Sunday, October 18, 2009

We were awake at about 3am Sydney time, Crystal made it back to sleep, Justin did not. But for both of us, it made the trip quite a bit shorter. Justin got to watch "The Hangover," which was as good as all his friends told him it was. We landed at 8:20 local time, right on time, with a fair amount of clouds and a couple scattered showers. The view of Sydney's CBD looked quite nice - made us excited for when we'll be here in a couple of weeks. Since we didn't have the window seat, we didn't get any shots. Making our way through customs was easy enough, and the luggage carousel was right there after customs.

Getting our luggage was the first of a comedy of errors before we boarded our Lord Howe flight. Luggage took at least half an hour - even for a big plane, this seemed a long time. Then, there was confusion over how to get from the international terminal to ours. There are two terminals, T2 and T3, that serve domestic flights. There was a Qantas bus, but also a regular bus. The regular bus would have taken us to T2, the Qantas bus to T3. We were told to take the Qantas bus since we were flying Qantas, only when we checked in (check-in was before getting on the bus), we were told that when we got off the bus, we'd need to walk to the other terminal, since Lord Howe was the only Qantas flight leaving from T2. So as it was, it took a lot longer and we had to go through security twice. For anyone else flying into Sydney and then getting on a plane to Lord Howe, just take the orange T Bus, which will take you directly to Terminal 2. At least we got to see one of the A380s up close when we were taking the bus.

We also needed to move some stuff into our checked luggage, which we had feared might be the case. Even after checking in a bunch of stuff we'd usually take in carry-ons, we were still overweight on our carry-ons. Lord Howe has very strict weight restrictions, because it is a turbo-prop over water. While we can understand the weight restrictions, it does seem a bit arbitrary since the passengers weigh a whole lot more than the bags. Frankly, the cost of the ticket should be by the pound, so that heavier people pay more. That would undoubtedly go over like a lead balloon, however.


Finally in T2, we got some food - Greek/Turkish/Middle Eastern food, sort of like Daphne's in the US. It wasn't great, but it filled our stomachs, so it did the job. Then we waited to board our little turbo-prop to Lord Howe Island. It was as small as advertised. Fortunately, once it began running, it was much smoother and quieter than we were expecting. Apparently the reason that Qantas used a turbo-prop is because Lord Howe island has the shortest runway of any commercial airport in the southern hemisphere, so anything that can't slow down is in for some issues.

Lord Howe Island lies 700 km north east of Sydney, and is 11 km long and 2.8 km wide at its widest point. Only 320 residents inhabit the island, and there is a maximum of 400 visitors at any given time.

Lord Howe itself, and surrounding smaller islands, are the remnants of a large volcano that has slowly eroded away. The largest remnants are two peaks at the island's southern end, Mt Gower (875 m) and Mt Lidgbird (777m ). Having such large peaks on such a small island results in a more varied terrain than would normally exist, and this leads to a great variety of plant and animal life. The most famous plant is the Kentia Palm (Howea Forsteriana), which is endemic to Lord Howe and now ubiquitous as an indoor palm around the world.  We have several at our house, all outdoors now, and Justin has one in his office.

In addition to plant and animal life on the island, the marine life is unusually varied as well. Lord Howe Island has the world's southernmost coral reef.  It gets warm currents from the Great Barrier Reef.  The reef has over 500 species of fish and 90 species of coral. The waters around the island were declared a Marine Park in 1999.

Because of its geology and varied and rare collection of plants, birds and marine life, Lord Howe Island has been designated at World Heritage site by UNESCO.

The island was discovered by Lieutenant Henry Lidgbird Ball in 1788 hence the names for Mt Lidgbird and the offshore island "Ball's Pyramid." Ball named the island after British admiral Richard Howe. No one lived on the island until 1923, when three couples from New Zealand moved there.  The small settlement was kept afloat (sorry, couldn't resist the pun) by being a provision station for whaling ships. After whaling fell out of favor, export of Kentia Palms became the next big cash cow.  Tourism did not start until after World War II, although there was a pilot who crashed his plane on the island in 1931, which presumably must have been a shock to all of the islanders who had never seen or heard of one before.

To this day, the island is a little behind the times, as there still is no mobile phone service, and very few cars. There are only a handful of roads, and the speed limit is 25 km/h.  Most people ride bicycles.  We fortunately got a golf cart to drive around (it came with the room).

The flight over to Lord Howe was uneventful - always a good thing. We landed around 1:30, and the island was everything we had seen in the magazines, websites, etc. So was our room. It was quite windy where we were staying - the flipside of having an unimpeded view to the South is that you get unimpeded wind from the South. The room was everything it was chalked up to be - nice furniture, outdoor shower and tub, plunge pool, amazing views. It was probably the nicest hotel room we've ever stayed in.

After getting our bearings, we took out our golf cart and went around the island. The place we spent the most time was Ned's beach, which is on the east side of the island, meaning that it doesn't get the South wind. It was quite nice, and there were a bunch of black and white birds nesting. On the way back, we meanedered around a bit, checking out some of the trees, views, and ironically, cows. The cows in California have nothing on these guys.

We got back to the room a bit before 5pm, and got cleaned up for dinner. Before dinner there was happy hour, and we met a couple of the guests. One couple was from Melbourne, and another was from Sydney. They started talking a bit, then one told the other that she looked familiar. The second one (named JoAnne) looked for a bit, then asked the first lady if she grew up in Brisbane (yes) and if her name was Pam (yes). JoAnne then exclaimed that she had Pam had gone to elementary school together - absolutely incredible. Then, as if that were not coincidence enough, they both found out that they were celebrating their respective 30 year anniversaries - they both got married on the exact same day 30 years ago. Needless to say, small world.


Dinner was very good, but we were close to falling asleep multiple times, which made it not as enjoyable as it otherwise would have been. It reminded us of our first dinner in Kuala Lumpur, which had the same sort of "we're just going to stay awake through dinner, then fall asleep" vibe to it. We did make it back to our room, and then we were out.