|Let's Do Lunch – On Lord Howe|
by Sally Hammond
As ice clinks in tall glasses of amber imported mineral water, and gourmet pizzas and toasted bagels arrive, followed by a waft of brewed coffee, you could almost expect to glimpse the Sydney Opera House nearby, or maybe busy Collins Street, in Melbourne. But instead the crash of surf replaces roaring traffic, and only mountains loom bluely on the horizon. For this is an indoor-outdoor eatery just metres from the turquoise water, serving up an urban menu in paradise, Lord Howe Island style.
Before I left for this longish weekend away I had joked with friends: "Why don't we meet for lunch? Lunch on Lord Howe!" And once there I realised we really could have.
Reaching this World Heritage-listed island outpost of NSW is almost as quick and easy as hopping on the train for an outer-suburban address. The flight takes just a couple of hours. You need no passport. Just sandals, sunscreen and a sarong. And perhaps a semi-glam outfit for the evening, as there are some fine eateries here too.
It's not that you'll be whisked into casino-land or off to a nightclub, of course, but there are restaurants offering top-class food that deserves attention, as do the knockout views through picture windows showcasing bays and headlands.
So what are the trademarks of Lord Howe? Hibiscus everywhere - growing, tucked into things, on pillows. Towering mountains - sometimes accessorised by a waft of cloud, other times splendidly blue, higher than the brochures have prepared you for.
And birds - hundreds of them, thousands of them, swooping down in their multitudes to a man named Clive who'll take you on a walking tour to the foot of Mount Gower, then demonstrate his oneness with them by calling them down, just so you can touch these wild things, and wonder over them closeup.
Then there are the bikes - and more bikes. Bikes with baby seats, family groups. And walkers. With a population of 280, cars are controlled (the speed limit is 25kmh) so Lord Howe's roads, all seven kilometres of them, often resemble a pedestrian mall.
Factor in the afternoon fish feeding at Ned's beach where you can wade in and enjoy the silvery bodies flopping against your legs, or a glass bottomed boat expedition to see them from another perspective, and you get the feel of the low-key, laid-back tone of the place. Just take your watch off, and let yourself wind down too.
Many people think family-run and family-friendly Pinetrees guesthouse is Lord Howe. The presence is so strong, combining the lived-there-forever Andrews, Nichols and Kirby families, and guests who've stayed many times, still come dripping back from the beach for lunch, or to order a lagoon-side drink. Even so, the island also has several other resorts, as well as self-catering apartments and bed an breakfast accommodation, so there is something for everyone.
Unlike Norfolk Island, no ghosts lurk on Lord Howe. This place has a happy hospitable history. The first settlers in the 1830s were free, and welcomed visits from the whalers who dropped in and supplied them with water, fuel and provisions. In fact, you could say that was the beginnings of the tourism industry right there, although we should be grateful we are visiting the island this century.
Muttonbird was on the lunch menu back then!
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