With a tiny population of 1500 calling approximately 35km2 of rolling land home, Norfolk Island is a drop of serenity in the Pacific. A territory of Australia – its autonomy was snatched by the Australian government on July 1 and is currently being contested – picture-perfect Norfolk is an easy two-hour flight east of Sydney or Brisbane. With a pleasant subtropical climate, spectacular coastal views, beaches and forests, it’s the ideal place to relax and enjoy the laid-back pace of island life. Think of it as a country town – only in the middle of the ocean. A former penal colony, its Kingston and Arthurs Vale Historic Area has World Heritage listing, with well-documented history in the museums around the pier and along Quality Row, a tree-lined street of perfectly preserved Georgian colonial houses. Headstones of executed convicts, first settlers and mutiny descendants can be found in the cemetery facing the ocean at aptly named Cemetery Bay. History is one of the main reasons visitors are drawn to Norfolk, along with adventure activities. But now a paddock-to-plate sensibility is emerging with local producers and operators jumping on board.
Keeping it local
The food culture may not be as progressive as on the mainland, but Norfolk leads the charge when it comes to local produce – 99 per cent of all fresh produce is from the island. A good place to start any culinary explorations is at Binky Macrea’s Island Nectar, the only place on Norfolk to get fresh fruit, vegetable juices and smoothies. Order a picnic hamper of delicious island produce before any outdoor adventure.
Arguably my highlight was a trip to Hilli Goat Farm, where cheesemonger Emily Ryves took us for a tour of her property to visit playful goats, see how she makes cheese, then taste her creations while on the terrace overlooking Anson Bay. Ryves left the island with a dream of becoming a cheesemaker. She trained with Carla and Ann Marie at renowned Holy Goat in Victoria, then returned to Norfolk to establish herself at the forefront of artisanal food production on the island.
Around the corner is Bedrock Tea Gardens, a clifftop café set in a divine garden over Duncombe Bay. Owner Heidi cooks simple, rustic food for lunch, and if you’ve come with a hearty appetite, opt for the extravagant fish feast. Heidi bakes a cake and fruit tart each day to have with tea, and she also happens to be gifted in intuitive therapeutic massage. A stop here is an essential Norfolk experience.
A visit to Bigg Farm (by prior arrangement through the Norfolk Island Tourism Office) ticked all the right boxes, too. Farmer Matt Bigg and his wife Suzie took us on a walking tour of their estate, preparing pizza in their alfresco wood-fired oven after our wander. A showcase of seasonal fruit and vegetables, the farm is a garden lover’s paradise. Albeit petite in size, the Saturday morning Farmers’ Market shows off the island’s best produce. Matt Bigg and farmer Lou Evans sell piles of fruit and vegetables alongside fresh-packed and smoked fish from Matt’s brother, Dave Bigg. Dave takes his boat amberjack fishing off nearby Phillip Island, where the water is packed with tuna, kingfish, salmon, trumpeter, trevally and sweetlip, making it impossible to come back empty-handed. The islanders share a strong bond with the ocean and their boats, so fishing is more than recreation – it is an essential part of their daily life.
The Farmers’ Market is a great place to sample pork cuts, ham and smoked bacon, also from Evans. Zach Sanders (Emily’s husband) mans the stall for Hilli Goat with an esky full of Ryves’ fresh cheese and curd plus her range of skincare products.
A taste of honey
There’s also Norfolk honey from Steve Nobbs’ beehives. Kirk Menghetti, the forager, presses fresh tangelo juice, has a pot of hot chai simmering away and assembles breakfast rolls to order from his van. It’s worth the early start to stock up – organic, wholesome and delicious. With advance notice through the Visitor’s Centre, we booked to have local chef Joel Trestor cook us a private barbecue dinner at our accommodation –
I can’t recommend it highly enough. Prime cuts of meat, seafood and chicken were cooked to perfection, with a deliciously wobbly passionfruit panna cotta to finish.
All we had to do was visit Two Chimneys, Norfolk’s only winery, earlier for a wine tasting and to choose our favourites. For an evening out, head to the Jolly Roger, the one bar with live music and a lively atmosphere – great for mixing with locals.
Next morning, nose to the ground, we sniff out the best coffee at The Olive. Owner Naomi’s menu covers a broad range of reliable homestyle dishes, while Blue Bull Café offers a true paddock-to-plate experience. Dishing up a taste of Norfolk blue beef – a pure breed exclusive to the island, with cattle raised at 100 Acre Farm by local powerhouse Robyn and husband Jack Menghetti, the only breeders in the world of these heritage cattle – the café serves up a mean beef burger, alongside prime cuts with salad and chips. Worth the two-hour flight on its own.
When visiting Norfolk, keep in mind that there is no free wi-fi or 4G availability. Data roaming does not work. The only option is to purchase a card from a newsagency or tourism office to get access to wi-fi hotspots around the island.
Trading hours for shops are shorter than the mainland – a stroll down the main street on Saturday afternoon or Sunday is quiet indeed.
Norfolk Island Tourism has established a full calendar of festivals, including the annual Taste Norfolk Festival in November.
For more information about travelling to Norfolk Island, visit norfolkisland.com.au. To book your trip, call Oxley Travel on 1800 671 546.
Air New Zealand flies directly from Sydney or Brisbane to Norfolk; passports are required. airnewzealand.co.nz.