Norfolk Island appears to be heaven on earth: turquoise waters that offer excellent surfing, superb snorkelling and bountiful fishing; unspoilt beaches devoid of crowds; and much of the landmass taken up by lush national park harbouring rare and endemic species.
In fact, it’s almost impossible to envisage the place once described as “hell in the Pacific”. These days, look in one direction and you’ll see white sand shaded by towering Norfolk pines; glance in another and it’s all charming stone buildings and friendly faces.
Whether you want to lose yourself in history at the World Heritage-listed convict site in Kingston or by examining artefacts from HMS Bounty on display in the Pier Store museum; or prefer to immerse yourself in nature, lay on a quiet beach, indulge in great food and wine or simply stargaze, there’s a holiday experience for you. Welcome to Norfolk Island – an overseas holiday where you don’t need a passport.
You can get to this South Pacific paradise in about two hours
A remote island idyll that’s right next door? Jump on a Qantas flight to Norfolk Island from Sydney or Brisbane and you’ll touch down just over two hours later. The 35-square-kilometre island lies 1400 kilometres east of Evans Head in NSW’s Northern Rivers region. Technically, it’s an Australian territory but you’ll feel as if you’ve landed in another (somewhat familiar) country. Up until a few years ago, a passport was required for Australian visitors but all you’ll need now is photo ID, such as a driver’s licence.
It's filled with great museums and galleries
With a population of less than 2000 people, Norfolk Island boasts four fascinating museums, five galleries and its own World Heritage convict site – an impressive per capita amount of cultural institutions. Here, the island’s early days as a British penal colony can be vividly imagined by visitors wandering through historical buildings and the ruins of old jails.
It’s a Gold-level Dark Sky Town
If you don’t know what that means, just look up after sunset. Hundreds of kilometres from the closest landmass, Norfolk Island has minimal light pollution – giving the stars their chance to shine. The Australian Dark Sky Register designated the island a Gold-level – its highest status – Dark Sky Town in 2019 and it’s become a draw for amateur astronomers and dreamy stargazers alike. Head somewhere remote, such as Mount Pitt or Mount Bates (the island’s tallest peaks), to make the most of the heavens’ 360-degree nightly show.
“Paddock to plate” is no gimmick
The fact that menus in Norfolk Island’s 20-odd restaurants and cafés are packed with seasonal, organic and locally grown, foraged and caught food isn’t really advertised, because it’s always been this way. The farmers’ market kicks off at 7am each Saturday in Burnt Pine, rain or shine, and you’ll find plenty of stalls loaded with produce grown in the rich volcanic soil. Each November, the island celebrates its bounty at the Taste Norfolk Island Food Festival. Book ahead for a Progressive Dinner – it’s the best way to enjoy local dishes and meet the locals.
You’ll share the tropical lagoon with thousands
Of fish, that is. Humans are few and far between along the island’s 32 kilometres of coastline, a mix of pale sandy sweeps provide and rocky coves hidden at the base of steep cliffs. Emily Bay Lagoon, part of the Kingston World Heritage site, is the top spot for water babies; it’s all reef-sheltered waters made for calm swimming and scuba diving. Don a snorkel and enter the world beneath to see some of the 60-plus marine species here – if you’re lucky, you’ll also spot the resident sea turtle – then dry off on the offshore pontoon.
You can get lost on a third of the island
Who would have thought a tiny eight-by-five-kilometre dot in no-man’s-land could contain such multitudes? Look beyond the eye-catching tropical waters, and the scenery changes: much of the island is national park, where towering Norfolk Island pines and rolling pastures give way to subtropical forests inhabited by endemic species such as the Norfolk Island green parrot and the Norfolk Island morepork owl. It’s a hiker’s dream and there are plenty of trails to explore, as well as the chance to walk beneath truly gigantic Moreton Bay fig trees which have stood sentinel on the island for hundreds of years.
See the "Uluru of the Pacific"
Challenge yourself on a guided excursion to Phillip Island, a rugged rocky mass known as the “Uluru of the Pacific” that comes under the protection of Norfolk Island National Park. Just six kilometres from Norfolk, Phillip Island is sunset-hued, with deep red, orange and yellow soils rising up from the sea. It’s a sanctuary for seabirds and endemic plants and provides gorgeous views back to Norfolk.
You’ll find impressive craft beer
Norfolk Island Brewing was established in 2019 and currently has five taps flowing, including Golden Ale, Amber Ale, Pale Ale, Lager and Local Guava Cider. Try the beers with a woodfired pizza at the brewery’s restaurant, Castaway, then grab a growler for tomorrow’s sundowner. It’s not all about lager-lovers, though. Two Chimneys Wines grows grapevines in the gentle maritime climate of the eastern side of Norfolk Island. Visit the cellar door to meet proprietors Noelene and Roderick McAlpine, sample the wares and perhaps buy a bottle of their NV sparkling cuvée to take home.
You’ll meet descendants of the Bounty mutineers
Don’t worry – by all accounts, they’re really friendly! Thanks to their ancestors’ misdemeanours, Norfolk Islanders are now heirs to a stunning island paradise. Many of the residents are directly descended from Pitcairn Islanders who, in turn, were descended from the British sailors who mutinied on the Bounty in 1789. Along with their Tahitian brides, they resettled the abandoned penal colony in 1856. It’s a living history; something that can be felt in the everyday rhythms of the island, the food, the traditions and even the local Norf’k language, a combination of Tahitian and 18th-century English.
You can play within a World Heritage site
With its towering Norfolk pines and rolling green fairways bumping up against the deep-blue South Pacific, Norfolk Island Golf Club is one of the world’s most striking golf courses. The views from every vantage point of this links-style course are spectacular, taking in Emily Bay’s natural beauty as well as convict ruins and the crooked headstones of the convict cemetery. But don’t let its charm lull you into a false sense of security: those strong ocean breezes and that spongy kikuyu grass are known to thwart the unwary.