When Sir David Attenborough arrived on Lord Howe Island he described it as “so extraordinary it is almost unbelievable… few islands, surely, can be so accessible, so remarkable, yet so unspoilt.” This quote perfectly describes the awe that passengers are in as soon as Lord Howe Island first appears on the horizon. While not high on the list for many Australian travellers, the secret beauty of this place is what attracts the more than 15,000 people who do visit each year.
What surprised me the most about Lord Howe Island was how family friendly everything was, even though families (particularly those with young children) only make up a small percentage of the visitors. If you’re thinking of travelling to Lord Howe Island with toddlers, children or teenagers, I can’t recommend it enough. Never have I felt so safe while I was on holiday, swam at beaches so clean and calm, and felt a community so relaxed and engaged with their tourists. Here’s my review and tips for families travelling to Lord Howe Island.
Lord Howe Island is part of New South Wales, so no passports are required and it is classed as a domestic flight. Getting there however, is a bit of an adventure! You’ll fly aboard a Dash 8 turboprop, the smallest aircraft in the Qantas fleet that seats only 36 passengers, and face a strict 14kg per person baggage allowance (on the return flight, passengers must stand on a scale with their luggage to be weighed, so the pilot can assess the flight load before making his final take-off). From Brisbane, you can fly direct to LHI on weekends, or flights from Sydney operate 7 days of the week. Weather on the island is very temperamental and flights are regularly cancelled or delayed, so travel insurance is highly recommended.
Tip for families: There is only one flight attendant on the plane, however we had excellent service both flights with the flight attendant even sitting and chatting with our toddler for 5 minutes to help us get him through the last stretch of the flight. Be aware that the plane is also incredibly loud compared to regular planes. We found this helped our toddler to sleep and he slept a good 40 minutes each flight, but some may be frightened by the extra noise so I’d suggest headphones and an ipad in case this happens.
There are just 400 tourist beds across a range of lodges, guesthouses and self-contained apartments on Lord Howe. Because accommodation is limited, it’s important to book flights and accommodation at the same time. While many of the accommodation options can be booked online, I would recommend calling instead – internet is very limited on the island, even for businesses, and you will get a faster response by calling.
We stayed at Somerset Apartments, which is ideally located on the ‘main street’ of the island. From here, we could easily walk to both Ned’s Beach and the Lagoon (the 2 main swimming locations), Wilson’s hire (for your bicycle hire), Thompson’s store (for any grocery supplies), the Anchorage (open 7 days for breakfast, lunch & dinner, plus an onsite bakery) and the yet-to-be-named bar.
Tip for families: For families staying on the island, I would highly recommend Somerset Apartments or Blue Lagoon Lodge (both next door to each other) for their location and price. We were provided with a portacot and nappy bin at our apartment. If budget isn’t a worry, Pinetrees Lodge is an all-inclusive option, but it is located a fair way away from everything else. While there are a few beach houses available for rent, most of these cater to couples retreats rather than families.
There are very few cars on the island, and with a speed limit of 25km/h, a car isn’t the fastest way to get around, nor is it needed. The island is only 10km long and 2km wide, and a large portion of that is uninhabited. Most people choose to hire a bicycle from Wilson’s Hire, otherwise walking is very easy with mostly flat roads and short distances. All the accommodation providers have minivans and will pick you up and drop you off at the airport, as well as drop off to restaurants in the evening with most restaurants providing a return service.
Tip for families: We did hire a car as my husband needed one for the work he was doing on the island, however I also hired a bicycle with wagon to get around during the day. If you do hire a car, be aware that while seat belts are not required (they are actually strapped to the seats so you can’t use them even if you wanted to), car seats are required for children aged 2 and under and the local police officer enforces this rule. Wilson’s Hire has plenty of bicycles for people of all ages and abilities, as well as child seat attachments or wagons depending on what you are most comfortable with. Our little guy didn’t mind the wagon and I preferred this as I was able to put all our beach gear in it with him rather than carry it in a backpack. The only thing I had trouble with was getting our toddler to wear a helmet and unfortunately experienced a few tears each time I had to strap it on him (this is another rule the police officer strictly enforces – helmets must be worn by everyone).
Things to do
There is so much to do, but at the same time, there is so little to do! Like most holiday islands, things are very laid back and nothing opens before 9am. One of the big drawcards for the island is its natural beauty, and early risers usually take advantage of the many bush walks or go for a swim in the Lagoon or at Ned’s Beach. For families, the bushwalks range from Category 2 to 5, meaning there are plenty of walks suitable for older children or toddlers in hiking backpacks. You can pick up a guide to the walks from your accommodation provider or the visitor centre.
Along the Lagoon front, there are a number of boat sheds with companies offering snorkelling and dive tours, glass bottom boat tours and equipment hire. Most tours can’t be booked more than a few days in advance, as they are largely dependent on the weather. The best option for booking is to visit the boat sheds on the day of your arrival and chat to the operators about what will be running during your stay.
At Ned’s Beach there is a beach hut with snorkelling equipment, beach chairs and umbrellas, wetsuits and pool noodles for hire. Everything here works on an honesty system and there is a rental price guide on the board above a money box. Feeding the fish at Ned’s Beach was one of the highlights of our trip and we did this 3 times during our stay. Bring $1 coins to feed the converted gumball machine that now dispenses fish food.
Other attractions on the island include the visitors centre and museum, the children’s playground, the golf course, the bowls club, day spas and a few small retail boutiques. There are two tennis courts available for hire, as well as a large touch football field. There are picnic spots everywhere you turn, and many swimming beaches around the island.
Food & Drink
Most accommodation options have self-catering facilities, and there are electric and wood fire barbeques all over the island. The two grocery stores and one butcher provide a number of options for self-catering, with their barbeque meat or fish packs hugely popular. One night we enjoyed a barbeque by the children’s playground and then watched the sunset over the Lagoon – definitely a great alternative to eating in restaurants all the time!
Only one restaurant, The Anchorage, opens at 8am with all other options opening at 9am for breakfast. I’d suggest some basic self-catering options for breakfast and then enjoy a brunch instead. We took a heap of breakfast pouches with us for our toddler and gave him one of these on waking so we could wait until brunch.
For dinner, there are 7 restaurants on the island and they each operate on different nights. When you arrive at your accommodation you’ll be given a Visitor Information leaflet that will outline what restaurants are open on each night. I’d suggest reviewing this on your first day and making bookings for each night in advance. Bookings are usually made by writing your name down on a sheet of paper at the entry to each restaurant, or calling a landline number from the information stand in the middle of town. Kids meals were not available everywhere, however there was usually something on the menu that would satisfy children. Be aware that the “island premium” applies to kids meals too, and we struggled to find any that were less than $15.
For those wanting an alcoholic beverage, there is one liquor store on the island, open Mon-Sat 1pm to 4.30pm. The two grocery stores do have a few alcoholic beverages available as well, but these close at 5pm and 6pm. The island’s “pub” is the Bowls Club, where the bar is open 7 days, and the Golf Club also has a bar open a few nights a week. While we were there, a new bar was opening up on the corner of Ned’s Beach Rd and Lagoon Rd – it was open but yet to be named! Definitely going to be a great alternative for a cocktail with ocean views.
Things to know
Lord Howe is a place like no other, and has many unique quirks.
- Restaurants are not open every night. Check all the opening times on arrival and plan where you intend to eat in advance to ensure a booking.
- Some places (including restaurants) are cash only. There is 1 ATM on the island, located in the Bowls Club. The Post Office also allows for deposits and withdrawals for all major Australian banks.
- There is no mobile phone reception on the island and all phones are landlines.
- There is limited internet access on the island and it is easier to contact people by phone as you could be waiting days for a response to an email.
- The island receives a ship with deliveries once a fortnight. As such, things are sometimes not available so if there is something you require, I’d recommend bringing it with you.
- Prices are about 20-30% more expensive than on the mainland, due to the transportation requirements to get things on the island. This applies to everything, from meals to groceries, alcohol and gifts.
- The doctor and pharmacy are located at the island hospital (which has 4 beds), open weekdays 8.30am – 12.30pm.
- Seatbelts are not required to be worn on the island, and the speed limit for vehicles is 25km/hr. Children under the age of 2 are however required to be seated in a child seat.
- Nothing gets locked on the island. You won’t be given a key to your accommodation as all the rooms are left unlocked (you can lock from the inside while you are in your room if you wish). Cars are unlocked and keys left in the centre consoles. Bikes are left unlocked in bike racks all over the island. It is perfectly safe to leave your belongings on the beach or in your bike basket while you swim. It’s a very strange feeling at first, but by the end of your stay it is extremely freeing. The island operates heavily on trust, and it is one of the things that adds to the beauty of the place.
- Be prepared for winds and cold water. Weather on the island is always variable, and you can expect to experience all four seasons most days (we visited in November and found this to be very true – the water was perfect for swimming one day, and freezing the next!).