Norfolk Island on a Shoestring Budget

Words by Dorian Mode and photography by Lydia Thorpe

Explore paradise without breaking the bank

Last year I wrote about seniors’ love affair with Norfolk Island. Well, now I’m going to show you how to do it on the cheap!
Norfolk Island is a paradise that keeps beckoning. It’s such a popular senior destination that you rarely see any tourist under 35 on the island. And that’s just the way we like it. It’s not Bali. There’s nary a Parramatta Eels jersey in sight. It’s a romantic, quiet island holiday steeped in history and culture, where you are on your own most of the time with nothing but the wind-tickled Norfolk Island pines around you.

This is our third visit to the island. For this jaunt, we are travelling with dear chums Graham and Margie Jackson from Tumbi Umbi. Now in their late seventies, they’ve been to Norfolk Island eighteen times!

We are all here for the annual Norfolk Island Jazz Festival but this time on a shoestring budget. And our thrifty accommodation is aptly named: Seaview Hotel and Cottages. Upon arrival at our budget digs our jaws drop. The view is beyond stunning. We soon discover Seaview has the best views on the island and only a lazy 5 min – senior friendly/no hills – walk into town.

Pristine scenery is everywhere you look on Norfolk Island

As soon as we arrive at Seaview we are collected by our guide from Bauntiescapes for a nosey around the island. This is an ideal way to familiarise yourself with this fascinating sub-tropical Eden upon touchdown. Again, our guide regales us with the storybook history of the island.
When descendants of the Bounty mutineers outgrew their tiny secret island of Pitcairn, Old Queen Vic – so impressed with the God-fearing descendants of the scoundrels who made Bligh row to Batavia – bequeathed them Norfolk Island, a tiny speck in the Pacific. Prior to the Pitcairners settling the island, it was a brutal penal colony for recalcitrant convicts – much like Port Arthur. It was indeed a wretched place and the remnants of convict hardships are scattered amongst its capital, Kingston – so named after Governor Philip Gidley King (1758-1808). The sandstone ruins, built effectively by ‘slave labour’, are ghostly sentinels of the tranny and oppression of Georgian England. I always find it rather moving walking through the ruins.

Fabulous seafood abounds at this island surrounded by the Pacific

That evening we splash out and dine at Mariah’s at Seaview. This charming restaurant with its sweeping views of Philip Island and the Southern Ocean, offers the best local seafood on Norfolk. The fresh kingfish is to die for and the chic presentation worthy of any five-star Sydney restaurant.

Norfolk has no port so all goods are brought ashore by longboats

The following morning, we do something we’ve not done on the island before. We visit the home of (now deceased) Norfolk Island resident Colleen McCullough. Graham and Margie were chums of the author and recently stayed at her guesthouse courtesy of her husband, Ric Robinson. The bestselling author was as rich as Croesus and her house is a treasure chest of exotic curiosities from all over the world. Our fabulous tour guide Rebecca, has a tobacco-dry wit as she tows us around the mansion making dry asides. Our favourite room was the throne room: a bling rock star dunny – not out of place in Pricilla Queen of the Desert. Our Col was nothing if not outrageous.
That arvo we tag along for Liz McCoy’s Set in Stone tour. Norfolk Island boasts the best collection of convict-built Georgian Buildings in the Southern Hemisphere. Our guided tour investigates these grand historic buildings that housed Norfolk’s high society during the 18th Century, through to the large Pitcairn families, who had never seen a stone building, let alone a fireplace inside a house. This fascinating tour is run by Pitcairn descendant Liz McCoy. What I like about Liz’s tours is, being a fellow academic, Liz has studied history at university on the mainland and has undertaken meticulous scholarly research on her island home. She unpacks the myths and legends about the island so you get the real story. At tour’s end, we finish at the cemetery (much like life). This extraordinary graveyard is the oldest convict graveyard in Australia. Some of the clumsy convict inscriptions are quite moving and really unpack the island’s heartbreaking narrative.

Plenty of great restaurants with lively entertainment on the island

That evening we eat a la cheap. One of the great things about Norfolk is you can drive around the island and buy fresh veggies and fruit for spare change from roadside stalls. And our cottage at Seaview allows us to can cook in the room. This means we can have one or two fancy meals in the restaurant and spend the rest of our coin on Norfolk’s fabulous tours!
Another free activity is simply swimming at Emily Bay. So, the next morning we don the togs (I do look dreadful in budgie smugglers) and head to the beach. If you pack a snorkel and goggles you can poke around the incredible reef for hours. Here you’ll find dazzling coral and neon-bright fish. Seniors will find the reef a cinch to explore as the coral is simply a few metres out and enclosed by an outer reef so you swim in perfect safety.
That evening we join Liz’s ghost tour. Set in Norfolk’s gruesome second settlement where disease and brutality were rampant, the World Heritage Listed Kingston is said to be one of the most haunted places in Australia (if you believe in the ghostly caper). Elizabeth (i.e. Liz) has been working and touring in the site for nearly twenty years. As we learn of her “Phantom Friends” that frequent the world heritage area we discover the reasons why these souls would have wanted to move on to their next life. I must say this was my favourite activity on the island. But alas the only spirits I swear by come from the mini bar. But Liz’s ghost tour, passionately underscores the tragic convict history of the first and second settlement. Her partner Mortlock, top hat and tails, is a ghostly presence on the tour as we trail Liz around the old octagonal prison complex under a spooky full moon. Here we discover the depravities and privations of these wretched souls condemned to spend years locked in cells three foot by six foot in the old scale. We trail Liz to the ruins of the old mill – unique, as it was cranked by 96 poor souls, who ultimately wrecked the works in protest.

Hire a Mini Moke and drive around for fabulous views like this one

On our final day, we lunch at Hilli’s. Here we devour more local fish and local sirloin courtesy of the bovine pedestrians who are free to mosey around the island like sacred Brahmins in New Delhi.
That afternoon we again swim in Emily Bay and listen to the strains of the jazz concert wafting through the stately Norfolk Island pines. We then sit on a shady bench and enjoy a glass of vino as the sun paints the sand in coral hues.
So, if you’re looking for a holiday destination that is ‘senior friendly’ and ‘hip-pocket friendly’, you can’t go past Norfolk Island.

Flights and Accommodation
Shoestring Tip: Flights to Norfolk Island via Air NZ are kinda pricey. However, the cheapest airfare to Norfolk is with their own airline, Norfolk Airline. Flights as little as $250! But the really best deal is a package deal with Seaview Hotel and Cottages itself (see their website for packages and specials). The downside for us New South Welshers is they only fly out of Brisbane. So, for our trip, we flew to Brizzie and camped at the swanky Brisbane Airport Novotel. We had fun in this hotel with its 4.5-star comfort, rooftop lap-pool, and all under 10 minutes’ drive from the terminals. We discovered right across the road is a shopper’s dream with a football field of factory outlet shops. Hide the credit cards at Brizzie Airport Novotel!