Travel

More Than Mutineers on Norfolk Island

Tiffany Carroll steps back in time and takes care not to collide with any bovine residents on
Norfolk Island which she finds quirky and quite like Australia – but 40 years ago.

September 2, 2018
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Pacific Island Living

Pacific Island Living

September 2, 2018

Tiffany Carroll steps back in time and takes care not to collide with any bovine residents on
Norfolk Island which she finds quirky and quite like Australia – but 40 years ago.

Arriving at Norfolk Island the first thing I’m told is cows have the right of way.

“Excuse me?”

“Cows – cattle – don’t hit one. If you do, you have to pay the farmer. It’s cheaper to hit a person – that only costs you a carton of beer.”

“I’m sorry, are you joking?” I ask the serious looking car rental guy.

“No – the beer is for the footy club who have to dig the hole.”

It’s not the welcome I was expecting and straight away I knew I was in for an interesting five days on Norfolk.

The Air New Zealand boarding gate at Brisbane International Airport should have been a give away this was not going to be your typical South Pacific island holiday experience. It’s a domestic flight after all, but you leave from the international terminal and can purchase duty free.

The average age of the passengers – and it was a full flight – would have been over 65. I’d been told Norfolk Tourism once had a slogan ‘For the newly weds and nearly deads’ and wondered if only part of the campaign was successful.

After picking up the car and learning the road rules, 10 minutes later I’m driving through the main town area and notice all the shops are named after men.

Max’s, Pete’s Place, Craig’s Knitwear, Frank’s Shoes, Duncan’s Jewellery, Ross’s of Norfolk. I can’t help but think I’m in some sort of vortex. It’s honestly the weirdest place I’ve ever been – and I’m from country NSW – I’ve seen some strange little towns.

Over the next few days I’d visit some of these shops and be struck by the laidback service. Many of them were open, but with no staff. When I enquired about this I was reminded crime is all but non-existent on the island – if the shopkeeper needs to duck out, there’s no reason to lock up. No one steals on the island.

Keys are left in car ignitions, houses are never locked and the locals are completely bemused by visitors trying desperately to get online.

“You Aussies and your internet – what do you need it for?” I was asked by the publican at the RSL club. She was drinking a beer behind the bar at the time and it was 11 o’clock in the morning. It was then I realised Norfolk it not for the faint hearted. You are forced to switch off and embrace the quirkiness of the island.

Over the next few days I would experience much of what the island has to offer – stunning scenery, unmatched convict and colonial history, fabulous local restaurants and a pristine environment. I kept running in to the same people and began to understand why so many older Australians come to visit this beautiful island.

Driving around Norfolk, everyone waves to you. It’s called the Norfolk Wave and whilst they don’t seem to mind if you don’t wave back at first, after passing the same cars time and again, you end up joining in and waving at everyone like they’re your long lost mates.

It’s Australia but 40 years ago.

The locals I met don’t consider themselves Australians, however and the issue of citizenship is a divisive one on the island.  There is a permanent tent city at Kingston, the area home to the convict settlement and administration buildings.  (The site of the tent city established as a protest after Norfolk officially became part of Australia – or NSW specifically – there are protesters on-site 24/7 hoping for secession). Everyone has an opinion and most have accepted the new regulations that come with being a part of Australia – but a certain defiance perhaps instilled from their mutineer ancestors  prevails.

The new Australian police must marvel at the locals’ lack of concern for the new Australian road rules alone.  I imagine young police officers from Australia (don’t call it the mainland!) getting to the point of throwing their arms in the air when trying to stop someone for not wearing a seat belt.

Think Sigrid Thornton’s character in the ABC hit of the 90s Seachange.

Norfolk’s mutineer history is what many Australians come to the island for, others in search of ancestors from convict and colonial times. The World Heritage area of Kingston is truly beautiful and you could spend hours walking freely around the buildings and beachside cemetery. In fact you can – there is no requirement to be on a tour, you can simply buy a museum pass and walk amongst the cattle through the old convict settlement.

I went on a ghost tour of Kingston, lead by a true believer who not only feels but sees spirits on the island (Norfolk is reported to be one of the most haunted islands in the world) which included a lovely home-cooked meal in an old colonial home and an after dark walk through Kingston’s convict gaol. Being a non-believer, the tour was good fun and a bit of a history lesson, which I really enjoyed.

Guided bush walks, a tour of the Hilli Goat Farm which makes undoubtedly the best goats cheese I’ve ever eaten and lovely meals at the island’s restaurants. Hilli’s is my pick – it’s more than just a fabulous restaurant, its also a bit of a drop-in centre for tourist information, an art gallery and a good laugh with owner Justine who is surely Norfolk’s most passionate resident.

After the initial shock of Norfolk, I was beginning to love the island.

Other tours include a visit to the home of famed author Colleen McCullough, the amazing Cyclorama, the Mutiny on the Bounty show, the Trial of the 15 historical play and tasting traditional food at the island Fish Fry.

But it’s not all history and tours on Norfolk – it’s very much a go-at-your-own-pace destination.

I stayed in a holiday home about a five-minute drive from the main town. There are several holiday rentals on the island, most with stunning views and all with no requirement to lock your doors.

The surf is reportedly fantastic on Norfolk, as is the diving. You can horse-ride (in fact some of the local kids ride horses to school), play golf, join the locals for petanque or eat yourself silly at the local restaurants.

Norfolk Island is cheap by Australian standards and everyone wants to chat to you. Sure, half of them are related (check the local phone book to see just who’s who – there is a section for nicknames in case you don’t know the local plumber’s name) but it is drop-dead beautiful, the locals will bend over backwards to help you and you couldn’t possibly run out of things to do.

The latest campaign from Norfolk Tourism is ‘There’s more to Norfolk Island”. It took me five days to work out what they meant, but I realised it’s an adventure of your own making.

I asked the tourism office what they were going to do when the older tourists who come to the island stop coming – I’m not sure the Mutiny on the Bounty is still taught at school.

They weren’t worried – and nor should they be. There is more to Norfolk. Just don’t hit a cow.•

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