We boarded our flight in Sydney to Norfolk Island this morning for a 9.10 am departure.
I had previously read someone’s trip report of their visit to Norfolk and they wondered (according to the age of people on the plane) whether they were going to a sub-tropical island, or instead, to a retirement home. We found some good news and some bad news on this flight. The bad news is that the tone of that trip report was largely true. There were only about a dozen people on the entire flight who were aged under eighty. The good news is that two of them were us! We noted that many of the people who went to the toilet on the plane took a very long time. We weren’t sure whether they had trouble getting their stream to start or on the other hand, were having trouble getting it to stop!
Norfolk Island is located in the South Pacific Ocean, about 1400 km east of the Australian mainland at a similar latitude to Byron Bay. The flying time from Sydney is 2 1/2 hours. The island has an area of 34.6 km² and 32 km of coastline. The first European inhabitants arrived here in March 1788, just six weeks after the first settlement of Sydney. It now has a permanent population of a little over 2000 people. The island is part of the Commonwealth of Australia, but it enjoys a large degree of self-governance. Together with two neighbouring islands, it forms one of Australia’s external territories.
We were met at the airport by our very friendly host, Rael, and driven to our accommodation at the Cumberland Resort near the centre of the main town at Burnt Pine. After settling in, we drove to town (in our free rental car which has done 108,000 km) at the regulation speed of 40 km/hr. to buy some food for breakfast tomorrow.
More bad news – many of the shelves were empty. Everything on the island has to be landed by lighter from ships that stand off the coast. The port just isn’t large enough for the supply ships to dock. The ship has now been standing off the island for ten days, but the weather has been too bad for it to be unloaded. As a result, the island has run out of many basic food stocks. There are almost no potatoes, the Italian restaurant that we are eating at tonight will run out of flour tomorrow and there are no eggs anywhere in the island as there is no food left to feed the chooks. As a rest they have stopped laying. Some good news – the local people are hopeful of getting some stores off the ship tomorrow.
Our first impressions of this island is that it is quite scenic. Although a relatively flat plateau, it is undulating, verdant and the rugged coast along with tall Norfolk Island pine trees provides a unique panorama. We had a quick drive through the world heritage area of the old convict settlement late this afternoon, and while it is similar in architecture to Port Arthur in Tasmania, it seems to be in much better condition. We plan to spend much more time there tomorrow.
The shopping centre at Burnt Pine is surprisingly large for this sized population. It was once a Mecca for Australian shoppers, but since the local administration has imposed a local version of the GST at 12%, it has lost most of its competitive advantage. The Norfolk economy has been hit hard by the GFC and people here are struggling to maintain infrastructure and services.
Our feeling is that this week is going to be very quiet, but one with a lot of history and nice scenery.