Lord Howe Island is one of the few places Australians can travel to truly disconnect. We discover the World Heritage-listed island where nobody locks their doors and you rarely encounter another soul on your adventures.
My handlebar basket rattles as I bonk over potholes, weaving beneath the pandanus canopy of Lord Howe Island’s jungle roads. I’m hurtling along on a royal blue Malvern Star bicycle – a gem of ‘90s nostalgia I haven’t had the pleasure of pedalling since my childhood in suburban regional NSW.
Shoulders back, elbows out, hands high on the V handlebars. The bike’s thick tyres sandpaper over bumps with smooth nonchalance. Every millennial knows you may as well be riding a Harley Davidson when on one of these beasts.
It’s not just the wind rushing through my salt-crusted hair or bare feet on the pedals making me feel like a kid again. Many travellers say visiting Lord Howe is like stepping back in time. Its dark volcanic peaks covered in jungle greens have a Jurassic feel. There are no mobile phone towers, no reception, and no internet aside from Wi-Fi provided by accommodation owners. Only a handful of the 350 island residents have cars to cross its 12-kilometre length. For those who do, a unique set of laws – the Lord Howe Island Act 1953 – say seatbelts aren’t required, so few people bother to wear them.
This UNESCO World Heritage-listed sanctuary juts out of the Pacific Ocean about 600 kilometres east of Port Macquarie. A two-hour flight from Sydney in a Dash 8 plane will get you there. Scoring a seat on one of these flights requires a bit of potluck in 2021. After a COVID-induced ban on visitors early in 2020, flights have been heavily booked by Australians desperate for an island escape.
Local law limits the island to a strict maximum of 400 guests, which ensures we rarely encounter other hikers on trails, or surfers on blissfully empty waves. Every local knows everyone; so nobody bothers to lock anything. Kids leave their surfboards on the beach as they don flip-flops to walk to the two-class primary school. Kayaks, tinnies and fishing rods litter the dunes surrounding the lagoon on the island’s east side, resting unmoved until their owner’s next use.
It’s a quirk I have trouble getting used to on my first day when Lisa Makiiti, the co-owner of Bowker Beach House, is showing me through our bungalow.
“This might be a stupid question,” I say, “but do we get a key?”
“Oh no, not a stupid question,” she laughs. “Nobody locks anything on the island. So, no, we don’t actually have a key to give you.”
I have to trust her because if anyone knows the lie of the island, Makiiti does. Her family ancestors were among the first settlers on Lord Howe. She grew up here and after a brief stint on the mainland living in Sydney’s Bondi – “too hectic, I felt trapped” – she returned home with partner Rod Oxley and built a luxury rainforest retreat for couples.
Their finished project is Bowker Beach House, a sleek timber oasis that platoons into the jungle off a meandering boardwalk. Bathed in natural light with glass sliding doors and windows on all sides, it’s just a short stroll to the lagoon and most shops on the island, yet completely secluded in lush natural surroundings.
The house is large enough to fit a family, but the island visitor cap means couples must stretch out here instead. Luxe provisions like Molton Brown toiletries, a Nespresso machine, assorted antipasto treats in the fridge and four bottles of complimentary wine would be wasted on kids, anyway. The DVD and book collection also boast adult sophistication: a whole shelf of Helen Garner steals my heart and fills my days at the beach. But the generous assortment of beach toys – snorkels, fins, surfboards, paddleboards, kayaks, backpacks, hiking poles, picnic equipment, and those glorious Malvern Star cruisers – delight my inner child.
If Makiiti felt the pace of Sydney life was too fast, she has returned to one of the best places in the world to slow down. The island even has a speed limit – 25 kilometres per hour – as her partner Rod Oxley reminds us when he’s giving a tour of world-class surf spots in his van.
“Why wouldn’t you want to live here?” Oxley marvels. “It’s the closest place you can get to heaven on earth.”
He jettisons us at Ned’s Beach – a sandy haven for snorkelling and surfing with water that sparkles like a Maldives marketing brochure. Snorkels, beach towels and a beautiful red McTavish longboard spill out of the van with us.
I size up the 10-foot board. It’s a collector’s item, probably worth nearly $2,000. As popular in the ‘90s as Malvern Star cruisers.
“Just leave the McTavish on the beach here after you’re done,” says Oxley. “I’ll come and get it later.”
GET THERE: Qantas has daily flights from Sydney to Lord Howe Island costing around $1,200 return. Lisa Makiiti and Rod Oxley will pick you up at the airport and even offer rides to and from dinner each night.
STAY THERE: Bowker Beach House is priced from $690 per couple, per night during winter and $1,200 during high season.