January 05, 2015

A place of convicts, pine trees and bee stings. Norfolk Island

Another tiny dot in the Pacific Ocean is Norfolk Island, 1670 Kilometres from Sydney and officially part of Australia, although mostly self governed. Geographically it is actually closer to Vanuatu than Australia. And it is small, with only just over 2000 people. All of which makes for a very expensive flight, it is cheaper to fly from Sydney to Indonesia or Japan than to Norfolk Island.

On arrival at the small airport, the island immediately shows its independence, my Australian passport is stamped with an entry visa. Getting a fairly cheap hire car (unlimited kilometres, but you cannot really go too far on a 6km by 6km piece of land) it is easy explore the convict buildings dotted around the island. Norfolk Island was originally used by the British as penal settlement, sending the "worst of the worst" to this remote place, where escape was impossible. Much of the original settlement is still standing, and is in good condition as it still being used by the local government. You can wander around exploring the original buildings from dark, dank cells, to the workhouses, and then onto the much grander Georgian style housing for officers and government officials.

Behind the abandoned houses near the old workhouse, where prisoners used to operate a massive tread wheel to mill grain (rather like a mouses wheel, but this was used for punishment) is the old graveyard. You can read of prisoners who were executed, guards who were overcome and killed by prisoners futilely trying to escape, and even sailors from ships replenishing the stores on the island who slipped and drowned in the bay. The tombstone engravers were clearly not masters of their art, probably just convicts who were co-opted to do the job, as words run together, letters are added above words, and there are misspellings a plenty

When you have had enough of the colonial buildings and life then there are some great bushwalks, along the cliffs and through the centre of the island. It does seem to rain a lot here, and not surprisingly the countryside is green and lush, with the native majestic Norfolk Island pines dominating the landscape. You do see them in Australia, but not in the vast quantities that exist on the island.

The one thing I found was that it was expensive. Particularly for food and fuel, the prices were much more than the mainland. Perhaps unreasonably, I was expecting it to be cheaper as it is advertises itself as a duty free port with no GST (VAT), but as most things have to be imported the prices are much higher, unless you want to live on Scotch whisky, caviar and cigars that is. Which could be fun for a while...

Another bonus for the traveller in search of a decent beer after a heavy days walking and sightseeing, is that the island has its own small brewery, close to the airport, where you can try a delicious honey ale 'Bee Sting', as well as seasonal brews on tap. A perfect way to end a day.

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