The Locals' Guide - Lord Howe Island


Beyond the reef

Posted by Pinetrees Lodge – Thursday, April 26, 2018

Balls Pyramid from Lord Howe Island

Contributed by Pia Funch: Lord Howe Island is a remarkable place. Being acknowledged as a UNESCO World Heritage site surrounded by protected waters and the world’s most southern coral reef tells us that something special is going on in the middle of the Tasman Sea. However, it’s not until we climb the hills of Malabar, swim in the sanctuary zones bursting with marine life or reach the misty forest of the summit of Mount Gower that we truly get to understand the essence of the island’s natural beauty.

One day I went to the Goathouse Cave, some 440 vertical metres up Mount Lidgbird. I was the only person there and wasn’t expecting much of a view since the mountain tops had been covered with cloud all morning. I passed the caves and went a bit further until the track stopped. I sat and had my sandwich in the clouds, wondering how they’d look from the other side of the island. After ten minutes, it started to clear up. Within seconds, sunshine took over the sky and the views instantly came to sight. I looked out at the horizon and there it was: Balls Pyramid - the world tallest sea stack. The mysterious and creepy-looking mountain of rock, out on the horizon, looked so close yet so far away. In a fairy-tale story, this would be the place where evil creatures live. The pointy triangular shaped rock reaching 551 metres above the ocean is a place that only few people get to experience up close. Today, less than one percent of the original island remains – it was once 15 km in diameter. The rest has slowly submerged to a life under the sea.

Mesmerised by the sight, I decided to head back to the Lord Howe Island museum to learn more about the natural wonders surrounding the island. Balls Pyramid is just one of several volcanic islands in the South Pacific Ocean. Remnants of volcanic islands nearby tell the tale of millions of years of natural history. Two of these are named Middleton Reef and Elizabeth Reef. Located just a few hundred kilometres away, these reefs are considered to be Lord Howe Island’s older siblings.

Middleton Reef is a submerged volcanic island formed about 12 million years ago as the Australian Plate crossed the same hotspot that would create Lord Howe Island some 5 million years later. Elizabeth Reef is about 11 million years old. Similar in size and structure, the two reefs lie 45 km apart. What used to be islands the size of Lord Howe Island, are today nostalgic reminders of the beauty this world is capable of producing. The two reefs now represent the southern most platform reefs in the world and are home to more marine life than any other place in the Tasman Sea. Every now and then, some lucky souls get to go and explore the reefs by boat. The weather conditions have to be perfect so it’s a hard trip to plan in advance. Once or twice a year, a small plane will also do a limited amount of scenic tours to the reefs. It’s a once in a lifetime opportunity and when it happens, and it’s the story of the day within the Lord Howe Island community. Rumours say that more people have been on the moon than on Middleton Reef and Elizabeth Reef.

Lord Howe Island is the last emerged part of the so-called Lord Howe Rise, which forms part of the Australian Plate. One day in the future, the island will erode away and be outlived by its precious coral reefs, just like her siblings did. For now, we keep her happy and clean by protecting her and loving her. For now, I finally understand and appreciate why Lord Howe Island is called “the last paradise”.


The Locals’ Guide to Lord Howe Island is written by Denis Corcoran, Pia Funch, Luke Hanson, Geordie Tennant and Dani Rourke. We regularly visit the island’s iconic locations (and our secret spots) in different conditions, seasons and times of day (by foot, bike, kayak, boat and snorkel), and hope to share our experiences with you. If you need some travel inspiration, details on locations and the best activities, or just a brief online escape from your daily routine, then read our posts about life on Lord Howe Island.