Our observation is that life on Norfolk Island is very calm and restful. It’s an easy life here with little pressure and a balmy climate. The scenery is wonderful and the whole island looks like a giant park. With all this peace and serenity, you would think that you could be back in the 1950’s.
In fact, you could think this for many reasons:
Our accommodation is quite nice, but most places on the island look like they are 1950’s style motels. There is one small 5-star resort on the island, (Gina Rinehart visited last week and left in her private jet just as we landed) but for the most part it looks like time has just passed the accommodation houses by. The government controls the amount of tourist accommodation through regulation and because these old fashioned places won’t close, nothing new can be built.
The roads look they were last made in the 1950’s. Since then, they have just been patched.
The island has only recently gained a mobile phone service – one of the smallest cellular networks in the world. However, it’s not even 2G, let alone 4G. No data or internet connection; only voice and SMS. That is because NI Telecom is a fully owned government business and they assume that this service is all that people need. To access the Internet, you need to find one of several wifi hotspots at places around the town.
There are no streetlights on the island (except one at the crossing outside the school). It is very expensive to produce electricity, however there is not much excitement in a completely dark city area at 8.00pm.
For some reason, shops here close on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday afternoons. Even the banks have longer opening hours! I know that this is the start of the ‘quiet season’ but the shops are almost deserted of customers. We are not very active shoppers when we travel, unless something stand out as being unique, but there is just nothing on sales here that we would want to buy.
There are three or four swanky duty free stores in town, but they too are stuck in the 1950’s. Most of their products consist of items that no one under 80 would buy – Royal Albert dinnerware, Noritake pearls, Argyle knitwear. tea towels, tailored mens shorts and old maid’s perfumes. The most up to date shop in town is the digital camera store and their models are a couple of generations old. Who wants to buy cut crystal glassware anymore? Why duty free stores have shelf after shelf of linen (bed sheets etc) is beyond me.
There is a clear distinction here between restaurants and cafes. Cafes open in the morning and close just after lunch, while restaurants open in the evening for dinner. Tough luck if you want a late lunch, or get hungry in the afternoon.
Unless you go to a licensed restaurant or club, the only place to buy alcohol is at the government owned store. It’s only open during ‘public service hours’. There is no nightlife or activity after dark. We drove down the main street after dinner last night and the whole town was in complete darkness, except for one tiny convenience store attached to a service station.
There are over 200 properties for sale on the island, but no buyers. One of the largest (seafood) restaurants on the island was recently auctioned with not one speck of interest. They just plan to shut their doors and close down. The pizza restaurant next to our hotel has been up for sale for over two years.
Some of this is an economic problem is caused by the GFC. Elderly people, unsure how long their savings will now last, have simply stopped travelling. The high Australian dollar makes it more economical to travel to far more exciting places. The number of people in the demographic to which Norfolk Island has been attractive is declining, yet the island relies almost completely on tourism for income.
Come on you Norfolk Islanders, get out of your rut and renew your tourist offering. You can do it with your proximity to Australia, your climate and scenery – just bite the bullet, modernise and attract a greater number of more trendy and affluent young people in the same way as Lord Howe Island has done. If you don’t you’ll find it very tough – especially if flights between Australia and New Zealand become domestic flights. Who will want to go through all the international travel burden to a place that has less and less to offer.
By the way, the ship wasn’t unloaded again today. Whenever it does, I think that the entire population will be out to watch. We are off to dinner tonight at a restaurant a few kilometers away (if we can find it in the dark).