Monday, October 3, 2016

Travel diaries :: Long Weekend Away: Things to See, Taste and Do on Norfolk Island

As we landed on Norfolk Island on board an Air New Zealand flight from Sydney, I saw the vastness of emerald green pastures, rugged earth, bottle green pines and surrounding turquoise bays meeting the metallic deep seas of the South Pacific Ocean and oh, a local cow, briefly looked up at the plane and then resumed grazing grass as if to say, “Just another plane landing.” I read in a brochure on the plane that the “cows have the right of way on the roads”. I knew what I would be experiencing on Norfolk Island would be something of beauty and intrigue.

Day 1

We stayed on Norfolk Island for 4 days/3 nights, Friday to Monday, a long weekend getaway to the South Pacific. Our Air New Zealand flight departed Sydney International Terminal at a reasonable hour of the day of around 10am on Friday and we arrived at Norfolk Island Airport at around 1.30pm with no dramas. I was still buzzing from the Air New Zealand’s safety flight clip which got my attention for the whole time I was watching it. There is something about a little groovy ‘Men In Black’ that’s so engaging. There is a one hour time difference (so you have to wind your watch forward one hour). Norfolk Island Airport has a rural feel to it, a bit like a large shed in the middle of some acreage and it was wonderful to breathe in the fresh crisp air into your lungs after 2.5 hours of cabin air. As soon as you land, you walk across the tarmac and collect your luggage. You can’t get lost as it was pretty easy to work out how to get to where you are staying.

As we arrived, Tania Anderson of Norfolk Island Tourism Bureau warmly greeted us at the airport. After reading a brochure about Norfolk Island I was curious to know how they do that Norfolk wave they are famous for as you drive pass another car on the road. “How do you do the Norfolk wave?” I asked Tania. Tania and another lady Bec showed me and I recorded it on the Boomerang app which was so funny and that marked the beginning of what would be an intriguing and fun trip filled with many laughs with the locals. For those who want to see how the Norfolk wave is done I posted it on Instagram when I arrived and you wave like this.

After checking our drivers licence we had a hire car from
Aloha Rent-A-Car for our stay to get around the island. How a car gets on the island is an interesting story in itself due to the island’s rugged coastline. Having a car is essential during your stay I think and walking on streets at night would be difficult as there are no street lights. Bec, from The Norfolk Island Travel Centre showed us along the gravel roads in our car, ensuring we gave way to a few cows and chooks along the way as well as doing the Norfolk wave as we pass other cars, to our accommodation called Whitewood Sea. It was a cute, clean and comfortable 1 bedroom with ensuite spacious cottage home with a separate lounge, large kitchen and bathroom. The backyard of our cottage home was lush green and has beautiful views across Creswell Bay to the majestic Phillip Island from a beautifully. Whitewood Sea is located about 5-7 minutes away from the main town centre and the airport so you really don’t need to drive all that far at all.

We set down our bags down, and sorted out some technology issues, which by the way if you are there to use the Internet forget it as the island is still on 2G network. Norfolk Island is a place where your phone should be switched off and only switched for some happy holiday snaps. Bec says to us, “You don’t need to lock your car door or your house if you feel comfortable to do that … it’s very safe here.” My natural instinct coming from a big city is to lock everything but within a few hours, it was too easy to leave car doors and the cottage unlocked. Locals don’t know where their house keys are. What a refreshing change coming to an island where you don’t have to worry about safety and another layer of burden taken off your shoulders.

We were later greeted by Rick Kleiner from Personal Tours – Norfolk Island that afternoon who took us on a tour around the island. We said to Rick, “We’re a bit peckish after that flight ... is there a place where we can grab a quick bite?” So Rick took us to a local bakery where we had a locally made pie and some cakes and there I discovered ‘guava jelly’ made on the island and happily made my first souvenir purchase as I absolutely love the taste of guava. Rick took us on an introductory tour of Norfolk Island including must see spots like Mt Pitt, St. Barnabas Chapel, Anson, Duncombe and Cascade Bays and the World Heritage Listed Kingston area.

There were a few spots where I made a mental note of needing to go back there again during our stay like Puppies Point to watch the sunset and Emily Bay Beach which is probably one of the calmest blue lagoon beaches I’ve seen. Rick having lived on the island for many years told us about the food and island life

Rick gave us our first lesson about the food on Norfolk Island and over the coming days I discovered the island a foodies paradise and it will satisfy the fussiest of foodies: fresh, locally grown produce in healthy soils, paddock to plate and zero miles, and by that I mean that fish you eat on your plate today is likely to have been caught earlier that morning. Whilst there's no mass of produce available or a grand selection you would find on mainland Australia, when it comes to food, Norfolk Islanders draw upon generations of passion and resourcefulness, growing virtually all nutrients rich fruits and vegetables on the island with the exception of onions, potatoes, garlic and ginger.

Our 2 hour tour on Day 1 of our visit to Norfolk Island with Rick ended at around 5pm at Two Chimney, Norfolk Island’s first and only winery. Rod and Noelene Buffett McAlpine owns this winery and one of the most beautiful and picturesque lunch platters you’ve ever seen, all with locally sourced, grown and foraged edible plants, cheeses and homemade jams. It’s called the Vinyard Lunch Platter. We enjoyed it with a sip of their own label
Two Chimney Wines. It was lovely to meet Rod and Noelene and to talk about their wines, their food and life on the island. Rod and Noelene planted their first vines on family (Buffett) land at Steeles Point and commenced Two Chimney Wines in 2003. The vineyard enjoys a soft maritime climate and volcanic basalt soils. The vineyard consists of five varietals, Chardonnay, Semillion, Verdelho, Merlot, Chambourcin. The property is part of the original grant of land following the arrival of the Pitcairners in 1856. I loved the refreshing fruity tasting notes of their Semillon Sauvignon Blanc and bought a bottle of that and also a bottle of their Classic Notes for a friend back at home.

From there on, it was time for dinner at a local casual fine dining restaurant that all the local’s rave about, Hilli’s Restaurant which is situated on the door step to Fletcher’s Mutiny Cyclorama, a magnificent piece of artwork on Norfolk Island that tells one but a significant part of Norfolk Island's history, the story of the mutiny and the settlement of Pitcairn and Norfolk Islands. Hilli meaning to relax, chill out, rest in the Norfolk language and it is a casual fine dining restaurant serving modern Australian cuisine. Fresh fish is in abundance on the island so I tried their local catch of the day for dinner (interestingly, there is not a lot of shellfish on the island which is mainly imported but the variety of fresh fish makes up for it). There is only one way to have the finest fish from the ocean and that’s fresh, on the day caught ocean fresh. I tasted Hilli’s pan seared Norfolk Fish which was nestled upon a sweet potato galete paired with Hilli vegetables surrounded by a champagne lemon. You can’t go wrong with the basic flavours of fresh fish and lemon and how Hilli’s did it was so delicious with the right amount savoury, tang, sweetness and the zip of flavours. We shared a lot of the dishes and their pork belly dish was equally pleasing, tender and full of flavour.

Desserts were a kaleidoscope of colours and we tried everything that was on the menu: a baked lemon curd tart is served with mixed berry coulis accompanied by Hilli mango and almond ice cream; a Hilli chocolate mud cake served with warm upon an espresso anglaise; a berry coulis and homemade Snickers ice cream; a Baileys Crème Brulee which was a smooth and delicious Baileys crème brulee served with mixed berries, compete caramel popcorn and accompanied with malted honeycomb ice cream and a sticky date pudding, a rich sticky date pudding served warm with homemade caramel sauce and chopped nuts and a scoop of vanilla ice cream.

It was at Hilli’s Restaurant where I learnt that Norfolk Island has a cat that surfs, owned by our waitstaff at Hilli who said if the tide was right on Sunday we should go down and watch ‘Seaweed’ the cat. Being a cat owner, I was in disbelief and made a mental note on that one to check out on Sunday.

Day 2

Saturday morning was an early start as we wanted to see the and meet the local farmers at the farmer’s markets which was located next to the Norfolk Island Visitor’s Centreon Taylor’s Road (they are held every Saturday from 7.30am – 11.00am) in the Burnt Pine town centre. There are no high rise buildings in town. It looks like a town centre of regional NSW with small local cafes, shops, boutiques. The growers markets were small, and I mean there were like 3 stores but it showcases everything that is in season and this is where the locals source their weekly fresh fruit and vegetables from the back of the farmer's trucks. You can also buy local cheese, homemade cured meats, plants, sometimes fresh fish and goats milk skin care.
Talking to some of the farmers there, there was no shortage of avocados although they had a bad season earlier on in the year where some of the crops were damaged. The same farmers also supply a lot of the fresh fruit and vegetables to the 35 restaurants on Norfolk Island too. Due to limited importation of produce and lack of cold storage, fruits and vegetables are seasonal and most can be grown year round. Citruses are normally grown from May to November and melons are from December to May. The farmers also told me they don’t use pesticide on their crops. Whilst some fruits common on the mainland are not available on the island, like apples, what they do produce is delicious like guava, mandarins that come in gigantic and small sizes and avocados are in abundance. The skin of the mandarins are marbled orange and green in colour. The avocados are larger than what I’m use to seeing in Sydney. Whilst fish is in abundance, shellfish is not and lot of that is imported from the mainland Australia or New Zealand.

We went to the Olive Café afterwards for breakfast and for my morning coffee fix. This is one of the places on the island that serves high quality coffee and a delicious breakfast fare. There is an excellent range of options for gluten free and vegetarians and with all fresh nutrient rich vegetables grown on the island, it would not hurt to go vegetarian during your stay. We tried the Olive Big Breakfast, Corn fritters with roasted tomato and salad leaves drizzled with aioli and French toast with bacon, banana, berries, maple syrup and cream. Yes these are dishes you will get on the mainland or anywhere else in the world but what a delicious difference organic island grown fruits and vegetables makes to a dish.

This tiny island holds volumes of history and intrigue and we spent some time in Kingston, south of the island at the World Heritage Listed convict site, south of Norfolk Island. It is an area you will keep coming back for a stroll as its where history meets the present of beautiful coastal scenery. One part of Norfolk Island that is connected to Australia that I did not learn about at school on the mainland was that it was settled by Great Britain as part of its settlement of Australia from 1788 and the island served as a convict penal settlement from 6 March 1788 until 5 May 1855. It was known as the Hell of the South Pacific and the harshest and a brutal colony back then. The beauty of Kingston at present betrays the brutality of it’s past. Kingston has the island’s most beautiful lush green scenery set against the pounding ocean waves backdrop, historical Georgian architecture as well as the old convict ruins. There is also the oceanside cemetery too.
As you drive along the gravelled roads to Kingston, you will also see a lot of cows and chooks and at Watermill Dam you can feed the chooks, who have quote some character to them. They are a little more highly strung than the cows - so watch out!

For lunch we drove to the other side of the island to the Bedrock Café and Tea Gardens located on a cliff top property in Anson Bay. This is a café with a tea garden that has a 180 degree panoramic view of the Pacific Ocean, about 8 minutes 'out of town'. The café feels like you have walked into someone's home (in this case Heidi's) where some traditional Tahitian food is served and the most delicious tea cakes. If you feel like a sandwich loaded with fresh salads try their Flinstone Sandwich too.  It is also a place where you can get a massage. Their local dog was so cute. There is something about the animals here too who are also very connected to the community on the island.

After lunch at Bedrock, we drove to the The Hilli Goat (about 5 minutes away from Bedrock), which is a goat farm on a stunning clifftop property on Anson Bay in Norfolk Island. The people that own The Hilli Goat showed us the milking and cheese making process. Their beautiful goats have so much character and again like the rest of the animals we encountered and so very connected with people. We sat down an tried their delicious platter of freshly made goats cheese and edible delights that have been freshly picked from their back yard. I bought a couple of tubs of their homemade goat milk moisturiser and its one of the most delicious face moisturiser I've used and have been using it ever since I got back. It's so natural and it was made as a solution to addressing skin issues in the family like eczema. They do deliver to the mainland so if you would like to try it you can message them on their Facebook page.
In the evening, just before sunset, one place we went back to was Puppies Point on the west coast of Norfolk Island to watch the sunset. During Winter, we were advised to get there about 4pm, nibbled on some goodies in a hamper from Island Nectar that we took with us and then waited until the sun went down behind the Pacific Ocean. If you don't want sit in the restaurants or cafes and just want to connect with nature like watching the sunset, you can order a hamper from Island Nectar. Island Nectar 's hamper contains loads of fine local produce in an island made weaved basket: mild and full flavoured cheeses; guava paste; gome made relish; sour dough; coconut bread; fresh seasonal fruits; smoked king fish.
For dinner, we experienced Jolly Roger. Jolly Roger is a wonderful casual venue for dinner and entertainment, rubbing shoulders with the locals and centre stage was Norfolk Island's excellent musician Matty Zarb who sings and plays the guitar with a rosella happily sitting on his left shoulder all night. This establishment is run by Matty and his family and the service is warm and friendly. We had the specials for the evening of steak and Thai red curry cod and they were hearty meals, good sized portions and delicious.
Day 3
Being our last full day on Norfolk Island, I wandered through the local Sunday arts and craft markets and grabbed some homemade donuts before popping in the local radio station Norfolk Island, Radio Norfolk as special guest with host Tania Anderson and we just had a general chit chat about my life on the mainland on Australia, how my blog came about and social media.
We then headed over to Emily Bay, a stunning blue lagoon beach is located in Kingston, south of the island where stillness meets tranquility. The water temperature wasn't that cold during our stay there and warm enough for some to go swimming. The water in the bay is calm and you will see so many shades of turquoise blue. It was there where we saw Norfolk Island's surfing cat (not kidding!)
A place we tried for lunch was The Golden Orb Bookshop café which serves some home cooked style delicious brunches and lunches.
With all the spectacular island scenery and good food, another part of Norfolk's appeal is the history of its people who are descendants of the crew of the 1789 mutiny that occurred on the Bounty ship and their Tahitian companions. Many of the descendants of the Bounty mutineers live on Norfolk Island today. "Have you seen Cyclorama yet?" a local said to us during our stay at Norfolk Island. By that stage, we knew Cyclorama on Norfolk Island was a must see. The entire island hums with history and their past is a significant aspect of the island's present and future. Fletcher's Mutiny Cyclorama is a magnificent piece of artwork on Norfolk Island that tells one but a significant part of Norfolk Island's history, the story of the mutiny and the settlement of Pitcairn and Norfolk Islands.
We had our own personal chef on the final day. The owner and chef of Josh's Café and Restaurant on Norfolk Island came over to our cottage to personally cook for us on the last evening. Trained in fine dining restaurants in Sydney like the well known Quay Restaurant in Sydney Harbour, Josh's dishes are exceptional and well plated. Josh has cooked for officials like the Princess of Brunei on the island. I loved his food so much we went to his café for breakfast before we headed back home. Try his Hummingbird cake. It's absolutely devine and perfect for a tea or coffee break. It is also a place to grab excellent coffee.
If you hire a car you can stay anywhere on the island and you don't need to stay in the main centre of town called Burnt Pine. Everything is only less than 10 minutes away by car and fairly easy to drive around. We stayed at the Whitewood Sea cottage run by The Travel Centre Norfolk Island and it was a beautifully renovated one bedroom with ensuite, almost new little homestead with glimpses of waterviews. It was clean, warm and spacious and the kitchen was large enough so we could have our own personal chef, Josh from Josh's Café and Restaurant cook for us.

This tiny island holds volumes of history and intrigue, jaw dropping green and blue scenery and outstanding fresh produce cooked up by some fine local cooks on the island, and truly a hidden gem of the South Pacific. We were able to do a lot on the island having stayed there for only four days as everything you could see, taste and do was less, than 10 minutes away. Not only was Norfolk Island a place to be discovered and to unwind from the hustle bustle of my city life, but it was also a place to connect with the local community in the old fashion way of simply having a conversation with the locals.
Getting there

Air New Zealand flies direct to Norfolk Island from Sydney and Brisbane twice a week.

See.Taste.Do travelled to Norfolk Island courtesy of Norfolk Island Government Tourist Bureau and Air New Zealand.

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