If you love being in the sea, you’ll love Lord Howe. Not only is this World Heritage-listed island surrounded by the warm, clear waters of Lord Howe Island Marine Park, home to the world’s most southerly coral reef and an abundance of marine life, it’s an adventure playground for ocean-lovers.
You’ll need a week to make the most of the aquatic offerings for three reasons: some of them are day-trips, the weather can postpone trips at short notice (or sooner) and a week will allow you to drop into a relaxed, Lord Howe frame of mind.
To ease your way into things, rent a bike on your first afternoon and go for an exploratory ride. You won’t see everything – for a small island, Lord Howe is a big place – but it’ll help you get your bearings (a couple of tips: Mt Gower and Lidgbird are at the island’s southern end, the lagoon is on the western side).
On your first full day, pick up a snorkel, mask and fins at Lord Howe Environmental Tours then ride to Ned’s Beach, to hand-feed giant fish and go snorkelling with them. If you’re staying at Pinetrees, the best-known lodge on the island, ask for a picnic hamper or barbecue supplies to be delivered to Ned’s so you don’t have to return to the lodge for lunch. Just make sure you’re back at Pinetrees for sunset drinks at the Boatshed; the views of the island’s twin peaks and its six-kilometre lagoon are sublime.
It’s also a good idea to visit Lord Howe Island Museum early in your stay, to find out about the marine environment; the museum’s gift shop also sells pocket guides to the Lord Howe’s marine life.
Some of the best snorkelling spots can only be reached by boat, which makes a guided snorkelling tour a great idea, and an adventure. There’s a chance you’ll see sea turtles and black-tipped reef sharks, and the visibility is incredible, even on overcast or stormy days. You’ll also get to learn about what you’re seeing.
At sunset, ride to the end of the road (the start of the Mt Gower trek) and do the short walk to Little Island, where you can call providence petrels out of the sky (these migratory seabirds nest on the island March-September).
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If you’re into ocean swimming, you’ve come to the right place. With gin-clear water and an abundance of marine life, it’s like swimming in an aquarium. Ask at Pinetrees for the best spots for the day’s weather, particularly wind and swell (Pinetrees also runs ocean swimming weeks led by famous Australian swimmers a few times a year).
A couple of suggestions: swim from North Bay to Old Settlement beach (ride your bike to Old Settlement, walk to North Bay and swim back – it’s a Lord Howe biathlon!) Or head back to Ned’s again and swim across the bay.
If you get a chance, and the weather conditions are favourable, a boat trip to Ball’s Pyramid is a must. This volcanic spire rises 552m straight up out of the sea 23km south-east of Lord Howe (you can see it from the Mt Gower track) and is frequented by seabirds such as petrels and albatross and big marine animals such as whale sharks. Sea to Summit Expeditions runs birdwatching day trips to the rock led by island naturalist Ian Hutton.
Just offshore from Ned’s Beach is a cluster of small, rocky islands inhabited only by seabirds and accessible only by sea kayak. Lord Howe Environmental Tours runs kayaking trips to Roach Island, one of the Admiralty Islands, including snorkelling, a guided walk and a paddle through a natural rock arch. There’s also great diving around the islets (contact Prodive for dive trips and details).
For your last full day, why not swim at one of the beaches you haven’t seen yet. Maybe Blinky Beach, where you can bodysurf (and surf, when the conditions are right). Or Middle Beach, accessible via a shady track through subtropical rainforest. You could rent a stand-up paddleboard or kayak and paddle around the lagoon, or out to Rabbit Island (tip: the lagoon can get shallow at low tide, and choppy with the afternoon sea breeze).
Or swim in the Herring Pools. To reach these semi-secret rock pools (they’re not on island maps and there are no signs), ride your bike to Old Settlement beach then walk to North Bay and on to Old Gulch. From the rocky beach at Old Gulch, wander around the eastern headland at sea level and you’ll find the deep rock pools, each more exquisite than the last.
Most flights back to mainland Australia leave around lunchtime, so you’ve got one last precious morning to immerse yourself in Lord Howe. Maybe a last dip at your favourite beach before you have to return your snorkelling gear and your rental bike?
At least the blow of leaving Lord Howe is softened by the views: of the lagoon bookended by the island’s mountains and hills, and of the beaches, reefs and islands you experienced on your very own ocean week.