Monday, January 2, 2012

Christmas on the Corral Reef

Christmas in summer.  Such a weird feeling.  My head still can't get around the flip in seasons.  Instead of feeling homesick and missing the snowy mountains of Boulder, we decided to treat ourselves to a tropical island getaway this Christmas. We packed up our swimsuits and flip flops (thongs as they are called here in Australia, but I will never be able to call them that), and headed to Lord Howe Island.
We took this photo on the last day of our trip - the only sunny day!
Lord Howe Island is a gorgeous little dollop of land, located 370 miles out into the Tasman Sea.  The island is a World Heritage Site, renowned for its coral reefs and mostly untouched forest where several endangered species of bird, plant and insect live.  The conservation board only allows 400 guests on the island at a time.  (We booked our trip quite late and as a result, we had to stay in three different lodges over the course of our visit.)

Even though it rained almost the whole time we were there, that didn't stop us from snorkeling every day.  The coral reefs were beautiful and we must have seen over 100 species of fish.

My favorite was the Blue Staghorn corral.

And the butterflyfish. :)

We also swam with the sea turtles at Old Settlement Beach.


video embedded above, click on post to see

Okay, so even though Lord Howe Island is located in the East Australian Current, it wasn't quite like swimming with the sea turtles in "Finding Nemo."  It was more like this:

One of the more popular beaches on the island is Ned's Beach. At Ned's Beach, people are allowed to feed bread to the fish. As a result of the constant feeding, all sorts of fish swim right up to the shoreline, even massive ones such as Kingfish and Spangled Emperorfish .  Here are some pictures of the feeding frenzy.

We gave the blue one, the Green-blocked Wrasse, the name "Pudge" because he was so chubby and obviously well-fed.  (See video clip below for an explanation of the nickname.)  
video embedded above, click on post to see
 
We didn't rent a car or bikes while we were there because, at 7 miles long, the island is easily walkable.  During the course of the week, we traversed pretty much every path on the island.
Drew stands on the fence crossing in his Santa hat.  These clever staircases were on cow pasture fences all over the island, allowing hikers easy access to the trails while keeping cows in their fields.  Mandy stands in the middle of the stilt roots of a Walking Palm tree.
The Santa hat garnered us several "G'days!" from young and old alike.  I am 99% sure that it was the hat that encouraged a family in a large van to offer us a ride back into the village on Christmas Day.  Since we were tired from a full day of hiking and snorkeling, the ride was much appreciated.  The family was very friendly and we spent the ride sharing stories about Christmas traditions from home.  Lamb is the meat of choice in Australia for Christmas Day lunch, in case you were wondering.

Speaking of hospitality, the island is one-of-a-kind in that regard. When we arrived at our lodge, the owner gave us a rundown of the facilities and then as he turned to walk away, I called out to him and asked if he had a key for us.  He grinned, standing there in his bare feet, and said, "No keys.  The island is a friendly place and everyone leaves their doors open."  He then offered to lock up anything valuable for us in the main house if we needed, but his bemused look showed that no one ever took him up on that offer.  We encountered similar attitudes at other places, including the Ned's Beach Gear Hire* Shed.  The shed which was open and unmanned all day had glass bottom spyboards, beach umbrellas, snorkeling gear, and wetsuits for rent and an "honesty box" to drop your money into when you paid.

We were also lucky enough to be able to stay at Pinetrees Lodge one night.  Pinetrees is a family run lodge that made me feel like I was living in the 60s, vacationing at a swank resort in the Hamptons.  As I mentioned, we were only there one night, but every staff member that we encountered knew our names.  Meals were included in our stay, and we were treated to a 3 course dinner the night we were there.  (Had we been there on a Friday night, the dinner would have been 4 courses and it would have started with canapes and cocktails at the boatshed on the beach.)
Frangipani flowers 
These grew all over the island and each lodge we stayed in had a few blooms beautifully arranged with red & pink hibiscus flowers.

Despite a mostly cloudy, rainy, and windy week, we managed to find a few rays of sunshine and thoroughly enjoyed our island Christmas.  Best of all, our underwater camera held up through the entire trip even though it was a couple of years old. We enjoyed snorkeling so much that we've started talking about taking scuba diving lessons.  Perhaps that will be our next Christmas-In-Summer holiday**!

Stay tuned for a second post with more photos of the marine life that we encountered.


*You don't "rent" anything in Australia.  Instead, you "hire" gear or services and you "lease" apartments.

**As if our accents didn't already give us away, we were easily identified as Americans whenever we said vacation or vacationing.  In Australia (and much of Europe), you go on holiday.

3 comments:

  1. I am glad you had a good trip- I can't imagine a world where you don't lock things up! I want it though. Merry christmas friend.

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  2. Absolutely amazing photos! It sounds like an incredible "holiday"--and maybe even reminiscent of Ocracoke as far as the local vibe (though no reefs like that on the outer banks)! Love the Santa hat, too.

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  3. Ditto the other comments, looks like a fabulous holiday. And the pictures of the surf board shop (?) do remind me a bit of Ocracoke. *sigh*

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