I've been thinking lately about that time I spent two weeks on Lord Howe Island. I don't know why the reminiscing is happening now, but it is. Perhaps I just really want to go back there.
It was pretty idyllic. Mum and Dad offered to pay for flights and accommodation as a gift for me having just finished my undergraduate degree. I know, my parents have always been supportive of my photography, and its great.
Late March 2014, then. The flight goes from Sydney in one of those small, propeller Dash-8 aircraft. Its the kind of flight that boards from a small patch of tarmac tucked away somewhere, right next to huge Boeing 747s being serviced in cavernous hangars.
I felt on holiday already as we all settled into our seats: the other passengers were dressed in a mix of shorts, thongs, sandals, t-shirts, hiking gear. There were quite a few families with small children, and I spent the second half of the flight playing peek-a-boo with the young girl in the seat in front. As the plane descends out of the clouds, the Island appears out of the ocean, dramatic, forest-clad, tall peaks. The runway transverses the island at one of its thinnest points, so the runway is quite short. The pilot times it perfectly so that the wheels touch down as soon as we've cleared the ocean and rocks below.
From here I'm taken by bus back to the place I'm staying. The climate is warm, everyone is relaxed, laid back and happy to help. Island time. Everything on Lord Howe Island is varying degrees of expensive, but its not over-priced. I think they want to make sure that visitors have a good experience. There are only 400 visitors allowed on the island at any one time so the place never feels crowded. If you want to get somewhere on the island, you walk or ride. Simple.
For the next 10 days, I roam the island, camera in hand. The endemic Lord Howe Island Woodhens are common and easy to see in the palm forest that covers the island. It's amazing to think that once they were so endangered that in the 19070s there were only 10 breeding pairs in existence. The successful conservation program, including captive breeding and reintroductions, changed all of that, and there are now more than 250 birds which is probably close to the carrying capacity of the island.
Another classic Lord Howe experience is the White Terns in the towering Norfolk Island Pines near the settlement. White Terns breed on island across the western Pacfic; oddly, they lay their single egg on the tree branch (no 'nest' involved, just hope the egg doesn't fall off). They are truly fascinating birds, with big eyes and beak and full of character.
For me, one of the highlights was seeing seabirds on the island. I'm used to seeing petrels and shearwaters in the open ocean, 40+ km from the nearest land. Here, they must come in to land, to breed. Black-winged Petrels, Providence Petrels, Kermadec Petrels, Flesh-footed Shearwaters, Wedge-tailed Shearwaters, Little Shearwaters, White-bellied Storm-Petrels all breed on Lord Howe Island or the nearby rock stack known as Ball's Pyramid.
The forests on Lord Howe Island are mostly palms, Banyan figs and Pandanus trees. It's a very different feel to forest on the mainland. Because of all the seabirds, the forest floor is actually very sticky - most of the leaves are covered in bird excrement.
Other than the seabirds and woodhen, Lord Howe has similar bird life to the mainland, albeit with their own versions of mainland species. It has its own subspecies of Pied Currawong, Golden Whistler, Silvereye and more.
For me, as a seabird nut, one of the highlights was a boat trip to Ball's Pyramid, a rock stack rising out of the sea near Lord Howe Island. It's most famous for the Lord Howe Island Stick Insect, which only occurs on the pyramid. But its also the breeding ground for Kermadec Petrels and White-bellied Storm-Petrels, and a trip around the pyramid will more than likely give good views of both. Unfortunately, landing on the pyramid is not permitted, excepting the odd scientific trip
One thing I regret missing out on was climbing the larger of the two mountain peaks in the south, Mt Gower. The southern half of the island is actually largely inaccessible as it is sheer cliffs and dense forest all the way to 875 m above sea level. There are regular guided hiking trips up Mt Gower which is a strenuous, day-long hike/literally-pull-yourself-up-a-steep-slope. Sadly, I had given myself a sore leg when I was supposed to go up, and so decided against it. I guess I had to give myself a reason to go back...