I contemplate the description La Perouse gave to Norfolk Island when he first saw it in 1788 - “only fit for Angels and Eagles" - as Flower places my coffee and ‘Norfolk Blue Beef’ kabab in front of me. Flower definitely fits the description of an Angel with her tinkling laugh, striking white hair (albeit spiked) and sweet friendly nature. We’ve been on Norfolk Island for three days now and I’m finding we are surrounded by some of the sweetest, friendliest, if not the happiest people I’ve ever met. And they certainly live up to the possibility of being eagles when we see how versatile, hardy and dare I say, brave when we learn more about the life and culture of Norfolk and her people.Just watching how a boat is put into (and out of) the swell at the pier is an event in itself and then I’m told that because the pier – be it Kingston or Cascade – cannot take container ships, all their goods and chattels that are shipped to the island, including cars and busses, are transferred from the cargo ships to lighters at sea, then to the pier, using only ropes and pulleys and sheer manpower (along with a ute or two). There are photos displayed throughout the village depicting the scenes of unloading. Of course seeing a whole bus or a car strapped to two lighters brings gasps of astonishment and shakings of heads to those of us who are used to a more ‘easier life’ and it certainly makes for regular dinner conversation for all the tourists. I have to say I prefer La Perouse’s saying so much more than the other saying associated with Norfolk, that of being a destination for the ‘newly-wed or the nearly dead’…. Surely whoever coined that particular phase can’t have ever stepped foot on this tiny green piece of absolute paradise. What M and I find when we land (or is that “drop out” of the sky - because the plane doesn’t quite coast in with a gentle descent, more like zips down) is a bustling little hive of activity at the airport with loads of children milling around barely able to contain their excitement, lots of 40’somethings, a few 20somethings and some very spritely 60somethings.
The iconic images of Norfolk are either the majestic Norfolk Pine or the World Heritage listed cluster of formidable buildings on the Pier and along the forefront of the ocean.
These stone and corally-cream colour structures have weathered the constant winds and sea salt and stand out against the glistening blue ocean and deep green lawns that spread across the site. It takes the breath away. The first place we go to is the pier, walking out to its end as the waves slap against the barriers and an afternoon breeze starts to pick up a freshness. Looking out, the water is an incredible blue with darker patches indicating the reef that threatens any vessel that ventures near. Straight down, it’s as clear as glass and we can see an abundance of fish swimming about.
We take a short wander around the buildings with the plan to explore them in full later and head along the forefront to the sandy shores of Emily Bay which is bustling with families and teenagers. The water is a blending of turquoise, sweet green and glorious blues, with barely a ripple of wave and the beach, a sparkling gold. The pine trees offer a dense green shade against the cloudless blue sky and behind them stretches a beautiful emerald green golf course with what has to be one of the best views from a tee ever. A group of young men are laughing as one runs the full length of the golf course, reads a piece of paper attached to the last tee and then runs back again. Opposite the beach is a camping ground filled with tents and further along nearly every picnic table is a happy party scene. So much for the ‘nearly dead’ I muse.
The next morning we take our complimentary half-day tour which turns out to be one of the best tours I’ve ever done (and as I’ve said in many a ‘post’ prior, I’m not a tour person!) with a driver who has a wicked sense of humour and an abundant array of knowledge about his island home. It’s obvious the locals have a quirky humour when we are taken down a road and find practically every property has named itself ‘…. Roof’. Apparently it started when a chap called his home ‘red roof’ and all the neighbours decided to join in, including the church which dubbed itself ‘Holy Roof’. And so we pass properties called ‘Rented Roof’, ‘Roof Roof’, ‘Roof with a view’ and the most classic of all – ‘No Roof’, which is actually a vacant block of land.
Further evidence of the quirky humour of Norfolk can be found in the humble little phone book, where people are also listed per their nick-name – under a special section of the book titled: “Faasfain ‘Salan Bai Dems Nikniem” (fast find a person by their nickname). You’ll find Lettuce Leaf, Boot, Pooh, Spindles, Moochie and Gumboots all get a listing as does Crowbar, Feathers, Toyboy and Honkey-Dorey.
Our appetite wetted from the half-day tour M and I make our way to one of the local tour operators and book ourselves up for what is to be one of our busiest holidays yet….and here we were thinking we’d just chill for this week because it had been so hectic at work the last two months and with 2015 shaping up to be a big work year for us, we really needed to relax. Well it would seem there is so much to see and do, that relaxing is not really on the agenda of Norfolk Island - though a day here can feel like a week as so much can be fitted in and even catching an hour or two at beautiful Emily Bay or wandering through the forest at Mt Pitt can give the feeling you’ve chilled out and rejuvenated the spirit.
Of course where-ever we go, M has to try his hand at the fishing and here was no different. The very next day he clambered aboard one of the charters and out they zipped to sea. But not before they have to board the boat in quite a different way. Because the waves can be quite rough against the pier, the fishing attendees board the boat whist it is suspended above the water and then be lowered by winch into the water with a pulley and 4WD (they unload the same way)… then off they go.
M was first to catch and at first tried to tell me it was ‘this big’ – he holds his arms out to about a meter and a half in length. I ask him “where is it?” he’s a bit sheepish, “it was a bird” he says. Turns out he caught a juvenile seabird, possibly a Gannet. He’s quick to assure me there’s no injury (other than embarrassment for both him and the bird… being ‘caught’ in front of his other feathered mates!) Also caught by the group was a shark or two (well and truly released) and a tub load of sweet-lip, scorpion cod and tuna.
I’m enthralled with Norfolk Island’s birds. The island is abundant with them, every morning at about 5.30 I can hear the early morning trilling of the little flitterers that dart in and out of the branches in our garden – sparrows, greenfinches, fantails and the ‘peurty’ – a tiny little warbler that’s less than 10cm in length. Then throughout the day we are delighted and held spellbound by the various species we find in different parts of the island. Up at Captain Cooks Lookout the sky is full of the beautiful tiny white fairy terns soaring and gliding though the pines and over the sea. They mate for life and as they fly together, they mirror each other’s flight patterns.
Just below Captain Cook Memorial we are lucky enough to spot (though our camera lens) the Masked Booby on Moo-oo rock, and as we drive along the roads we spy the brilliant blue wings of the ‘Nuffka’ – the Sacred Kingfisher – as they sit on the electricity lines and fence posts. Darting along the ground, across lawns and paddocks are quaint little Californian Quails, fat little bodies with fluffy plume topknots on their heads. Also in the paddocks are chickens. Loads and loads of chooks. In the “Norfolk Island… The Birds” book they are officially listed as Feral Fowls. To me they look like the everyday average bantam but to the Islanders they are feral pests with tiny useless eggs and no meat on the bones (“and probably full of worms!” according to one islander). The roosters roam the hills and paddocks like cattle, going where they like, fearing nothing and crowing up a storm every morning and night.
For the last three nights we’ve enjoyed what Norfolk offers as night life – dinner shows such as Fletchers Fate, the Fish Fry which was undeniably superb with the most spectacular sunset and then afterwards we drive home oohing and ahing over the Christmas lights that decorate the homes and businesses.
Down at Kinston a giant Christmas tree graces Quality Row and sparkles out over the darken lawns. Last night it was a Progressive Dinner where we popped from house to house (private homes) for a three course meal. It is during this wonderful night I find that the Islanders are not only the friendliest and happiest people I’ve ever come across but I would have to say, also the hardest working people I’m ever met. It turns out just about every adult on the island has at least two jobs, most had three jobs and quite a few have four. Our first course is at the home of a lovely couple with three adorably sweet children and it turned out that as well as being mum to three, holding down a full time 9to5 job, "S" also catered for up to 120people a night in their home, three times a week – and yes, she did all the cooking and serving herself! The next home we went to we discovered our host was not only a guide, a handyman and the floor polisher for the local supermarket, but every day he rose early to bake the scones and cakes for the various ‘morning teas’ given at the daily tours, was the chef at the fish-frys and other BBQ’s/lunches given by the tours and also catered three nights a week for up to 120people. And so it went – What I found really interesting was of the every one we met with the two or more jobs, none even so much as whispered the ‘can’t wait to retire’ line we hear so much back home, instead they all seemed to delight in the busyness of it all. As I look around at the bustle of the main street and watch the locals and tourist alike I see that joy and laughter bubbles all around on Norfolk – ‘Angels and Eagles’, both have joyful echoes.