A trip to Lord Howe Island
In Mid-2018, the Alumni Office ran a nationwide reconnection campaign looking for our CCAE alumni in the lead up to the 50 Years of Education celebration. We searched high and low for our alumni, asking them to reconnect and share their favourite memory of their time at CCAE or UC. In return, we offered a whopping $5000 travel gift card for one lucky winner.
The lucky Bryan Henshaw claimed the prize, he shares his story below.
Prologue: Unnamed (as yet) trip to Lord Howe Island.
9pm AEDT Wed 13 Nov '19: In my comfy retirement recliner at home.
Quite some time ago, decades in fact, I established that I would love to visit Lord Howe Island. Initially it was because of the history of the place but more recently, my active interest in birds has compounded my desire.
In more recent time, just over a year ago, I won a travel prize. I had updated my contact details as an alumni of the University of Canberra (CCAE when I was there). A prize was offered for submitting 25 words describing the impact of my study at UCAN. I won!
"I completed my undergraduate degree, married and we had our first child at CCAE. All three were significant highlights and interwoven achievements in my life. I worked in my educated field for the rest of my working life. I count myself very fortunate and it all started at CCAE."
I used the prize to book a holiday on Lord Howe Island and there are only two more sleeps until we leave.
To say that Maureen and I are excited would be a sizable understatement.
The timing of our visit is to participate in bird week on Lord Howe Island with naturalist Ian Hutton OAM. Ian is the curator of Lord Howe Museum, noted photographer and published author of numerous books on his home, Lord Howe Island.
Before we fly to the island, Maureen and I are also taking the opportunity to see a cabaret show at the Sydney Opera House: another long held desire.
Chapter 1: Expedition to Lord Howe Island.
1pm AEDT Sat 16 Nov '19: In a comfy cane lounge chair in our villa on Lord Howe Island.
With our alarm set for a life-threateningly early 5:15am, we departed for the train from Canberra yesterday morning on a stunningly gorgeous morning.
To ward off any possible exaggeration, I had an interesting experience boarding the train. I was in my wheelchair which is quite wide and trying to turn in the tight passageway entering the carriage one of my wheels slipped back into the step well near the door. At no time was I at risk of falling off the train, let alone on to the railway tracks.
A graver risk I faced was the baggage clerk threatening to attach me in my wheelchair to the back of the train and towing me to Sydney.
Our train ride to Sydney was restful and we enjoyed pleasant chats with fellow passengers from PNG and NZ.
Arriving at Central railway station, we had a reasonably priced pleasant lunch on a brilliant day. It was heavy with smoke haze though, and was getting a tad hot and sticky outside.
After lunch we checked in to our hotel and engaged in an involuntary SCAN (Senior's Compulsory Afternoon Nap).
Mid-afternoon we went on a bus/train excursion to Circular Quay to meet our friend Janette and her mum Joy. We had a very pleasant early dinner at City Extra on Circular Quay, served by waiters from across the world.
Everybody we encountered today was friendly and helpful. Some of the fascinating cultures we encountered today were:
PNG, NZ, Somalia, India, Scotland, England, France, USA, Hungary and more. What a stunning place Australia is.
After dinner we realised our goal of seeing a show at the Sydney Opera House: The Choir of Man. This show was beyond awesome. Do not miss any opportunity to see them. They had such a rollicking good time bringing the audience along with them. So much so that it was hard to let them go at the end. There was drinking, merry making and shyacking . . . and that was just the cast.
It was reverent and at times slightly irreverent face-aching fun.
This morning a second life-threateningly early 5am alarm woke us for the short taxi ride to the airport in Sydney.
With a minor amount of fuss we checked in and boarded our bus to Lord Howe Island, only to find that it was only a short ride to an airplane.
Our 2hr flight was made particularly enjoyable by extended chatting with the flight attendant. The captain announced on approach to the island that there was a real possibility that we might not be able to land due to very low cloud. If we did have to turn around we would be taken to Brisbane. This was a turnup for our plans.
Thankfully, as we approached the island, at very low altitude the ocean came into view and we were soon on the ground. Speaking with the driver of our transfer to our accommodation, the cloud had only recently lifted enough for us to land - phew!
Chapter 2: Expedition to Lord Howe Island.
7pm AEDT Sun 17 Nov '19: Out for dinner at Earl's Anchorage on Lord Howe Island.
Yesterday morning, we checked in at Somerset Apartments and rested. Refreshed, we then went for a stroll** to the CBD on a warm but smoky day where we chatted with locals and fellow tourists before having lunch. The cafe accurately claimed to make the best burgers for hundreds of km's.
Its called the CBD by the locals because it's got a T-intersection with a silent copper, several shops, Pacific Ocean views at Main Beach and a backdrop of lush tropical island vegetation. This should be in the dictionary as the description of the perfect CBD.
Based on conversions with the locals, Maureen and I made vague plans depending on our yet to be revealed bird itinerary.
An afternoon SCAN prevailed back at our villa and then our first meeting the group and Ian Hutton. He described our itinerary as being vague so our exact plans were still up in the air. Clearly, we were now in a new timezone: AIT (Australian Island Time).
The group for bird week was lovely and we strolled together to the Museum for a presentation. After this, we strolled further on to the Bowls Club for a wonderful dinner.
Back to villa (by mini-bus) we were early to bed, satisfyingly exhausted.
I woke at ludicrous o'clock and went for an early bird stroll for sunrise at nearby Neds Beach. The scenary was breathtaking, complimented by the honour system for hiring snorkeling gear. It was a truly birdariffic spot with nesting seabirds.
We had a meeting with Ian at 9am to decide on the day's activity under the threat of forecast heavy rain. Seconds before 9am, everyone made a dash for the verandah of one of our groups villa and it began to rain heavily. Ian's twenty years experience as a meteorologist allowed him to predict from personal observations that there was a good chance of getting wet.
Consequently, Maureen and I decided to have a rest day from bird watching while the remainder of the group headed off. Its nice sitting on the verandah of our villa bird listening in between thunder claps with the sound of rain falling on our tin roof. The locals are grateful for the rain and we certainly don't begrudge them of it.
My apologies for the slight delay sending this chapter. Fully aware of my travel blogging responsibilities, I had this prepared to send before dinner, however comma the weather has interrupted the satellite signal for our Roaming WIFI.
** For the purposes of this time, stroll is defined as me in my wheelchair with Maureen and/or others walking.
Chapter 3: Expedition to Lord Howe Island.
8pm AEDT Mon 18 Nov '19: In our villa on Lord Howe Island.
Dinner Sun night was at The Anchorage and was fabulous. By chance the main group were also dining there so we swapped stories about how they got wet and I didn't. Maureen got wet because she went to hire a car and when one wasn't available, she got drenched walking back.
At dinner I arranged with Steve, one of the main group, to go for a stroll at 5:30am Mon morning.
At the appointed time I woke and Steve and I went for a sunrise stroll to Settlement Beach on a stunningly brilliant morning. This was the site of the original settlement on the island and is now a pristine valley ebbing down to a picturesque beach.
Magnificent scenery, many birds and a few like-minded tourists occupied us for a couple of hours. We returned in time for a quick breakfast before joining the main group for a bird walk to the base of Mt Gowen at the southern end of the island. The walk included lotsa information about the island.
Lord Howe Island's geology is fascinating. It and Balls Pyramid are remnants of the southernmost in a chain of eight extinct volcanos running from south to north. The other islands have been eroded to below sea level and are undersea mountains. I had heard about a couple of these as fish and consequently bird havens.
I have always been fascinated with the history of Lord Howe Island. It was discovered, uninhabited, shortly after the first settlement at Sydney Cove. Birds caught on the island saved the fledgling colony from starvation.
Part of the history has included the regrettable introduction of pest flora and fauna. This was followed by unwise attempts to solve these problems which compounded them. In recent years Lord Howe Island has made a leviathon effort to correct adverse impacts on the environment.
Tremendous achievements have lead to the eradication of many pests, the recovery of many endemic species of flora and fauna under threat, and the possible reintroduction of some species that have survived elsewhere. Islanders are justifiably proud of their accomplishment.
High on the list of successes is the Phasmid (a bit like a stick insect only different). They were thought to be extinct, but were found surviving on Balls Pyramid and are ready to be reintroduced on Lord Howe Island under the right circumstances.
Returning to our villa Mon morning, I declined the opportunity for a third bird excursion for the day and after lunch and a nap, Maureen and I strolled to nearby Neds Beach alone. Here we snorkled among fish and coral and then hand fed dinner-sized fish.
Needless to say, we were exhausted and contemplating a quiet evening. Our evening consisted of a lovely home cooked meal in our villa followed by a short walk (yes I walked) to Neds Beach were we witnessed the dusk return of hundreds, possibly thousands, of Flesh-footed Shearwaters. They literally landed at our feet, with some flying past us at arms length whist we were seated on the grass. Maureen called an abrupt end to proceedings when one delivered a perfectly targeted bomb on her chest.
7am AEDT Mon 18 Nov '19: In our villa on Lord Howe Island.
Due to a lack of interwebs, I will be recording events in dribs and drabs and sending them when next I can locate some interwebs.
This morning began with a sleep in. Due to vague scheduling, we have booked our boat trip to Balls Pyramid independently and will be going this afternoon. The remainder of today is intended to be leisurely. As near as I can tell from our bed, I think it's a lovely day outside.
Yep, it's a glorious day.
7pm AEDT Mon 18 Nov '19: Lord Howe Island Bowling Club.
We went for a stroll to the CBD for mornos by the sea. There we chatted with the staff at each of the businesses on the beach and then Maureen went for a swim. We also chatted with some more with fellow tourists, as well as the main group returning from their morning excursion. Repairing to to our villa, we had a home made gourmet lunch followed by a brief SCAN before our epic sea voyage to Balls Pyramid.
There have been a number of moments in my life where I have had an overwhelming sensation of: "I can't believe I'm actually here!" Balls Pyramid is one of those places.
Jack Shick is a 5th generation island born Lord Howe Islander. Sun tanned, bare foot, entrenched in Australian Island Time, and as easy going as anyone I've ever met; Jack was brilliant.
We headed north around the top of the island with a few stops for scenic and bird watching opportunities. As we turned south, on the western side of the island our objective, Balls Pyramid came into view. The scenery and the birds on the west coast were equally amazing, however comma we could see Balls Pyramid.
Leaving the southern tip of Lord Howe Island we had 20 kms to travel across to Balls Pyramid. It didn't look far, but it took nearly an hour to get there. hereDity the crossing, there was no moment that we weren't accompanied by a plethora of seabirds or dolphins.
Sitting at the base of Balls Pyramid, it soared over us at 550m tall. There were gazillions of seabirds around and above the island wheeling in a never ending ballet. A boyhood dream fulfilled, the return trip was a little rough but watching Balls Pyramid fade into the distance meant that I hardly noticed the time.
Finally are arrived back at the jetty and rushed back to our villa to shower and leave for pizza at the Bowling Club. It was divine.
Chapter 4: Expedition to Lord Howe Island.
9pm AEDT Wed 20 Nov '19: In our villa on Lord Howe Island.
Wed morning we had a leisurely start on yet another glorious day. I ventured out for a stroll to do some essential retail therapy and a coupla chats.
The morning agenda began with a glass bottomed boat trip to North Bay at 10am, within the lagoon bounded by the reef. On the way we checked out some extremely laid back Green Sea Turtles.
Apparently, after they leave their birth place they make their way to Lord Howe Island where they stay for a decade or more. When they mature, they return to their birth place to breed - a phenomenal feat of navigation.
First stop was for Maureen and others to snorkle on a shipwreck and then we were deposited on a beach laden with breeding seabirds.
With an hour or so to explore followed by a fascinating description of the geology and climatology of Lord Howe Island, we were well and truly satisfied.
It seems that Lord Howe Island is a smaller example of the exact conditions that created the Galapagos Islands. A miracle of location has provided an environment for wondrous evolutionary development. The main reason for the unusual variety of endemic and visiting flora and fauna is the isolation and the warm ocean currents that eddy around the island. 25% of the species of flora and fauna on Great Barrier Reef occur at Lord Howe Island.
On the return journey we called in on some more Green Sea Turtles as well as fish and coral. Arriving back at about 1pm, our lunch at our villa was delightful and followed by a serious involuntary SCAN.
Some time later we strolled to the CBD where chats with few people occupied us till we returned to our villa to prepare a gourmet steak dinner. One of the members of the main group wasn't up to going out for dinner, so we prevailed upon her to join us. Lora is an Austrian/South African lady and was a delightful dinner guest.
Anyhow, I've made an appointment to go for a bird stroll at 5am so I'd best hit the sack.
1pm AEDT Thu 21 Nov '19: In our villa on Lord Howe Island.
Rumours about an electric wheelchair wandering Lord Howe Island aimlessly at 5am this morning on yet another glorious morning are greatly exaggerated. I wasn't wandering because I knew exactly where we were going.
Antje, daughter of Lora, reported that she had seen Lord Howe Woodhens at the airport yesterday morning. The temptation to get a photograph of one was so great that I agreed to go on the aforementioned 5am stroll with her and Steve.
This was the first long range excursion I have undertaken in my wheelchair so I charged the battery. Two and a half hours later I had traveled 7km at about 7 km/h, using 30 - 40% of the battery. This suggests a range of maybe 20km.
It was a fabulous stroll with many birds and stunning dawn scenery.
On returning to our villa I honoured my offer to make an omelet for breakfast which was scrumuliscious. After a short nap, Maureen and I joined our bus tour of the island with Chase & Thyme Island Journeys .
Our host Peter had an encyclopaedic knowledge of things Lord Howe Island with a very humorous delivery. His wife is 5th generation islander. Her great, great grandfather's middle name was Chase and he was a whaler who settled on the island and established market gardens for trading. Among the pants he grew was Thyme, hence the company name.
Peter told a few dad jokes, two of which I propose to add to my repertoire:
On Lord Howe Island, "Glass is recycled as road base, which legitimizes the expression, "One for the road."
The response, "tar" to being served a bottle of beer has two meanings.
Chapter 5: Expedition to Lord Howe Island.
5pm AEDT Fri 22 Nov '19: In our villa on Lord Howe Island.
Yesterday arvo Maureen went for a swim while I bird browsed and chatted with passers by. This was followed by a wonderful gourmet home made dinner and then sunset viewing, which included more chatting of course.
Satisfyingly exhausted, I was early to bed while Maureen read.
Early to rise this morning, glorious as usual, I undertook a very short bird stroll and emergency coffee acquisition for Maureen. When I returned with said coffee I made omelet for breakfast which was eagerly anticipated. I suspect I had done well the previous morning.
In a concession to reality, today's plan was for a restful day, lest we arrive home thoroughly shattered. Consequently, the most strenuous activity before lunch was a massage each.
For lunch we had home made exquisite gourmet bread rolls with the last of our supplies. Afterwards we went for a gentle stroll for a swim and bird browse nearby - oh; and some more chatting.
Most of the remainder of the afternoon was spent resting and chatting with passing neighbours in anticipation of this evening's final dinner with the main bird group.
9:30pm AEDT Fri 22 Nov '19: In our villa on Lord Howe Island.
Dinner tonight was sublime!
Maureen and I went down to the CBD early to catch our final sunset and then walked up to the restaurant with the main group. We were made to feel very welcome, exchanging stories about our days. The fact that Maureen and I had massages this morning was the source of great envy.
The meal was awesome and the chatting was loud and animated. As we will be leaving at various times tomorrow it was an opportunity to say farewell. I did, however comma arrange one last morning stroll with Steve for 5:30am in the morning.
Ian, the two boat skippers Peter and Jack as well as the bus driver Peter were a wealth of information and intensely proud of their place. I spoke after dinner, expressing my gratitude to Ian for including us with the group and I congratulated he and the people of Lord Howe Island for their pride in the island and their efforts is preserving such a paradise.
Time to snooze.
Epilogue: Expedition to Lord Howe Island.
8:30am AEDT Sun 24 Nov '19: At home.
On the final morning I went for one last 5:30am bird stroll with Steve. We were looking for, and found, an albino Sooty Tern chick that had been sighted. Along the way we also had several wonderful chats. Oh, and for a change, the morning was glorious.
Breakfast at the Anchorage was amazing looking over Lagoon Beach chatting with now familiar locals and visitors. We also watched the arrival of new visitors, eager for what we were about to sadly leave behind.
Our return home was longish but relatively hassle free. Traveling by air with an electric wheelchair is fine, except for the battery. It requires special approval because of its capacity and generally it's new for check-in staff so they have to read the instruction manual.
Coming over to the island we were presented with the scenario of not being able to land due to low cloud. Leaving the island we were presented with the scenario of reduced take-off weight capacity due to cross winds. All in the name of safety. Neither inconvenienced us. Que sera.
We flew out on time after lunch and then caught a bus on time back to Canberra after dinner.
Our visit to Lord Howe Island satisfied a boyhood desire of mine to see this place and the reality was far better than I could have hoped for. I returned home thoroughly exhausted and satisfied.
My historical, geological, biological, ecological and climatological curiosity has been sated. I am in awe of the effort and results of the islanders' labours to preserve this place and I cannot congratulate them highly enough. You simply must come here and experience it for yourself.
This place is a paradise.
My measure of a successful bird trip has always been, "One or more birds seen, not necessarily new ones."
On this trip to Lord Howe Island, I have seen 33 (34) different bird species, 11 of which are new to my life list. WOOHOO!!!
Maureen and I have begun planning our next sizeable adventure. We are driving from Canberra to Mackay and back in April '20. Yes, there will be a travel blog. You have been warned.
If this is your first of my travelblogs, three things apply:
1. Why are you subjecting yourself to this?
2. I apologise for my butchery of the English language. All I can say on my defence is: "Its fun!"
3. If you were here, or have been here, I apologise for any inaccuracies. If not, everything I have reported is accurate.
For those that are return readers, only one thing applies:
My bird list:
Bar-tailed Godwit, Black Noddy, Black-winged Petrel*, Common Blackbird, Common Noddy, Common Starling, Emerald Dove, Grey Ternlet*, Kermadec Petrel*, Latham's Snipe, Magpie-lark, Masked Lapwing, Lord Howe Golden Whistler*, Lord Howe Island Currawong*, Lord Howe Island Woodhen*, Lord Howe White-eye*, Masked Booby, Nankeen Kestrel, Pacific Black Duck, Pacific Golden Plover, Providence Petrel, Red-tailed Tropicbird*, Rock Dove, Ruddy Turnstone, Sacred Kingfisher, Song Thrush*, Sooty Tern, Wedge-tailed Shearwater, Welcome Swallow, Whimbrel, White Tern*, White-bellied Storm-petrel*, White-faced Heron.
I also saw a dead Eastern Masked Owl which are being removed from the island as a pest species.
* New to my life list