Friday, 29 January 2016

Pacific Summer Series: Norfolk Island (Part 2)

This is the final January post of my previously published print articles about Pacific islands.

Last post, I was introduced to the unique culture of the Australian territory of Norfolk Island, which I visited in 2007 as a guest of Norfolk Island Tourism. The adventure continues...


Just when you’re getting used to Norfolk’s serene ambience, you’re shaken out of any creeping complacency by its spectacular scenery.

If this is a country town, it’s a country town with a view. Up on Mount Bates, one of Norfolk’s highest points at 320 metres above sea level, there’s a nearly complete view of the Pacific stretching around the horizon in a circle.

It’s a breathtaking vista which takes in the bulky offshore islands of Nepean and Phillip, the blue sea and sky, and scattered dwellings below the slopes.

And everywhere you look there are Norfolk Pines, native to the island but familiar to many Australians as the trees that lined the local footy oval in the town where you grew up.

And it’s not just from the obvious vantage points that the scenery impresses.

On my first night, as I walk home from a fundraising concert to my accommodation along the dimly-lit main road, there’s a brilliant full moon riding high in the sky.

It throws the pine trees’ silhouettes into sharp relief against the sky, and I can hear my footsteps falling in the silence. It’s so simple, that it’s beautiful.

Then a car pulls over and a voice calls out “Do you know where you’re going?”

It’s a local resident, concerned I might be lost and ready to give me a lift. It really is like the fabled friendly town of the golden age (whenever that was), and yes, for the record, Norfolk people do leave their doors unlocked.

By this point, I think I’m getting the hang of Norfolk Island. Quaint old-fashioned townsfolk, contrasting with magnificent Pacific scenery. Got it.

But then I visit Kingston.

As we drive down the hill from Burnt Pine the following day, the landscape opens up below us. What had seemed distant and indistinct from Mount Pitt comes into focus, and I can see a collection of large sandstone buildings scattered on the flat land beneath.


When we arrive, I’m astounded by the extensive ruins of the island’s first township and convict-era centre, in the years before the Bounty’s descendants arrived from Pitcairn Island.

I’m expecting a small cluster of old patched-up buildings, but what I get is a sprawling complex of solid sandstone walls, often without roofs and with grass growing through them as a neat lawn, but big and impressive.

Particularly striking are the remnant walls of the convict jail, whose warders were noted for their brutality towards their inmates.

It’s hard to imagine those times, standing here now.

The sun is shining, the green hills behind Kingston are almost glowing green with their lush grass and pines, and there’s a good-natured crowd gathering at Kingston Jetty, waiting for the Foundation Day reenactment of the island’s first settlement in 1788.

It’s an affair conducted in typical Norfolk relaxed style.

The costumed officers and convicts mill about, are loaded into a rowboat, then rowed out a little way to sea, so they can turn around and be rowed back for the reenactment.

We follow the motley crew as the convicts erect a tent, and the officers drink toasts to the King.

Leaving history behind, I wander off through the ruins toward the placid waters of Emily Bay, where the island’s only swimming beach lies protected by a reef from the turbulent ocean.

It’s a gorgeous setting, with clear blue waters within a gently curving sandy shore, protected by a sandy spit with a single withered pine tree holding on against the salty spray.

In the water, I feel like a Pacific Goldilocks – it’s not too hot, not too cold, but just right.

Which, on reflection, is how I feel about Norfolk Island on the whole. After my swim I head back to the airport with sand still on my feet.

After check-in, it’s possible to slip over road for a beer at the local brewery before take-off. This is how air travel should be.

It’s been a short visit, well less than the usual week visitors stay here, but I'm heading off with a whirl of intriguing images in my mind. Is the island Sleepy Hollow or Pacific Paradise?

Perhaps it's not such a hard question to answer. Maybe, reflecting its inhabitants’ own diverse ancestry, it's a successful blend of both.