It’s holiday time, somewhere nice where I can hike and surf and do lots of fun stuff, but not a resort please. I hate resorts. I’m not too keen on the tourism industry full stop; it seems to generally lack imagination creating “artificial packages” rather than real experiences, places where the only change is the nationality of the person serving the VB. Come to Bali and eat Aussie style food. No thanks, but I digress.
We looked at various places, trying to find one that suited. My wife wanted to snorkel and maybe try scuba diving; I wanted to hike a little as well. We eventually decided on Lord Howe Island only two hours on a bus with wings somewhere to the east of Australia. Lord Howe does have resorts offering “a civilised, stylish and sophisticated escape”, but we opted for something a bit simpler, maybe even uncivilised. (We did talk with one person who was staying at one of the more civilised resorts. They were out jogging but stopped to chat. The first question was “Are you staying at xxx?” and proceeded tell us how wonderful xxx was and “why would anyone want to stay anywhere else”. We politely explained that the reason we were here was to experience the island, not a plunge pool.)
Our first encounter with wildlife was paddling around the beach near our accommodation. There are special turtle tours you can book but we just waded out to where the water was knee deep and had a couple of turtles swimming around us and no-one else around. They were there every day, munching on the seagrass.
We hiked over various ridges and hills and climbed half way up one of the island’s two big mountains. The walk was steep but rewarding. We ate our lunch in a cave watching Red-tailed Tropic birds wheeling around. All the island’s walks had great views and none were too hard, although we didn’t climb Mt Gower, the island’s highest peak and hardest trek. Mt Gower can only be climbed as part of a guided tour, is longish, steep and apparently quite tiring. Sadly, having leukaemia means that my energy levels sag rather easily and big climbs aren’t on the agenda unless I can set my own pace.
I did, however, get permission from my haematologist to saturate my cancerous blood with nitrogen by going scuba diving. This first involved a lesson in breathing underwater. Before we could get in the water we had to watch a video, answer some questions and show we had learnt a couple of basic techniques. We were supposed to demonstrate the techniques again in shallow water but the tide was out so we went straight to the dive site, off the boat and dived down about four metres to the bottom. Then the test: 1) clear the mask of water, 2) remove the breathing thing from your mouth and then put it back and 3) remove and let go of the breathing thing, then find the breathing thing and put it back in your mouth. The reason this is normally done in shallow water is so that if something goes wrong you can just stand up and breathe. This was not an option.
It was quite a weird sensation. I had a momentary feeling of “Oh, $&@#” but concentrated on watching a passing fish until I relaxed. After passing the test we cruised along the reef, checking out the coral and wildlife. “Oh look, a shark” and “Ah, a stingray. Isn’t this how Steve Irwin died?” and so on, except you can’t actually talk to anyone, only make hand signals.
An interesting part of scuba diving is buoyancy. You have lead weights to make you sink and a vest you can pump air into to make you float. The idea is to neither sink nor float but remain at the depth you want to be at – that is, have neutral buoyancy. The interesting part is that if you go below that depth you have negative buoyancy and start sinking, you go above it and you have positive buoyancy and start rising. And if you start sinking or rising, you become less or more buoyant and start sinking or rising even quicker, becoming even less or more buoyant and sinking or rising even quicker still. My buoyancy quickly became bounce-ancy as I went up and down from stuck on the bottom to breaking the surface. The other interesting thing is the pressure change that happens with every bounce and if you forget to equalise… Probably why I ended up with a blood nose! I did, however, finally manage to control my depth and had a hoot of a time.
We returned to the same reef a day or two later for a snorkel, which was also wonderful, though I think I preferred diving and seeing the reef from other angles, not just from above.
I missed out on a surf – it was a small plane and I didn’t want to cart the board over for what would probably be only one session in the waves. I did ride my bike to one of the surf beaches (bikes are the preferred means of transport on the island) and felt that I didn’t miss much although the place looked like it would turn on some good, uncrowded waves.
Overall, a fantastic spot. And maybe one day I’ll get back there to catch a wave and climb that mountain.