Getting around: Although the island only measures five by eight kilometres, you’ll need a car to get around the mountainous terrain. Rental vehicles are easy to organise.
Where to stay: Personal service (the owners will meet you at the airport) teamed with seclusion when you want it make Jacaranda Park a great choice (jacarandapark.nlk.nf). The five charming self-contained cottages all come with lovely views.
What to eat: Whatever is being grown on the island; Norfolk blue beef. More information norfolkisland.com.au