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Lord Howe Island Getaway
Night suddenly fell on the little yacht, a faint speck on the turbulent Tasman sea. Terrible clouds rolled in and torrential rain fell. The three or four meter waves that had been rolling in the daylight turned into a monstrous monster, intent on dumping tons of bubbling water on Levi’s deck and his cabin. The sails were double reefed in anticipation of a stormy night.
We left New Zealand’s beautiful Bay of Islands a week ago on our Cavalier 32 sailing yacht, Levitation, bound for Queensland, Australia. I arranged to clear customs at Lord Howe Island, which is where many yachts travel between the two countries.
My teammates: Orit, a 24-year-old Israeli girl, a bright backpacker who has never been on a boat. After graduation, he wanted to join the Army and become a marine biologist. Nick, 50, has spent most of his life sailing in races around the Queensland coast but has never owned a yacht of his own, but considers himself an expert at sea navigation.
Orit and I stayed awake all night. Searching the darkness through the rain, I finally spotted the black triangle known as the Ball Pyramid and the towering mountains of Lord Howe Island.
I found this strange…I couldn’t see any navigation lights…just a growing black land mass. I looked for the pink flash symbol on the chart to indicate the lighthouse and couldn’t find it. I also failed to notice the light that was supposed to be on the top of the mountain for air traffic. I made occasional calls to VHF channel 16 throughout the night. No answer.
Dawn finally broke, gray and dreary, with a 25-30 kt southeasterly wind stirring the sea. At 06:00 the radio rang and I made contact with someone outside of our little world. What a relief, I was dying to get the ocean weather forecast. I was told that the weather and tidal conditions were not ideal for the passage through the narrow coral reef, but hopefully things will improve in the afternoon.
Exhausted, we all wanted to get in before nightfall and exhaustion was making us angry. “As soon as my feet hit the ground, I’m headed for the nearest McDonald’s, Big Mac, and thick shake,” Orit envisioned. “For me, it’s a long hot shower, clean hair, dry clothes, and then I’ll drink a glass of chardonnay,” I replied. Nick was silent! The harbor master ushered us through a narrow coral gate as darkness fell, the wind still stirring the whitecaps on the calm waters of the lagoon. He shined his high-beam torches on two unlit triangulation navigation devices and lined them up. No port or starboard, I think the leading light became the only light ashore. The moorings were close to the coral gates, and in the stormy conditions the chains rose up and were difficult to secure.
The island was dark and forbidding. Where was the city, any kind of light (navigation, street, car!) and all the familiar signs of life we are used to! It was really strange to me. I have never experienced this before in all my travels. It was far from what we expected a tropical island vacation to be.
The sun rises on a new day and so does our spirit. We admired the majestic twin mountains of Gower and Lidgard, their peaks shrouded in mist. The crystal clear lagoon’s mesmerizing emerald and turquoise waters matched the sun-kissed sands and lush tropical forests. Ivory foam drifted over the world’s southernmost coral reef. We feed the fish.
We waited impatiently for the wind to blow, then climbed into my inflatable plane and balanced a damp, smelly laundry tub with 3 garbage bags. After a long tussle, we carried our luggage over the boat ramp. How wonderful terra firma felt. A barefoot, shorts-and-t-shirt customs officer met us in his office (behind a quad bike). I paid a fee of $150A and arranged for a quarantine check.
Now is the time to reinforce our desire to explore. Nick went to Wilson’s rental bike. We would see him occasionally, wearing a multi-colored helmet and doing angry deals. Orit and I decided to walk.
At Aunt Sue’s garden restaurant, we ate freshly caught fish and garden salad. How luxurious after the last 8 days. Leanda Leigh Apartments let us use their laundry room. Orit and I went back to Levi. Nick was still doing his own thing and chose to meet some of the locals at the Bowling Club.
At night, the wind stirred the lake water. Levy tossed and turned anxiously, sometimes recovering. The wind darted down the mountains at incredible speed, rocking us and pulling us against the moorings. I was afraid the chain would break and we would end up on a rock or coral. In the lull we put on our harnesses (yes when we tie them up) and secured the boat with more rope and chain and headed out. Our first night was very restless. At breaks throughout the night I checked the GPS and markers to make sure we weren’t towed.
A travel brochure described Lord Howe as “not another island, but another world”. And that’s it! Discovered in 1788 and settled in 1833, Lord Howe is one of the first three islands in the world to be inscribed on the World Heritage List, and is known for its natural beauty, marine life and flora. It is only 11 km long and 2.8 km wide and is located 700 km north of Sydney, Australia. Two volcanic mountains dominate the island, overlooking the rocky lagoon and its rolling sea.
Many of its 300 residents are descendants of the original settlers. The Wilson’s, who have operated Ocean View Apartments for more than 90 years, have collected many memorabilia from yachtsmen and travelers during that time.
Not surprisingly, Nick decided to fly home. Orit stayed with me and settled into a relaxed lifestyle as we repaired and waited for a favorable weather window.
We walked fearlessly in pitch darkness one night, with no streetlights leading to the bowling club under a canopy of dense tropical foliage. The key stays in the car’s ignition, unlocks the door, and no one steals it. A car accident, the worst of which was leaving a bowling club and crashing into a tree while drunk. The island-wide speed limit is 25 km and bicycles are allowed.
We had a happy hour at the bowls club, live music at Pine Trees Resort, some locals played Bongo Drums while playing guitars and singing.
No, we didn’t find a McDonald’s or even an ATM. Tall buildings, large hotels, cinemas, shopping malls and beaches were conspicuously absent. But then there were also things that could only be developed; pollution, traffic congestion, crime and stress.
What we discover is the most important thing that feeds the soul. Lord Howe is unspoiled, quiet, a haven for rare and beautiful birds and a mecca for anglers. You can snorkel or scuba dive in the crystal-clear lagoon and deep-sea fishing is possible behind the reef. It’s a place to escape from fast life… And lazily embraces beauty and simplicity.
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