Last day at Lord Howe Island

Oh, it has gone so quickly.... and there's so much more to see and do.  We spent our last day walking down to the 'CBD' for the last time, and we had lunch at The Anchorage.  Then it was our last walk back to Lorhiti to wait in the 'transit lounge' for our lift to the airport.  Jess has the transit lounge well stocked with drinks and snacks for her guests, all on an honour system, and there is a shower and toilet available for use after you have checked out of your room.

We've been really happy with our accommodation and the cheerful, friendly service provided by Jess throughout our stay.  The gardens were beautiful, and the location was fantastic - I loved the fact that we could nip down to Ned's Beach from the back of the property, and that it was only a 10 minute walk to the CBD.   

Over 6 nights, I am very proud to say that we ate out every night - hey, I'm on holiday too!!!  Some of the restaurants were closed for winter, but we managed.  We ate once at Pandanus - lovely food, and the seafood salad in lime and chilli was excellent.  We ate twice at the Golf Club - we had to go back because the beef cheeks in Indian masala spices were divine!   We had many good coffees, several lunches (the chilli beef & chorizo pies and the Moroccan lamb shank soup were fantastic) and one dinner (yummy apple & rhubarb crumble) at The Anchorage.  And we had two meals at the Bowling Club - I previously mentioned the wonderful salt and pepper squid.  The meals were about the same price as you would pay on the mainland, they were of very good quality, and you got free transport there and back.  Can't complain about that.

Even though it was winter, the water at Lord Howe was still warm enough to swim or snorkel (though I'm from Canberra, so that might explain it).  The  coral and fish I saw while snorkelling was some of the best I have seen, particularly since it was only a 10 minute boatride out to the reefs.  And swimming with sharks and stingrays was an exciting bonus.

Because Lord Howe has a population of only around 350, with a cap on tourists of 400 at any one time, the island has a lovely, friendly, relaxed feel, where you constantly see familiar faces and stop to have a chat.  The locals are so proud of their beautiful home and are happy to share their stories with you and point out places to go.

During our time on the island we walked many kilometres over some challenging, rocky, but spectacular terrain.  We chose not to climb Mt Gower this time - we'll save that for our next trip, and we'll start training for it.  But we'll definitely be back.

Snorkelling at Ned's Beach

Second-last day at Lord Howe Island - it was a bit overcast in the morning, so we decided to go for a walk up to Top Shop and check out the goods for sale - if we were going to be cooking (which I wasn't planning to), we could have bought some lovely steaks or fish there.  We carried on up to Greenback Eatery (which was only open for dinner on Thursday, the day we were leaving), then down through Middle Beach Road and back on to Lagoon Beach Road.  We stopped at The Anchorage for our regular coffee, then headed back up the hill - which seems shorter and less steep each time we climb it!  Our fitness levels are definitely improving.

Time for lunch, then we grabbed our snorkelling gear and used our private pathway down to Ned's Beach to see how it compared to our previous snorkelling trip.  We hired wetsuits (all based on an honour system) from the shed then ventured into the water, which was around 22 degress.  We were again greeted by hundreds of fish - I've since discovered they were mullet, kingfish and silver drummers.  We got past them and out to the very close coral reef.  Again, there was a large variety of coral, heaps of fish including incredibly long garfish, parrotfish, wrasse, spangled emperors, and butterfly fish.  And all of this less than 100 metres from shore.  Just magic - I love this place!  We bumped into Jane and John, a couple we had done the snorkelling trip with, and they came up to have a look at Lorhiti Apartments - they were very impressed and said they would look at booking there next time they come to Lord Howe.

We'd booked into the Bowling Club for our final dinner at 6.30, so Jess took us down there again.  We had 'melt-in-your-mouth' salt and pepper squid for entree and it was delicious. I was tossing up whether to have fresh king prawns, but I ended up with a very good steak and Trev had a chicken parmigiana for mains.  We bought some tickets in the meat raffle, and we won a kilo of king prawns!  So it was a wise decision of mine to have a steak - looks like it's prawns for a late supper.  One of the chefs gave us a lift home from the club.  It's going to be hard to leave this place.

Another hiking day

Time for another walk - our bodies are gradually adjusting to all this walking, once we unlock the knees, the hips, the ankles etc.  We headed up the hill to the walking trail to Middle Beach.  Each of these trails is really well marked by a post which shows where you've come from, where you're going, and how far it is to each stop.  We walked through dense forests of palms, cane, ferns and banyan trees until we got to the steps down to Middle Beach.  

This beach was quite rocky, much smaller than Ned's Beach, and we clambered over the weathered, moss-covered rocks down to the southern end where there was another set of steps.  Did I mention before how happy I am that I brought my hiking stick?  Up we went, through another forest to Clear Place Point - a seat on a patch of grass overlooking the ocean. There are viewing seats and resting spots all over this island - thank goodness.  
We were doing well, so continued on to Transit Hill, a much longer walk through even more dense forest and farmland, and climbed up to the viewing platform which gave us wonderful 360 degree views of the island, including Mt Lydgbird and Mt Gower, two mountains which completely dominate the landscape.  It was pretty cool and quite breezy standing on this platform - we had intended to have lunch there, but quickly changed our mind.  Though, every time I think it's cold, I say to myself, "Well, I'm glad I'm not in Canberra at the moment, where it's been in the minuses!" So, on we went to Blinky Beach, found a seat and enjoyed our packed lunch while watching the waves crash onto the shore.

By this time we had arrived at the airstrip, which is currently being resealed.  The workers have been working day and night to get the building materials offloaded from the barge in the middle of the harbour (it's too big to get through the reef, so a smaller barge transits backwards and forwards with materials).   

We followed the road (yes, a real road) along Lagoon Beach spotted a couple of Sacred Kingfishers, and walked back into town.  We went past Wilson's Tours, and booked a trip to the northern end of the island to see the Providence Petrels later that afternoon. 

Then it was on to The Anchorage for a well-earned cup of coffee before climbing back up the hill to Lorhiti for a shower and rest.  We've had several coffees, a couple of lunches and one dinner at The Anthorage, and they've all been very good.
At 3.15 we were picked up for our tour.  We were taken by quite a character (can't remember his name), but he was very passionate about the petrels, and the island in general.  He told us lots of stories about people who had come to his island (damn bureaucrats) who knew more about the island than the people who had lived there for several generations - he was an avid conservationist and historian, and gave us his version of life on Lord Howe, rather than the one you might read about in books.  Very interesting.  Anyway, back to the petrels;  he drove us close to the base of Mt Lydgbird and while we were walking along the track we heard this strange squawking noise.  He was calling the birds down from the sky!  And they came -  they dropped down, swooped over us, called out to our guide, then flew back up.  A couple of them went into the underbrush where they nest, and he grabbed one, sat it on his arm so we could take photos.  

All up, we walked around 14km, again most of it vertical, so we're pretty pleased with ourselves.  It's been another interesting and tiring day.

Snorkelling, Sharks and Stingrays...

It was a bright sunny day, perfect for our snorkelling trip with Lord Howe Island Environmental Tours.  We elected to hang the expense and pay the extra $5 to hire a wetsuit.  What a good decision. There were only four of us on the boat, which took us to four snorkelling spots in the lagoon, each of them only a few hundred metres from the next, but all quite different in coral and marine life.  Before we hopped into the water, Dean (our guide) told us to prepare ourselves mentally, as we would probably see some Galapagos sharks, but not to worry - he had swum with them all his life with no problems. How exciting!  He was right - on our first stop at Erscott's Hole I saw one small shark, and Trev saw two.  He tried to film it on our 'gopro' camera, but something went wrong with the camera and it's now broken, so we have only mental images to take home with us.  

There was lots of staghorn coral, and so many fish of all shapes and sizes, including the Double Header Wrasse.  The next stop, Erscott's Reef, had bright green and red soft coral, luminous yellow and pink hard coral, and fan coral but just as many fish on a deep drop-off shelf.  Comet's Hole was next, and was quite different again with lots of clownfish. We swam with a Galapagos shark at each of our stops. Last was the Horseshoe - again, lots of luminiscent coral and butterfly fish, as well as two sharks, two huge stingrays and a butterfly cod.  What a great finish to a lovely morning.  I was so excited to swim with the sharks and stingrays, even though my heart was in my mouth each time I spotted one.  I had to tell myself 'just breathe, and keep moving' - fantastic!  When we got back to shore, we rinsed our feet in a tub of lovely warm water, and the manager made us a hot cup of milo to warm us up - brilliant.  What a great day out!

After the trip, it was back up to The Anchorage for a good cup of coffee, then home for lunch.  We had dinner at the Anchorage that evening - very nice meals, but a little on the small side.  Dessert (apple and rhubarb crumble for me and blue cheese and guava jam for Trev) was delicious.

Next up - another big walk.

Hiking day - great views and sore legs

We started with a leisurely breakfast then set off again for Malabar Hill, 208m above sea level.  It's a grade 4 walk, and as mentioned previously, most of it was vertical, rocky, with lots of tree roots across the pathways.  I'm so glad I brought my hiking stick, as it was invaluable.  Along the way, at our many rest stops, we took some photos of the amazing scenery. 

From Malabar we continued on to Kim's lookout, then down to the Old Settlement, and on to the Anchorage for a good cup of coffee and some lunch - a good, strenuous walk with amazing views.  In all, I think we covered about 4km from start to lunch, though it felt much longer, and we were both very proud of ourselves.  

We wandered along to Lord Howe Island Environmental Tours (it's the only one that's left open during winter) and booked a snorkelling tour for the next day.  Then it was back to our apartment via Joy's store where we stocked up on a few more staples for breakfast.

There are so many decisions to make when you're on holiday - where to go, what to do, where and what to eat - it's tough, but we manage.  We ended up at the Golf Club at the southern end of the island, with Jess (from Lorhiti) driving us out there.  I was expecting the Golf Club to be a little flashier than the Bowls Club, but I was wrong.  It was a very basic little club, with only a few dining tables, but the food was delicious.  I had beef cheeks in Indian spices which just melted in my mouth, and Trev had a very tasty Thai red curry with prawns and (with extra chilli).  Surprisingly good food, so we booked in again for Tuesday while we were there.  The waitress drove us home, and it turned out she is Jess's cousin - most of the people living on the island are descendants of two families, going back 6 or 7 generations, so everybody either knows or is related to everybody else.  

Another good day - I'm really looking forward to snorkelling tomorrow.

Feeding the fish at Ned's Beach - in more ways than one...

Next morning, after having breakfast on our front verandah, we walked down the hill to Ned's Beach.  This is one of the local attractions where you can feed millions - yes, millions - of fish directly off the beach.  You buy fish food for $1 from a dispenser, then head into the crystal clear water where they are all just waiting for you.
I headed into the water - Trev waited on the beach and took photos, cos he had no swimmers or other clothes to change into.  Well, I was swarmed by these fish - I don't know what they were, but the 'small' silver ones were at least a foot long, and the big blue and light blue ones (with really big teeth - more later) were up to a metre long.  I walked in up to my hips and was in the middle of this feeding frenzy. Seriously, they were almost knocking me over.  I was having a ball, while Trev took some photos and a movie. 

I mentioned the really big teeth - well, one of the big guys decided he wanted something a little more substantial, and I felt something connect very vigorously with my knee.  I looked down and my knee looked a bit red, so I moved into shallower water and found that my knee was dripping blood... he really did get a a good chunk out of me - see photo.  I hadn't realised that I was going to be on the menu!

We walked all along Ned's Beach, and further along near the rocks I spotted a brilliantly coloured parrotfish - as with all the others, he was not shy and came so close to me that I was able to get some good photos of him.  What a lovely start to the day.

From Ned's Beach we walked into the 'CBD' - about half a dozen shops, a church and a couple of restaurants.  We had lunch and a good coffee at the Anchorage Restaurant, which seems to be the hub of the island for locals and touricsts alike.  Quite a few of the businesses were closed, as it was Saturday, and apparently this is a Seventh Day Adventist island.

We walked a little further to check out snorkelling tours, but they were also closed, so eventually headed back to Lorhiti.  Late in the afternoon we decided to walk up to Malabar Hill to watch the sunset.  It was only about 1.5km each way, but unfortunately 90% of it was vertical!  We nearly made it, but the sunset beat us - it would have been an interesting return trip with fading light, so we turned back and promised to attack it again the next day.  But I did get some beautiful photos on the way up.  So pretty.

We booked into the Bowling Club for dinner and found that another couple from Lorhiti, Victor and Maria, were also going.  We had a lovely evening there with them, a good meal, and one of the locals drove us home.

So far, so good - the scenery is spectacular, the locals (and other tourists) are friendly, and the food is good.  Another good day.

Arriving in Lord Howe Island - minus luggage....

After an early start (for us, anyway) we arrived at Sydney Airport, ready for our flight to Lord Howe Island.  We boarded the transit bus at the domestic terminal, where a customer service officer advised us that because we were going to have some 'weather' flying to Lord Howe, they were going to load some extra fuel.  Good news, because we certainly don't want to run out of fuel in the middle of the flight.  The downside, of course, is that because of the extra fuel load, some of our luggage had to stay behind - about 14 bags in total.  We had been warned of this by friends prior to leaving, and I had discussed with Trev that perhaps we should pack half of our clothes in each suitcase, just in case.  Trev said, 'no, we should be ok', so we packed as per usual.  Bad move, Trev! The only saving grace is that it was his bag that got left behind, not mine!

And to compound the problem, one of the travel tips we have learned over the years is to take a change of clothes in our carry-on luggage in case of baggage loss.  So we both did that, except that Trevor forgot to pack any spare jocks.  So he's really not doing too well so far.  On arrival at the  airport Trev was issued with an 'emergency kit' from Qantas consisting of some lovely Qantas pjs and toiletries - together with a $100 voucher to be spent at any of the stores as compensation for having no clothes.  We were greeted by Jess, from Lorhiti Apartments, who drove us home via Joy's store, so we could stock up on supplies using the Qantas voucher.  We bought some staples for breakfast, as well as wine and beer, and that was the end of our voucher.

Our 1-bedroom apartment is lovely, with a deck at the front and the back, surrounded by lush greenery.  The island is very small, with a few restaurants (some of them are closed for winter), and the policy is that if you are going to eat at one of the restaurants, your hosts will drive you there at 6.30pm, and the restaurant staff will drive you back to your apartment when you've finished your meal.  Very civilised.

On our first evening we went to dinner at Pandanus restaurant, just down the road from us.  We had a lovely Malaysian meal there with a couple of drinks, then decided to walk back to our apartments - all uphill of course, in the dark, but we had a torch so we survived.  Looking forward to exploring the island tomorrow.

Nai Yang Revisited

Nai Yang Beach 2014
We first visited Nai Yang in November 2012 with Trevor's sister, Lyn and her husband, John.  We loved it for its laid-back atmosphere, the lack of hustle and bustle compared to places such as Patong, and the fact that we could eat in several restaurants on the quiet beachfront with our toes literally in the sand - see at left.

We returned in 2014, and a lot has changed since then.  The new government in Thailand has started to implement its policy of cleaning up the beaches - this includes the removal/demolition of any illegal structures on the beaches: restaurants, bars, shops, laundries, vendors, sunbeds, umbrellas etc. A total crackdown!  The beach was still in a mess, with a lot of clearing up needing to be done. It really was a shame that we could no longer eat on the beautiful beach and watch the sunset.  But, this is progress???  
This time we stayed at a wonderful hotel, the Dewa Resort Nai Yang.  We had a 1 bedroom apartment, with full kitchen, living and dining area and large balcony overlooking one of the swimming pools.  Breakfast was included, and was very good - we had a choice of menu items, as well as a breakfast bar.  Service was excellent, and the staff were delightful.  The Dewa is located at the northern end of Nai Yang, in Sirinath National Park, but it was an easy walk to the small town area.  There were still a few restaurants operating, but not a lot of shops, due to the clean-up.

We visited the local markets, which are always a delight (at least to me) - I love wandering around looking at strange items of food and wondering what they are.  I'll even try a few, but I have never got around to trying the deep fried crickets, cockroaches and various other interesting vermin on display.  May be one day??? Or maybe not.

We met up with our friend and driver, Kom, who we love to catch up with each time we visit.  He took us out one evening to one of our favourite eating places, Kru Suwit Floating Seafood Restaurant, near Ko Maphrao (Coconut Island).  We had a top meal there, as usual - snapper cooked two ways, and wonderful chilli mussels.  For someone who doesn't really like mussels, I've become a big fan.

The weather wasn't great, quite overcast and a bit of rain, so we didn't get to do much snorkelling, unfortunately.  But we took a trip into Phuket town, ate at a lot of the local restaurants, I had another 'fish spa' and we just generally relaxed and enjoyed ourselves.  

On another evening we went out to Mook Dee with our friend, Kom, and his family.  It's one of his favourite restaurants, on Rawai Pier, and is very popular with the locals.  We brought 2 snapper, 1 kilo of medium (to us they were large!) tiger prawns, and 1 kilo of calamari for about 1400bt (around $45) from the seafood stall directly opposite Mook Dee. The staff cooked the food for us - 1 snapper deep fried with sweet and spicy sauce, 1 snapper baked in salt, tempura squid, squid in spicy salad with chilli and coriander, tiger prawns in garlic and pepper, tiger prawns in tamarind sauce. We also ordered pineapple fried rice, drinks, a frozen coconut shake. The cooking of the food, rice and drinks cost around 1200bht. So we ended up with about 4.5kilo of seafood, rice, and drinks for 5 people for about $85 AUD! Fantastic value.  And the food was just so fresh, beautifully cooked and presented, couldn't be happier. The restaurant was very busy and full of Thai families - a good indication of the quality of the food. Highly recommended! Aroi maak!

All in all, another good week in Thailand.  Lots of beautiful, spicy food, a little bit of snorkelling, lots of relaxing, catching up with our friend, and practising our Thai language skills.  We'll be back....

Lord Howe Island for a quick break

We're heading to Lord Howe Island in June for a short holiday and to escape our cold Canberra winter.   Watch this space for some amazing photos of this lovely place.   Hope the weather is good to us and we can go snorkelling.