Many before me have come to Lord Howe Island, the bucolic holiday destination 700km north-east of Sydney, and waxed lyrical about its carefree charm. They cite the fact that no one locks cars or houses, that children don't wear shoes to school, and that the speed limit is a grandmotherly 25kmh. But I discovered a new benchmark for how laid-back life on Lord Howe can be.
On my first morning there I strolled along Cobbys Beach, past sculpted kite-surfers preparing to duel with the elements, and reached a dead-end. So I headed inland a bit and found a small gate, secured only by a wire loop, which opened onto grass-fringed asphalt. I assumed it was the main road and wandered merrily along it towards the township, admiring the luscious subtropical surrounds until, suddenly, the road reached a dead-end too. How curious. Glancing around, it dawned on me that this road looked a little too wide for cars, and it had strange markings on it, and it was flanked by windsocks… Oh Magoo, you've just invaded the airstrip.
This was on 11 September, of all days. Not a soul tried to stop me. It wasn't until I was on the real main road later that I saw the signs warning that trespassers on the runway risked fines that "exceed $5000". I hope they're not retrospective.
Naturally, I raced straight back to my digs at Capella Lodge and laid low for a spell lest the island's lone policeman, a man named Roo, got wind of my terrorist act.
Capella is the ideal spot to recover from a rude shock. This sister property to Kangaroo Island's superlative Southern Ocean Lodge is owned by Baillie Lodges, the talented team of former P&O Australian Resorts director James Baillie and his wife Hayley. The nine-room resort is tucked into a kentia palm garden at the quiet southern side of the island, at the base of the towering Mounts Lidgbird and Gower, with postcard views across rolling green pasture to the Pacific. At your doorstep are countless walks through World Heritage-listed landscapes, the world's southernmost coral reef and a nine-hole golf course (grab some clubs and leave your money in the honesty box).
The lodge has just emerged from a facelift looking fresh, original, and expensive. Highlights include the dark and handsome basalt bathroom walls, artworks and fabrics by Mambo artist Bruce Goold and Julie Paterson of Sydney's Cloth textiles, and the supremely comfortable oversized swivel chairs by Tom Stepp, architect at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts.
The star of the accommodation is the Lidgbird Pavilion, a two-storey suite with plunge pool and daybeds galore, an outdoor bathroom shaded by frangipani and the sort of effortlessly stylish interiors we'd all love at home if only we could afford them. That said, it's almost impossible to appreciate every interior flourish - the blackbutt flooring, sculptural Artemide Tolomeo floor lamps, wicker egg chair suspended on the upper deck - when you're surrounded by walls of glass that focus your attention on the island's inescapable beauty.
Design is only half the winning formula at Capella; inspired service is the other key ingredient. Hence each evening guests gather for cocktails and canapés in the Kentia Lounge or, in my case, have them home-delivered to the Lidgbird so I can snuggle in my Tom Stepp chair by the Ecosmart fire, serenaded by one of the 84 pre-programmed CDs on the Bose.
Afterwards, hosts Libby Grant and Mark MacKillop and their staff preside over a relaxed dinner in the airy restaurant suspended above the ocean. Local produce - yellowtail kingfish, sweet and sunny tomatoes, juicy watermelon - features strongly on the menu alongside ingredients from mainland suppliers. The three-course menus, matched with wines from the lodge cellar, might run to an Asian-style king-prawn dumpling soup with green tea noodles, Clarence River squid stuffed with tartufo, chilli and fregola, soy-braised pork belly with scallops, taro and edamame purée, and raspberry beetroot parfait with chocolate jelly to finish. It is, without doubt, the finest dining on the island, guaranteed to induce an excellent night's sleep.
My favourite memory of the stay at Capella was waking at dawn in my king bed to panoramic views of sea, sky and mountains changing subtly with the light. The Lidgbird vantage point had the added bonus of being the perfect eyrie for fugitives on the watch for advancing constabulary. I'd see Roo coming long before he saw me.