A comprehensive travel guide to things to do on Norfolk Island plus where to eat, stay and play on this sub-tropical island paradise
We recently headed over to Norfolk Island for a 4 day short break. We had a fabulous introduction to this sub-tropical paradise but I must admit I was surprised how much longer I could have happily spent on an island that’s only around 35 km2. I certainly wouldn’t hesitate to head back for a fortnight in the future with no risk of being bored.
Where is Norfolk Island
Norfolk is a sub-tropical island located half way between Australia and New Zealand at roughly the same latitude as northern New South Wales. It enjoys a mild sub-tropical climate and a stable year round water temperature. It’s also a photographers dream with fabulous Pacific sunrises and sunsets, rugged cliff top views, turquoise waters and a coral filled a lagoon.
The island is approximately 8 kilometres by 6 kilometres in size. There’s no ring road around the island, instead it’s criss crossed by a number of country lanes. With the Burnt Pine township centred in the middle you’re never more than about a 15 minutes drive from town. If you’re looking for a coastal drive then the western side is your best bet with multiple stunning lookouts located along the clifftop and several good walkways down to the beach.
Things to do on Norfolk Island
If you are wondering what to do on Norfolk Island there is so much choice, you can be busy the whole time or relax and absorb the island vibe. These are 17 of our ‘must do’ activities on Norfolk Island but the list by no means stops here.
1. Rent a car and explore the island
Rent a car and drive around the island. Norfolk Island roads are good quality country lanes which are a pleasure to drive. The speed limit is 50 km/hr unless marked and make sure you watch out for the cows and geese that have right of way and regularly use is. You’ll also get used to the Norfolk Island wave every time you pass another vehicle, it quickly becomes habit and you find yourself smiling and waving as you drive around even at night when no one can see a thing.
Unless you plan on doing a lot tours we felt that a car was essential on the island as there is no public transport. Norfolk has a spectacular rugged coastline and all those cliffs give you an idea how hilly the terrain is. While you can easily walk to dinner if you’re in are the township area, to really enjoy the island walking or even cycling aren’t going to be an option for most of us.
2. Visit Anson Bay
Head up the north west coast and take in the view from Anson Bay, from the Burnt Pine township it’s around a 15 minute drive. On a clear day the turquoise waters below and rugged tree lined cliffs are one of the most beautiful outlooks we’ve enjoyed from anywhere.
Consider taking a BBQ or picnic to enjoy from the parklands at the top taking in the extensive view and afterwards take the walking track down to the beach. It’s not as difficult as you might expect and there’s a good chance yours will be the only footprints on the beach.
3. Head up Mount Pitt
You can drive right up to the lookout on the top of Mount Pitt for a 360 degree view around the island. It was quite windy when we were up there but you’re effectively standing on the very top of a small rock in the middle of the Pacific Ocean so a bit of breeze should probably be expected.
You can literally see in all directions from up here so it’s a great spot to head to early in your trip to orientate yourself with your surroundings. Below you can see Norfolks two uninhabited satellite islands and how close they are.
4. Enjoy the sunset
There are many gorgeous spots to watch the sun go down over the ocean from Norfolk Island. One of the most popular is Puppies Point, a clifftop lookout on the west coast but for something different pack a torch and head down the trails to one of the many west coast beaches directly below or further along at Anson Bay.
5. Explore the UNESCO World Heritage area
Another fascinating aspect of Norfolk Island is its history with at least 4 distinct periods of settlement with the island being abandoned and remaining uninhabited between each distinct period. Two of these relate to Norfolk Islands convict history, it’s the oldest of 11 sites that make up the UNESCO world heritage listed Australian Convict Settlements. The heritage region is in the south of the island known as the Kingston and Arthurs Vale Historic Area (KAVHA).
Access to the KAVHA heritage area is free and if you head down in the evening you will see some of the buildings and ruins are lit up. The only paid access is to the museums which are set up inside a few of the buildings and the mornings guided tag along tours. For $25 (free for school age children) you can purchase a ticket for unlimited entry to all of the museums and to join 2 tours at any time during your stay.
6. Head down and watch a ship unload at Kingston Wharf
This may sound an odd suggestion but it’s actually very much a step back in time. There’s no deep water port for large ships to unload cargo on Norfolk Island and the reef down here on the southern side presents some challenges so it’s done as it was for centuries using wooden lighters.
A lighter doesn’t define a boat style as such, it’s simple a boat that makes ships lighter (go figure who came up with that) but the open wooden boats are in much the same style they have always been down here on Norfolk. Presumably they were once rowed in to shore but are now towed to the wharf for unloading. For bigger loads two lighters may be lashed together with the load placed across them and they are then towed in.
When a ship is in the harbour and the weather conditions are favourable a call goes out on the radio in the morning for the men to come down and get to work. Definitely something to see if you are around when one’s unloading.
7. Snorkel right off the sand in the lagoon
The lagoon at Emily Bay is the perfect spot for snorkelling and swimming. There’s a sandy beach you can walk in from and be swimming amongst the coral and fish in a matter of minutes. It’s very protected from the wind and rougher seas on the inside of the reef and bay. Of course if you don’t want to get wet you can join the glass bottom boat tour and get a different perspective from on top of the water. As if that crystal clarity, gorgeous crescent of sand and coral weren’t tempting enough, we were the only people on the beach!
8. Stop by the Hilli Goat
Meet the goats and taste the organic goat cheese with Emily at the Hilli Goat Farm on the northern coast of the Island. You’ll learn about the challenges of introducing a new animal to the island, goat farming and cheese making. Equally good is getting to relax with great farm and coastal views and taste the cheese prepared in a variety of ways alongside other local produce.
9. Check in to see if Cockpit Waterfall is flowing
It’s been a dry year this year so although the island is still very green compared to home in Australia the waterfall was more of a trickle than a cascade. A trip out to this part of the north coast is still worth doing either way. Drive up the dirt road and park in the paddock to explore. Cross the creek over the rocks and climb the narrow hillside trail for some fabulous views. If you’re not sure on your feet you may want to err on the safe side and skip the walk out to the edge and down to the beach as it’s just a cattle worn path on the edge of the hill.
It looks like some development work is going on to create a boardwalk and viewing platform on the western side which will be great when there’s rain as I would imagine the trail would become quite muddy and slippery. Currently from the east you can climb up for some great views or make your way down to the base and beach below. If the waterfall was flowing it would be well worth climbing down for the photo op but there are equally some good and relatively easy to reach viewing points above.
Pro tip: Stop watching the cows and watch out for the cowpats!
10. Play a round of golf
Not only is this potentially the only golf course in the world on a UNESCO World Heritage protected area but there are spectacular coastal views from almost every fairway and green. Even if you’re not a golfer find time to stop in for a coffee or drink at the club house. It’s an original convict building that was the last of the residences built in 1845 on Quality Row and was once the residence of the Stipendiary Magistrate, Samuel Barrow.
11. Take the GreenEyes Birding Tour
You don’t need to be a lifelong birder to join the GreenEyes birding tour. Anyone with an interest in wildlife, ecology and natural history will enjoy spending the morning chatting with and learning from Margaret as she whisks you around some of the islands hidden gems.
We headed up to Mount Pitt first for an overview, then took a walk in the National Park and almost immediately spotted a small group of the endemic Norfolk Island Green Parrots, a bird that is currently the subject of an active conservation project. These are very similar to the New Zealand Kakariki or red fronted parrot (kakariki simply meaning green in Maori), several other local species were found along with insects and trees that were pointed out to us with their relevance to the ecosystem on the island. Heading out across the island we spotted a selection of other birds, some familiar to us from Australia, others more unique. Our final stop was the west coast where Margaret was able to show us, amongst other things a great spot for the Masked Booby roosting on the clifftop. A new one for our life list.
12. Visit the Botanic gardens
The botanic garden was gifted to the island by a past resident for all to enjoy. It showcases plants that are endemic to Norfolk Island and provides 5 different walking trails through various sections that range from the Boardwalk that is suitable for wheelchairs and strollers through shady forest and open woodland foliage to the Samson Circuit and Rainforest Gully Circuit that are classed as moderate walks with some steep sections and stairs. None of the walks are long and it’s worth spending a little time enjoying this natural garden oasis.
If you follow the walk around at the entrance you’ll come out on a deck that’s on top of the information centre with a seating area with wonderful views. Bring a drink or a picnic and take some time to appreciate the solitude, like many parts of the island we appeared to have this gorgeous space entirely to ourselves.
13. Walk the tracks of the National Park
Around 10% of the island is dedicated to National Park stretching from the highest peaks to the specatular rocks of the northern coast. There are several roads leading to the start of tracks in various parts. You can drive up to the lookout on Mount Pitt, the 2nd highest peak on Norfolk Island but if you want to make it to Mount Bates, the highest point, a full 2 meter higher in fact, you’re going to need to walk. There are a couple of ways to do it, either park at the lookout and take the Summit track or head back down Mount Pitt Road and take the Mount Bates Track as we did. If you’re a bird enthusiast it’s well worth doing as we spotted green parrots and a variety of other endemic birds along the easy grassed path.
14. Head out for a days fishing
A days fishing, or catching as they call it on the island is easily organised with various tours from the Visitors Centre in town . We had the chance to try local seafood for several meals on the island but unfortunately rough seas beyond the reef and limited time meant we didn’t get out on a fishing boat this time. Definitely something that would be on our list for another visit.
15. See what captured Captain Cook’s attention
The Captain Cook monument is on the north coast. Follow the boardwalk from the carpark for western views towards Duncombe Bay then continue on down to the monument itself and the lookout beyond. On a windy day it can be a bit blustery out on the point but the view from here is fabulous.
The monument marks the landing place of Captain James Cook landed on his second world voyage on 10 October 1774. When you look out from here it’s not hard to see why he declared it “paradise”. If you’re feeling energentic, you’re in the National Park here and the web of National Park Walking tracks all join up but the most logical from here is around the cliff walk to Bird Rock. You start on the Bridle track and take a left back toward the sea onto Bird Rock Track or Red Rock Link Track. It’s steep in parts and can be a bit muddy after rain but there’s a rope to help with the more difficult bits and benches to rest and take in the view along the way.
16. Experience the Cyclorama
Given our interest in unusual art forms we couldn’t leave the island without seeing the Cyclorama, in fact it was literally a last minute exercise as we grabbed a lift back up there after we’d checked in for our flight home, the joys of island life, everything is a little more relaxed. This is the only cyclorama we’ve been to but it’s a form of art that dates back to the 1800’s in Scotland and there are a number of them around the world, both historic and modern. Effectively they’re a continuous mural painted onto a curve of cylindrical surface. The one on Norfolk Island is a modern version of a historic time and was created by two local artists, Sue Draper and Tracey Yager, to tell the story of Norfolk Islands history. It took two years to create, complete with soundtrack and information boards and has an incredibly realistic effect. The detail in each of the tiny characters in the painting is unbelievable.
If you have time you should also stop in to Queen Victoria’s gardens next door or have a bite to eat at the Hilli Cafe and Restaurant which we highly recommend. Read more about our Foodie Favourites on Norfolk island.
17. Join in one of the many events throughout the year
There is a calendar of popular events covering every month of the year with activies covering the range of music, history, food, sport and nature there is something on offer for everyone. Whether you visit in January to watch the outriggers punch through the surf in the Ocean Challenge, in June to celebrate Bounty Day with the many island inhabitants decended from the mutineers, or in November for the Norfolk Island Food Festival or to join in with Bird Week, you are going to find local events to attend.
The visitors bureau is open every day in the middle of town so stop by and say hello, they’ll quickly answer all your questions and tell you whats happening on Norfolk Island.
Norfolk Island Restaurants
Eating on the island was, as always, a big part of our travel experience. Before arriving we hadn’t appreciated the islands commitment to permaculture, the slow food movement and the internationally growing ‘eat local’ trend. Norfolk Islanders and their tourism industry have fully embraced fresh whole food and turned their local produce into an asset.
You’ll find more detail in our article on our fabulous foodie experience on Norfolk Island but we’ll highlight a few great options of where to eat on the island below.
Conveniently located in to heart of town are a number of cafes that make a fabulous breakfast, lunch or coffee stop. We loved the coffee and food selection at The Olive which quickly became our regular. There are friendly staff and plenty of locals here too who were happy to have a chat about life on the island. Just down the road opposite the information centre is the Golden Orb Cafe, their outside seating under the shade of a huge old avocado tree is a perfect spot to relax for a while and enjoy the perfection of local bacon smoked in Norfolk Island pine, this is definitely something you have to try while you’re here.
Local producers on the island also offer some great food experiences, on the north east coast is Two Chimneys Winery where you can stop by for a tasting at the cellar door but we’d highly recommend staying for lunch with one of Noelenes decadent and artistic platters packed full of tasty treats predominantly sourced from her own garden. The Hilli Goat Farm on the other side of the island offers a substantial afternoon tea as part of their tour heavily featuring their delicious organic goats cheese produced on the property.
Looking for an upmarket dinner? Fine dining with quality produce and creative flavour combinations are on offer at Dino at Bumboras. Dean takes the best of what’s available on the island and uses it to create a constantly changing menu in their 1800’s era home. The decor and atmosphere here is fabulous and a big part of your dining experience. More centrally located but equally delicious is the Hilli Restaurant, you can dine here for lunch or dinner, or even sit outsite in their stunning garden for a Devonshire tea during the day.
Norfolk Island Accommodation
You won’t find the big name hotel chains and multi-storey resort complexes on Norfolk Island, nor will you find backpacker hostels and camp grounds. What you will find is a great range of self contained units and apartments, hotels, and holiday homes for rent to suit all price points.
On this trip we stayed at Broad Leaf Villas, it’s fully self contained with everything you need if you choose to self cater and has a deck overlooking the gorgeous garden. There’s a separate kitchenette, lounge area, dining area, bedroom and full bathroom so plenty of room to be comfortable during your stay. The units come with a phone with a $5 credit on just in case you need help during the stay as the manager isn’t on site and ours came packaged with a cute little rental car to get around, you simply return it with a full tank of gas when you’re done. We’d definitely stay there again and recommend it.
If you want to treat yourself to the 5 star experience then the Tin Sheds are the property we have our eye on. A lot more luxe then they sound and a bit on the pricey end but they’ve won a number of awards, the units come packaged with airport transfers, a little convertible Fiat to drive around in, free WIFI and the reviews we’ve read and heard have been excellent.
Interested in other options? Check out a broader range of Norfolk Island accommodation here.
How to get to Norfolk Island
There are really two ways you are likely to arrive on Norfolk Island, either fly or cruise. The island doesn’t have a deep water port suitable for cruise ships which instead anchor offshore and bring visitors onto the island by tender. This would be a fabulous experience but it’s very weather and tide dependent so often cruise passengers only see the Island in passing.
Most people arrive by air, Norfolk Island flights are offered by Air New Zealand out of Sydney, Brisbane and New Zealand. Being located between the two countries it’s around 2.5 hours from Brisbane, Sydney or Christchurch and 1.5 hours from Auckland.
We flew over on the Saturday flight out of Brisbane. After flying exclusively with Air New Zealand for many years of my corporate career I was still impressed (and a little homesick) to be in their lounge and aircraft again. They’ve found the perfect balance between the professionalism needed for passengers to feel trust, and the friendly fun approach of their staff with small touches like their quirky welcome aboard safety video that make it clear this is the Kiwi airline.
Best time to visit Norfolk Island
With its stable sub-tropical climate Norfolk Island is ideal to visit all year round. The island experiences only two main seasons, the wet winter from April through until August and a dry summer from September through until March. Having said that we were there during May and while one day was a little overcast, rain didn’t impede our plans at all.
The water temperature is consistent through most of the year so snorkelling and water based activities aren’t out of the question in winter but you do want to bring some warmer layers especially for the evening.
Our top 5 tips for Visitors
- Rent a car to get around. It’s an easy island to drive and explore on your own, do it at your own pace and have the incredibly scenic beaches and vistas all to yourself. Some accommodation comes packaged with a rental car as ours did but if not it’s easy to arrange a rental in town for a day or the duration of your trip.
- Norfolk Island is part of Australia, it uses Australian currency, power plugs and you drive on the left. It is however a Pacific Island paradise with it’s own culture and history and it’s that uniqueness that makes it special.
- The Island doesn’t have GST (tax) so you can use the Tax Refund Scheme as you leave Australia on any qualifying purchases you are travelling with such as recently purchased electronics and photographic equipment.
- Internet coverage is very limited on the Island and we didn’t find any that was free. It’s a great opportunity to unplug for a few days but if like me you get a little twitchy with no connectivity you can buy data cards to use. At $5 an hour and probably with significantly slower download speeds than you are used to, you may still find you need to ration your social media usage during your stay. Put the phone down and take it all in.
- Allow yourself a few more days than you think you need, for a tiny island there is heck of a lot to do here and you want to relax into island time and do it all without having to rush.
If you have any questions we’d love to answer them, let us know in the comments below. If you’ve been to Norfolk Island what did you enjoy most about it?
Our sincere thanks to Norfolk Island tourism for arranging our visit. As always all opinions, experiences and photography are our own.