Norfolk Island – well, that’s just for older folks, right? Wrong. This tiny territory, 2½ hours off the east coast, boasts spectacular beaches, a rich convict history, and a plethora of paddock-to-plate: perfect for all ages. And there are plenty of reasons to take the kids there.
For starters, there’s the history. The ill-fated voyage of the Sirius, which smashed on the reef in 1790, is on the primary-school curriculum. You can still find shards of the ship while snorkelling here. If that’s not enough, you’ve got the brutal stories of the Bounty to keep young minds entertained. The Fletcher’s Mutiny Cyclorama – a 360-degree panoramic painting, accompanied by effects – brings history to life. So does the Sound and Light Show, a bus tour through Australia’s oldest convict site, past vivid re-enactments of events leading to the infamous murder at Bloody Bridge. “I love all the death and the blood,” 10-year-old Taj says, with a macabre grin.
Need a little break from all that death and blood? There’s always the beach. Emily Bay Lagoon transports you to Tahiti with turquoise waters, tropical fish – and wild waves crashing on the reef. Dive from the pontoon, paddle a kayak, or laze on the sugar sand, overlooking ruins listed by UNESCO for their World Heritage value. This really is a special place. The rest of the beaches are dramatic and windswept, ideal for kite surfing.
Then there’s the food and wine. A burgeoning paddock-to-plate culture has most restaurants boasting kitchen gardens. The superfood salad at Hilli’s is a feast for the eyes, bursting with baby beets, kale and purple carrots. Carnivores probably prefer the eye fillet, aged for nine weeks, from Norfolk Blue. Children can feed the calf of the blue bull, a breed unique to the island. If you’re self-catering, pick up fresh produce from the front of farms, which have honesty boxes for payment. “I call it hunt and gather!” Tania Anderson, from the tourism authority, says.
Norfolk also has its own vineyard. I sip chardonnay at the cellar door, watching Taj tear up and down the vineyard as the setting sun gilds the grapes. Negligent parenting? Surely not. I see it as, “something for everyone”; especially on the tasting plate, which is blooming with edible flowers.
Walk off all that lovely food on one of the island’s many bush trails. One-third of the island is national park. Pockets of sub-tropical rainforest cover Mount Bates and Mount Pitt, connected by well-marked walking trails. In the mornings, thick fog makes these walks rather spooky. Horse riding through the lowlands, we feel like extras in Lord of the Rings: “I keep expecting to see a hobbit,” Taj says.
But all this aside, there’s something about being on Norfolk that you just don’t get everywhere. It’s like stepping back in time. Here, you can leave everything unlocked, let the kids run wild and remember what it was like back in the 1950s. Stepping back even further in time, at the Pitcairn Settlers Village, in the island’s south-west, our entertaining guide, Dinty, takes us for a ride on a light blue Model-A Ford from 1928. It’s still in working order, with the original engine. Kids can use an old butter churn, original gramophone, and working bellows in the blacksmithery. I’m impressed Taj knows what an anvil is, until he pipes up, “I learned about it from Minecraft.”
And the locals make you feel, well, like friends. On our first drive around the island, everyone gives me the finger. “Jeez, I’m not driving that badly!” I say to Taj. Turns out it’s the friendly finger, not the rude one. This is the locals’ way of saying g’day. It’s as if they’re trying to erase their horrible history through a series of friendly hand gestures. Oh, and remember, the cows have right of way, so don’t give them the rude finger when they wander onto the road.
No visit to Norfolk is complete without a turn at the Walk in the Wild mini-golf at the top of Grassy Road, towards the centre of the island. This nine-hole course, set in natural rainforest, focuses on the island’s history. And it’s free! One hole is inside a scary cave with flashing lights and skulls. Next door is a huge toy store, which sells duty-free Lego. Frankly, that alone is worth the visit.
There aren’t many destinations of interest to both eight and 80-year-olds. This makes Norfolk Island perfect for multi-generational travel. Most of the accommodation is cottage-style, with two to three bedrooms. Luxury retreat Tintoela has two cottages and a six-bedroom homestead, with ocean views and fruit-filled gardens.
But wait, there’s more !!
Norfolk has its own language, an exotic mix of Tahitian, Old English and Creole. Connectivity is expensive, so it’s great for a digital detox. And, for school-aged children, entry to all museums is free.
Tracey Spicer travelled to Norfolk Island courtesy of the Norfolk Island Government Tourist Bureau and Air New Zealand.
Visitors require a passport or an Australian document of identity.