CAPELLA LODGE, LORD HOWE ISLAND
By Rhiannon Taylor, April 2016
Two hours out from Sydney on a Dash 8 Qantaslink flight, the captain announces "I've just been told over the radio it's not a beautiful day on Lord Howe Island, its a marvellous day!". At that moment, peaking through the haze, a spit of land reveals itself out of nowhere. A quick circle and we're landing over some of the most vivid coral I've ever seen visible from the sky.
Within moments, hosts Mark and Libby are whisking us off to Capella Lodge. It's only a few kilometres down the road but with only a maximum speed of 25km p/h allowed, I've got sufficient time to catch up on the gossip. No, there is no cell phone reception on the island. Yes, we have satellite internet but forget streaming Netflix. Ok, time to switch off.
Hidden behind wild palm trees and shrubbery, Capella Lodge is discreetly tucked in to the hillside on the southern end of Lord Howe Island. Greeted with the lodge's signature iced tea, I head out to the terrace where day beds and a plunge pool sit in front of jaw dropping views of twin peaks Mt Lidgbird and Mt Gower.
Checking in to my room, The Lidgbird Pavillion, I'm met with off-grid luxury. Bleached timber decking wraps around the two-storey loft and beneath the dappled light of a frangipani tree lies a deep outdoor tub and rainshower. There's plush lounging with fabulous views and a warm plunge pool to soak aching bodies after a day of hiking.
Inside, welcome cookies beckon along with an open mini-bar stocked full of chocolates, nut mixes, coconut water, wine, beer and sparkling. I make myself a cup of tea from the artisan selection (T-Bar), plug my ipod in to the Bang & Olufsen sound system and melt in to the lounger for some serious chill time.
After a breakfast spread of fruit and baked eggs, I hop in to my buggy (included with the Lidgbird Pavillion). It's easy to navigate from one end of the island to the other, nodding and waving to passers by. Lord Howe Island became World Heritage Listed in the early 80's and there's a maximum of 400 people allowed on island at any one time. It creates an other worldly, post-apocalyptic feel, where there's an unspoken respect for the land, it's life and sacredness.
I spend my first afternoon doing the dreaded hike to Goat House. It's a 3 hour, category 4 climb, with ropes to assist the steep vertical rocks. It's incredibly difficult but the views back over the island are worth it. A sneaky trek around the corner and Ball's Pyramid becomes visible - a volcanic formation that is home to once thought extinct insect species.
Back at the lodge, I'm famished and eagerly anticipate Capella Lodge's daily sunset drinks and canapes. Served in your room or on request packed up as a picnic to be enjoyed nearby at Lovers Bay, mini salmon sliders, cod croquettes and a glass of Tasmanian Riesling hits the spot before dinner.
From 6pm the bar is open and staff can pour you a glass of wine from the lodge's selection or whip up cocktail. If you're game, ask for the Navy Strength Gin from their specialty gin bar.
The food at Capella Lodge really focuses on what is fresh around the island. Seafood features heavily, with some of the fish caught by the chef himself. Tuesday is degustation night and features 6 courses paired with matching wines. Perfectly sized portions of silken pumpkin risotto and tender Spatchcock are simple and delicious. The standout comes in the form of kingfish sashimi with citrus and radish which is incredibly fresh and clean.
A classic menu is on hand for those wanting something a bit more traditional. A simple pasta, steak and sides of greens and chips were great for a low key night of deck dining in my room.
If you're out exploring for the day, the lodge can pack a hamper lunch with baguettes and snacks. Snorkel gear, backpacks, water bottles and beach towels are available at reception and you're ready for a day of uninterrupted bliss at Ned's Beach.
It's at Ned's Beach where I realise why it's so hard to get to Lord Howe Island (flight's aren't cheap and are booked months in advance). It's untouched, pristine paradise. A few steps in to the turquoise water and I'm surrounded by curious, unafraid fish in a variety of species. They're hopeful for some food and they're in schools of hundreds!
A short snorkel out and I'm gliding over Australia's southern most coral reef, which is bursting with colour and life. The visibility is near 100% and I soon stumble upon a baby turtle. I follow it's journey at a distance for quite some time before I realise I've ended up out at sea. A quick paddle in and I join Capella Lodge's marine biologist for an informative reef walk.
At high tide, giant turtles venture in to shore at Old Settlement Beach. They're incredibly approachable and even give me gentle nudge in hope of a nibble. It's a magical experience to be connected with sea creatures that have no fear of humans.
Giving unexpected thrills, the bird watching on Lord Howe Island is some of Australia's finest. With over 130 recorded species, the island is home to woodhens, red-tailed tropicbirds and shearwaters. Most spectacular is the rare providence petrel, which nests in the southern mountains and can be called out of the air, swooping down to land at your feet!
Back in my room, I've succumbed to the remoteness of the island. My emails sit unread for days and I've all but forgotten the mainland. My four days on Lord Howe Island flew by and I didn't even scratch the surface. I learn many of the other guests at Capella Lodge are on their second or third visit.
A quiet prayer to the wind gods goes unnoticed and my plane takes off as scheduled. Yes, it's another marvellous day on Lord Howe Island.
FEEL: Off-grid luxury.
ROOM PICK: Any but if you splurge for the Lidgbird Pavillion you get a plunge pool and the use of a golf buggy.
WIFI: Yes, but very patchy.
RATES: The Capella Suite starts at $750 per person, per night twin share. The Lidgbird Pavillion is $1400 per person, per night twin share. Cool season and fly free packages are currently available. http://lordhowe.com/packages
IN ROOM: King bed, writing desk, open mini bar, walk in robe, deep bath tub with bath salts, Australian made body products for the lodge, rain shower, double sinks, turn down service, Bang & Olufsen television and sound system.
GETTING THERE: QantasLink operates up to 11 return flights per week between Sydney and Lord Howe Island, as well as direct flights from Brisbane and Port Macquarie on certain days. For more information, flight times and fares visit www.qantas.com
I travelled and stayed as a guest of Capella Lodge.