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Armchair traveller: East Coast

09-Jul-2013

Lord Howe is an island of two coasts, and each is distinct in many ways. The west coast is dominated by the mountains and the lagoon – drama and tranquillity in one view, while the east coast is rugged, exposed and relatively remote. On a good day (in westerly winds), the east coast is sheltered and warm, but don’t be fooled because you’ll be walking in a landscape that is shaped by volcanic eruptions, floods, landslides, cyclones and raw ocean power.

The walk from Pinetrees (on the west coast) to Middle Beach (on the east coast) is like walking back in time. You start among the Norfolk Pines, buildings and gardens of the Lodge, wander past the Bowling Club and Central School, and link up with a single track next to the Lord Howe Administration. To the left is the small farm of a local family, complete with cattle, a stable with one horse and vegetable gardens. As you wander east along the track, seemingly into the lowland kentia forest, one last sign of humans appears – an opportunistic bush garden. In the early days of human settlement, most families had bush gardens to supplement their home gardens. Typically, they were located on patches of volcanic soil or in small sheltered valleys away from the salty sea winds. They weren’t quite ‘cut and burn gardens’ like you’d see in remote parts of PNG, but they were only used when conditions justified the labour required to clear and plant them.

Once in the forest, you climb gently towards the sea cliffs above Middle Beach where the first real view of the day awaits – the Admiralty Islands in sheltered ‘offshore’ conditions. Typically, it’s warm and sunny, and you’ll feel like you’ve just walked into an equatorial latitude. Just along from the sea cliffs is the start of a unique forest of big Banyan trees and Kentia palms. You’ll always find Lord Howe Woodhens foraging around in the mulch, and you’ll be dodging Shearwater nests (come during a spring evening and you’ll dodge Shearwaters as well). This is Jurassic Park stuff, without the dinosaurs.

One of the highlights of walking around Lord Howe is the fast transition from one landscape to another. There’s no plodding for hours waiting for the next interesting bit. In this case, the Jurassic Park forest abruptly turns to ocean, sea cliffs and coastal heath with views of the mountains and Balls Pyramid. The Clear Place is exactly that. The water, air and forest are absolutely pristine. Below you, down a dangerous track (no, don’t try to find it) are probably some local fishermen catching 15kg kingfish, trevally and tuna straight off the rocks, but that’s another story.

On our recent trip to the East Coast, as part of our Wilderness Week, we continued north along the Middle Beach rock platform, past Jim’s Point and Hell’s Gate, and ended up at Neds Beach for a BBQ lunch. There’s no track or marked route, so you just have to find your way – but it’s worth it. As our group wandered through the long coastal grass, I had flashbacks to meadows in the Swiss Alps. After lunch, some people just lazed in the sun, while others went swimming and snorkelling. Yes it was winter, but on Lord Howe Island, that means a water temperature of 19 degrees – just like southern Queensland.

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