Destination NSW
Become one with the ocean at Lord Howe Island. | Photo courtesy of Destination NSW
Become one with the ocean at Lord Howe Island. | Photo courtesy of Destination NSW

Find Your Paradise on This Remote Australian Island

Lord Howe Island offers so much more than fun in the sun.

Adjusting my mask and snorkel, I slipped down into the water, gently kicking my fins to propel myself above multitudes of coral as brightly colored fish like doubleheader wrasse and bluefish swam by. The protected waters around Lord Howe Island are home to approximately 500 species of fish and over 90 species of coral, and I wanted to see as many as I could. Later, peering down through a glass-bottomed boat, I watched in awe as massive turtles swam right underneath the vessel, providing yet another glimpse into this underwater wonderland.

During my time on Lord Howe Island, just a two-hour flight from Sydney, I strolled white sand beaches, enjoyed carefully curated beachfront picnics, scaled mountains, and kayaked above luminous coral forests, peering down for a birds-eye view of the splendor. I was one of only 400 visitors allowed on Lord Howe Island each day, itself home to a mere 445 residents, so despite the destination’s incredible allure, it never once felt crowded.

Destination NSW
Lord Howe Island’s distinctive topography is a major part of its charm. | Photo courtesy of Destination NSW

Biodiversity enthusiasts will especially appreciate this slice of UNESCO World Heritage paradise, as it’s surrounded by a protected marine park with 70% of the island dedicated as a Permanent Park Preserve. It’s also teeming with endemic species totally unique to Lord Howe’s ecosystem. Nearly half of the island’s 241 indigenous plant species, including the coveted Kentia Palm, fit in this category, while 60% of the island’s 1,600 terrestrial insects are found nowhere else, including its most famous insect—the Lord Howe Island Phasmid. This approximately five-inch-long giant stick insect was long thought to be extinct, but in 2001, it was found on Ball’s Pyramid, the world’s tallest sea stack at over 1,800 feet, located about 14 miles southeast of Lord Howe Island.

Destination NSW
Cars—who needs them? | Photo courtesy of Destination NSW

Bugs aside, visitors of all kinds will find plenty of opportunities to snorkel, dive, kayak, SUP, relax on the beach, hike, birdwatch, golf, and explore. Cycling is a popular way to get around this small island, which has few cars—another plus when it comes to respecting the environment and getting some much needed rest and relaxation.

Mark Fitzpatrick
Get up close and personal with the ocean’s depths. | Photo by Mark Fitzpatrick, courtesy of Destination NSW

Snorkel, dive, kayak, and SUP to your heart’s content

It wouldn’t be an island adventure without water activities galore. Go snorkeling, diving, kayaking, or SUPing, take a glass-bottomed boat ride, hop aboard a sunset lagoon cruise, sun yourself on the beach, or sign up for a scenic summer flight for a view from above.

Ned’s Beach is a special spot where you can hand-feed garfish, silver-drummer, kingfish, and more. Fish food and snorkeling gear rentals are available at the beach—just remember to bring coins for the honor system box. Old Settlement Beach and the Lagoon are also great spots for kayaking and SUPing, with rentals available from onsite boat sheds.

Jordan Robins
The deeper the dive, the more dazzling the underwater discoveries. | Photo by Jordan Robins, courtesy of Destination NSW

Some of the island’s most captivating sights lurk a bit further offshore, so hitch a ride on a glass-bottomed snorkeling tour with a trained guide courtesy of operators like Environmental Tours, Marine Adventures, and Islander Cruises. And to venture even further out, make the trip out to Ball’s Pyramid, the world’s tallest sea stack and a beloved location for spotting fish like violet sweep, amberjack, rainbow runners, and even ballina angelfish. Around 60 dive sites beckon swimmers within a relatively short distance from Lord Howe Island, so you’ll have plenty of options.

Destination NSW
If you thought the water was invigorating, wait for the land. | Photo courtesy of Destination NSW

Stretch your legs on a scenic hike

Explore Lord Howe Island on foot via a number of different hikes and walks traipsing through the island’s mountains, forests, and ocean vistas, from a boardwalk stroll along Old Gulch to a rockier and steeper trek up Mt. Eliza. A more strenuous climb takes visitors to Malabar Hill, dotted with cliffs that provide habitat for nesting birds. There, you might be able to sneak a peek at red-tailed tropicbirds performing their courting rituals—birdwatching is big on the island, with 200 species and counting flocking to Lord Howe’s shores, so be sure to pack your binoculars. Still not satisfied? Sure-footed hikers can challenge themselves with a guided excursion up 2,870-foot-tall Mt. Gower, a rope-assisted journey that takes about eight hours to complete and covers around nine miles of soaring trails.

Lord Howe
Get your wellness fix with a beachfront yoga class. | Lord Howe Yoga

Find your zen

Performing sun salutations on a bluff overlooking the ocean with 360-degree views of the crashing waves below? Yes, please. Join Lord Howe Yoga to center yourself in nature’s abundance with public classes or private sessions. Afterwards, wind down with a massage, aromatherapy, or other offerings from a variety of service providers and spas on the island.

Lord Howe
Sunsets never tasted so good. | Love Lord Howe

Party it up on the beach

The island life is all about the outdoors, and a fancy beach picnic or a DIY barbecue is the perfect way to dine al fresco. Love Lord Howe prepares perfect picnics complete with delectable eats like an assortment of cheeses, crackers, dips, fruits, and more, along with a Champagne toast and other refreshing beverages. The lavish setup includes low tables, cushions, rugs, decorations, and everything else you’ll need, from lawn games to sunscreen. You can also choose to pack your own supplies and head to one of the local beaches for a laid-back meal in the sand, or claim a communal beach barbecue station and grill up some local seafood.

Saddle up for the freshest seafood in town at newcomer Driftwood. | Driftwood Bar & Restaurant

Get your fill at tasty bars and restaurants

Fancy an indoor feast? Dig into a number of delicious dining options on the island, including the newest addition to the restaurant scene, Driftwood Bar & Restaurant, which just opened in October and focuses on Asian fusion creations. Elsewhere, Lord Howe Island Brewery serves up wood-fired pizzas, smoked brisket, salads, and more alongside beer brewed right on the island. Lord Howe Island Golf Club’s Sunset Bar and Grill is an ideal place to eat after a game of golf, and plenty of spirited fun awaits over at Lord Howe Island Distilling Company. Upmarket Anchorage Restaurant has you covered near Lagoon Beach, while Coral Cafe, located at the island’s museum and visitor center, offers casual bites alongside fascinating historical and cultural exhibits.

Arajilla Retreat
It doesn’t get much more romantic than this. | Arajilla Retreat, Lord Howe Island, Australia

Kick back at cozy guesthouses and luxe resorts

Accommodations run the gamut on Lord Howe Island, including everything from small guesthouses and Airbnb-style rentals to world-renown properties fit for pampering. Self-catered options include Lagoon Landing and Bowker Beach House, both perfect for couples seeking a touch of independence, while families gravitate toward Somerset Apartments. Luxury getaways include Arajilla Retreat, known for its tranquil, lush grounds replete with banyan trees and Kentia palms just steps from the beach. Another upscale pick, Island House features two modern eight-person houses, each equipped with libraries, high-end kitchens, and top-of-the-line outdoor adventure gear.

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Kristen Pope is a contributor for Thrillist.