Norfolk Island is a rock star. And, as Susan Elliott finds out, this tiny South Pacific performer knows how to stage a world-class show.
Meet the Mick Jagger of isles; rugged, tough, intriguing, and confidently strutting its stuff. Flying in for my 10th Norfolk Island holiday must make me something of a groupie. As I approach, fifty shades of green crowd my aircraft window. Below, thousands of towering Norfolk Pines tickle low-cruising clouds. Between them, plantations of Kentia palms and pastures dotted with cattle and gardens can be seen. A first-glimpse at the home-grown greens for the 1,750 locals and additional fortunate visitors to the island.
Just 1,600km from Sydney, Norfolk Island has found new appeal as the ‘overseas’ holiday travellers can have without leaving the country. From Sydney or Brisbane, there’s just enough time to savour the in-flight meal before ‘The Rock’ comes into view. The local nickname soon makes sense as you approach – the island below appears all jagged cliffs and South Pacific swells.
Norfolk Island’s Luxury Accommodation
Barely an hour later, I’m gasping for breath at Forrester Court, premium Norfolk Island accommodation. Gasping not for lack of air – but thanks to an oversupply of views. Imagine lush lawns that appear to have been hand-clipped with a fairy’s scissors slope to a plunging cliff. It’s a dramatic reminder that this tiny isle has only basalt columns barricading it from a pounding South Pacific Ocean below.
Ariane Forrester walks me across broken glass to my cottage. A harsh welcome? No, it’s as smooth as silica. To explain, the driveway is made from finely crushed bottles from Norfolk Island’s Waste Management Centre. This unusual feature has been dubbed ‘The Diamond Highway’ by regular guests. In fact, the whole property is a celebration of sustainability. There’s the rainwater harvested directly from the rooftops, solar-powered gadgets and, of course, not a plastic anything in sight.
My room, the Clifftop Cottage, is where Jagger would stay. Complete satisfaction. Seen from every room, the ocean is both gleaming performer and attentive audience. Additionally, there’s a welcome platter of exclusive local cheeses and a well-stocked wine bar. Outside, meanwhile, on that fairy-clipped lawn, Ariane’s famous ‘High Tea by the Sea’ calls like a siren. It’s a Norfolk Island food experience remembered long after the delicate savouries and cakes have passed your lips.
Tintoela Norfolk Island: Hunky’s Homestead
To have such exquisite food and accommodation on an isle just five kilometres by eight wide is an extraordinary feat. In truth, everything on Norfolk Island is a labour of love…and survival. Firstly, there’s the tease of being surrounded by the world’s biggest ocean, yet not seeing a raincloud for months. Or the head-dipping deflation of watching a packed cargo ship sail away, unable to offload because of a monstrous swell. This is a place where food and supplies are hard-won.
But, when you have mutineer’s blood in your veins, as many Norfolk Islanders do, there is stubborn determination to make things work. Hunky Evans is one such islander. He’s a descendent of the HMS Bounty seamen who, in 1789, set their commanding Lieutenant, William Bligh, adrift on the ship’s launch… then sailed to Tahiti. There, they claimed wives, settled on the Pitcairn Islands and later moved to Norfolk Island. Of course, Mutiny on the Bounty went on to become one of the world’s most loved nautical tales, as well as being an essential part of Norfolk history.
But back to Hunky. If you have ever hugged a tree – imagine the opposite. Hunky’s Homestead hugs you. It’s one of three lodgings on the Tintoela estate, built from Norfolk Pines harvested on Hunky’s family’s land. The milled timber is used for everything from cladding to floors, ceilings, panelling, dining tables, chairs and doors. Outside, convict-cut stone from Norfolk’s old jail in Kingston forms the paths and garden walls through a 1.6-hectare tropical garden. But you won’t be looking down. Here, Cascade Bay is centre stage. And, you have platinum seats for the 24-hour show.
Next level fare at The Homestead Restaurant
Next level. That’s Kurt Menghetti. I’m at The Homestead Restaurant watching Norfolk’s top chef spoon coconut-turmeric broth over flametail snapper, line-caught just hours earlier. Meanwhile, sizzling away beside Kurt in the kitchen are locally sourced meats and vegetables. They’re charring over the coals of a traditional Argentinian parrilla grill, hand-made by his dad. And – wait for it – Kurt made the charcoal as well, from olive tree wood off his property. Next level, yes? He also wood-fires Norfolk’s only naturally fermented sourdough, something that has gained him an impressive following. To top it off, there’s a crème caramel that sells out before it’s even left the fridge.
Kingston Accommodation: Watermill Beach House Estate
My final night on ‘The Rock’ is at Watermill Beach House Estate in the World Heritage area of Kingston. Built in the early 1900s, Watermill cottage is living a new life as a stunning beach ‘shack’. Inside, there are fabulous furnishings and comforts that early settlers could never have imagined. This part of the island was, after all, one of Australia’s first, and harshest, penal colonies. The home is on nine hectares of Norfolk Pine forest, filled with lush, secret valleys and creeks. Beyond the convict stone fence are Kingston’s magnificent Georgian homes and museums bursting with priceless treasures. Also nearby are Government House, a convict cemetery and one of the few golf courses located on a World Heritage Site. All are embraced by Emily Bay, among the most beautiful beaches in Australia.
The pleasure of leisure is exhausting, and I can’t wait for the day to end. I’m in a little convoy of locals and clued-up visitors driving to Sunset Bar at Puppy’s Point. It’s the home of Bounty descendent, Les Quintal. The Norfolk Island tour guide loves visitors so much he opens his home for sunset drinks. There’s tapas-style food, like fresh trumpeter and Les’ home-reared beef. For entertainment, barefoot and brilliant local musician Anson King sets a bluesy mood. Meanwhile, the sun and sky put on their nightly light show, framed by hundreds of Norfolk pines.
I order Mick Jagger’s favourite drink. What could be more perfect than a tequila sunrise at sunset? You can always get what you want, Mick.