Our last full day on Lord Howe Island dawned clear and calm with a cloudless blue sky. We had decided to do the Chase ‘n’ Thyme tour with Peter Phillipps who collected us outside the Broken Banyan in his little tour bus.
Peter had the gift of the gab and told rather bad jokes, including how the tour company got its name – a play on words where time stands still on Lord Howe. His wife could trace her ancestors back to one of the earliest settlers, Nathan Chase Thompson, who originally grew vegetables – and no doubt herbs, including thyme.
At Pinetrees, the most exclusive resort on the island we picked up Sarah and Eugene, among others along the way. In the spirit of friendly conversation I asked Sarah how was her experience of Cyclone Uesi. Well! Apparently a tree had fallen on Sarah and Eugene’s cabin penetrating the ceiling, so that the plaster fell on Sarah in bed at 1am in the morning. She was obviously still very shocked and distressed, saying how awful it was having plaster in her hair and face in the dark as the storm continued unabated.
Amazingly the cyclone had blown the clouds off Mt Lidgbird and Mt Gower and the sparkling morning revealed the majestic mountains in all their glory. Several waterfalls could be seen plummeting down Mt Gower’s steep cliff faces. The climb to the summit of the flat topped mountain takes about 8 hours return and considered a hard climb but a reward is experiencing the cloud forest on the summit. We had a superb view from the Golf Club.
This was followed by a visit to the weather station to watch the daily weather balloon be launched 30km into the air. The station is part of the Global Upper Air Network which collects data on temperature, air pressure, humidity and wind speed and send this to the Bureau of Meteorology in Melbourne and other GUAN sites around the world. No wonder we had such accurate info about Cyclone Uesi!
Peter is an aviation enthusiast so he took us to the northern part of the island where a Catalina Flying Boat crashed into Mt Malabar and a propeller forms a memorial to the 7 people killed. We also passed the jetty, where the supply ship from Port Macquarie still docks every 2 weeks. This is where we would have landed on the island in 1960, when our family visited Lord Howe Island. Flying Boats took off from Rose Bay in Sydney, like lumbering pelicans and flew across the Tasman to land in the Lord Howe Island lagoon. Passengers were then transported by the little craft called the Albatross to the jetty. I remember this trip vividly – being very excited as we took off from Sydney but terrified we would die as we landed in the lagoon, with the water ripping the undercarriage, the waves crashing against the Catalina windows. The photo below shows my parents standing on the right, a honeymoon couple in the centre and the very staid holiday clothes worn 50 years ago – my sister and I in plaid skirt and jacket.
In the 1960’s Lord Howe was being promoted as a very exotic tourist location. No holidays to Bali or Fiji then. We were greeted and farewelled with leis, we could buy pandanus woven baskets and hats and we were introduced to tropical plants like hibiscus, frangipani, ferns and the Kentia palm. Every evening at Pinetrees there would be entertainment – either a band or someone playing the pianola. It was the holiday that sparked my adventuring travel spirit.
Peter having completed his tour, invited us back to his home for morning tea, where the lovely Janine served muffins and tea or coffee in their beautiful tropical garden. Janine not only traces her ancestry back to Nathan Chase Thompson but also his wife, a Gilbert (Kiribati) Islander from Abemama. Peter was keen to promote his book ‘The Flying Boat Days’ and took us through the history of flying on Lord Howe from Sir Francis Chichester who landed in the lagoon in 1931 in a Gypsy Moth with floats, through the building of an airstrip in the second World War until in 1974 the airstrip was safely sealed enough to handle commercial flights. His book is a testament to the skill of pilots before sophisticated technology appeared.
After lunch we decided to finish our holiday around at Ned’s Beach where we could feed the fish and have a last snorkel. The wind had whipped up the waves and the swell made it a little difficult to get flippers on but we succeeded in seeing Lord Howe Island at its tropical best. I was even asked whether I had “Come off a board” by a woman who was obviously a surfer. I had forgotten all about my rather spectacular iPhone bruise!
Returning our bikes we sighted a wood pigeon preening itself in the bushes.
Barbara returned us to the airport the next morning under an equally cloudless sky and warned us, that as there was no wind the aircraft might not be able to take off with all our luggage on board! We did however take off and watched the lagoon disappear with renewed respect.