Lord Howe Island is not for everyone, which is just how the locals like it

With a cap on visitors and a prized UNESCO World Heritage status, the island has a complicated relationship with tourism.

The view from Capella Lodge of twin peaks, Mt Gowe and Mt Lidgbird. Photo: Hannah Blackmore

Hannah Blackmore

I am waiting for a body to turn up. Not really, but as I ramble through a seaside paddock, thick mist shrouding the towering rock of Mt Gower ahead of me, I can’t shake the feeling I could be in an Agatha Christie novel.

The air is thick with humidity as granite clouds threaten to burst overhead. To my right, white-capped waves crash into the reef, while on my left, enormous black cows with menacing horns eye me suspiciously. As the rain arrives, I retreat back to my suite at Capella Lodge, where I continue to stare into the great grey abyss, hypnotised.

Yesterday, this same view was a vibrant green vista, reaching across a canopy of kentia palms to the twin peaks of Mt Gower and Mt Lidgbird. It looked more like Hawaii than New South Wales. Today, it’s like being in Tasmania.

Later, the locals will tell me it’s good that I got to see the island like this. It’s not all tropical paradise, they are keen to stress. Their island is more interesting than that, more complex. If you want an easy, breezy beachside escape, you can go to Queensland, thank you very much.

Cloud veil the twin peaks of Mt Gowe and Mt Lidgbird.

(Photo: Hannah Blackmore)

Ironically, the next day dawns brilliant blue, the cloudless sky outshone only by the turquoise waters surrounding the island. We head out on a turtle tour with Anthony Riddle, a sixth-generation islander and jack of all trades. In addition to running snorkel and turtle tours with Marine Adventures, he’s the co-founder of the Lord Howe Island Distilling Company, which uses wild bush lemons and native hibiscus to make Lord Howe Island Gin. He’s also the man in charge of keeping the green looking tip-top at the local golf club.

Having multiple jobs is not unusual on Lord Howe. The local publican is also the island’s physiotherapist and the milkman is in charge of refuelling at the airport. That’s what happens when there are less than 400 residents in a place. There’s a lot to get done.

The main industry on Lord Howe is tourism. And while the locals rely on it, it’s fair to say the relationship is a little complicated. Chances are you’ve heard about the restrictions on Lord Howe Island, which cap the number of visitors at any one time. There are only 400 guest beds available to visitors, all with registered operators. This is not somewhere you can simply book a house on Airbnb.

This is designed, in part, to protect the island’s way of life and ensure it is never overrun. There’s no chance of Lord Howe becoming the next Noosa or Byron Bay. Even at the height of the summer season, there will never be more than a handful of people on any of the island’s beaches.

More importantly, it’s a way of protecting the environment, which is the number one priority on Lord Howe and the reason it has UNESCO World Heritage status. The island is home to a number of endemic species of plant, marine and bird life, including the Lord Howe woodhen, which looks suspiciously like a small kiwi.

A busy day at Lagoon Beach.

(Photo: Hannah Blackmore)

This is where I should confess that as a New Zealander, I’m prone to comparing everywhere to my trans-Tasman homeland. I find parallels in nearly every landscape. But on Lord Howe, the similarities are uncanny. And for once, it’s not in my head.

“The flora and fauna here is more similar to New Zealand than Australia,” confirms Riddle. This, he explains, is because the island is part of the same continent, Zealandia. (If you didn’t know that was a continent, you’re not alone. It’s a fairly new development with scientists officially declaring it the eighth continent of the world in 2017. Most of it is underwater, with New Zealand, New Caledonia and Lord Howe forming the only land portions).

Twitchers – that’s bird watchers to most of us – come from all over the globe to spot some of the rarest birds in the world here, including the providence petrel, which was made famous by David Attenborough in his ’90s series The Life of Birds.

During our visit, the sand dunes of Blinky Beach are overrun with nesting sooty terns, who take an immediate dislike to our presence, repeatedly swooping on us until we turn heel and run.

This is just part of what makes Lord Howe so intriguing. The other key component is the community itself, which is governed by a distinct set of rules beyond those that apply to the rest of New South Wales. Legally, you have to live on Lord Howe continuously for 10 years before you are considered an islander and allowed to lease or buy property. Socially, I’m told, it takes a lot longer before you’re accepted as a local.

Dense bush covers of Lord Howe.

(Photo: Hannah Blackmore)

Every once in a blue moon, there is an exception to this rule. Which is how Island House came into being. When one of the island’s ageing holiday camps came up for sale, there were no willing buyers on the island. Instead, Sydney property developer Michael Maxwell purchased the property and, together with his son Tim, has spent the past five years creating the island’s most exclusive accommodation.

After clearing the site, a series of new buildings was erected, including two open-plan lodges, complete with custom-built kitchens. Each house has two bedrooms and two bathrooms, along with a collection of carefully curated furniture, art and other curios, purchased on various buying trips to Denmark and Japan. Colourful artworks by a number of Indigenous artists, including Regina Pilawuk Wilson and Katjara Butler, pop from the walls – even in the bathroom. Outside, freestanding copper bathtubs invite you to soak under the stars.

There’s a games room – with everything from yoga mats and paddle boards to fishing rods and snorkels – and something Tim likes to call the Transit Room; a sort of communal lounge where guests can listen to vinyl records while helping themselves to a well-stocked drinks trolley (in case they’ve tired of listening to vinyl records and helping themselves to their well-stocked bar and wine fridge in the other houses).

Bold artworks are a feature of Island House.

(Photo: Hannah Blackmore)

The idea is for families or small groups to hire the entire complex as a private oasis. The minimum stay is five nights and the rate includes access to Island House’s private chef Kimie Uemoto and her husband Hiro, who helps man the hibachi grill among other jobs. Vegetables are dug straight from the garden and served alongside a selection of fresh fish, which you are welcome to catch yourself should you choose.

It’s the height of low-key luxury; thoughtful and considered without being overly splashy or flashy. By Lord Howe standards, it’s in a league of its own, yet still in keeping with the ethos of the island. Because Lord Howe is not for everyone and that’s just the way the locals like it.

Hiro and Kimie Uemoto prepare lunch.

(Photo: Hannah Blackmore)


If you enjoy long walks, hiking up hills and marvelling at nature, Lord Howe is your dream destination. The eight-hour return hike to the top

of Mt Gower is considered one of the best day walks in the world. The island also offers world-class snorkelling, as well as other water sports, such as surfing and paddle-boarding. Fishing is also a popular activity, with public barbecues surrounding the island’s beaches, ready and

waiting for you to cook your fresh catch.

If, however, you prefer to lounge by a pool and dine in different restaurants every night, this is not the place for you. Dining options outside of your accommodation are limited to local clubs and just one all-day diner, Anchorage Restaurant.

The dining room at Capella Lodge.

(Photo: Hannah Blackmore)



Lord Howe’s newest and most exclusive property is designed to share, offering a maximum occupancy for eight people, across two houses. Priced from $6600 per night, minimum five-night stay, including a fully stocked pantry, bar and access to private chef Kimie Uemoto, who will prepare meals to order.

92 Anderson Rd, (02) 6563 2228,


Offering the best views on the island, Capella Lodge delivers instant escapism and first-rate dining, thanks to executive chef Cooper Dickson, who creates custom daily menus. Each of the resort’s suites comes with a private terrace overlooking the twin peaks of Mt Gower and Mt Lidgbird. For something extra special you can upgrade to the Catalina Suite or Makambo Loft, which both come with private plunge pools. Priced from $1700 per night, minimum two-night stay, including breakfast, dinner and an open bar from 6pm each night.

Lagoon Rd, (02) 9918 4355,


Nestled among the bush, this family-run retreat offers solitude and serenity just moments from Old Settlement Beach. Priced from $1650 per night, including all meals.

Old Settlement Beach, Lagoon Rd, (02) 6563 2002,

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