Rainbow-coloured fish swirled around my legs in crystal-clear South Pacific waters.
On a semi-tropical rainforest walk, I clapped my hands and chirping flightless birds ran towards me, tame from lack of predators. People rode bicycles along 13km of narrow roads, through shady tunnels of overhanging palms and kids strolling to school barefoot. There were no billboards, room keys, bike locks or mobile phone reception.
Dropping coins into honour boxes, I picked up an avocado at a roadside fruit stand, a mask and snorkel at a deserted beach shack and a cart and clubs at the nine-hole golf course. Rarely were there more than two other people sunning themselves on one of the island’s 11 white-sand beaches, and the biggest crowds I saw were at the weekly fish fry.
Lord Howe Island is just 11km long and 2km wide, an idyllic boomerang-shaped sliver of land 780km north-east of Sydney. The island hugs a turquoise lagoon rimmed with the world’s southernmost coral reef and was designated a Unesco World Heritage site in 1982 for its spectacular volcanic geography, rare endemic fauna and native plant species found nowhere else on Earth. After a 1997 visit, British natural historian Sir David Attenborough described it as, “…so extraordinary it is almost unbelievable… few islands, surely, can be so accessible, so remarkable, yet so unspoilt.”
Yet this piece of paradise is notoriously too pricey for most travellers to experience. Though just a two-hour flight from Sydney or Brisbane, it’s actually cheaper to buy a ticket to Los Angeles. Restaurants are expensive, as are the island’s upscale lodgings, which might be booked solid a year in advance. There is no camping or budget accommodation and cruise ships are banned.