If you’re wondering what are the best things to do in Norfolk Island in Australia, our new expat writer, Teresa Lee is sharing everything she learnt from her recent trip to this hidden gem!
As a physiotherapist originally from Hong Kong, Teresa has been living in Sydney for most of her life with her husband and two kids. She loves sharing her travel reviews and has knocked up nearly 300 reviews on Trip Advisor at the time of writing!
Luckily for us, Teresa is sharing a comprehensive Norfolk Island guide which includes how to get to Norfolk Island, Norfolk Island accommodation, where to eat and of course the best things to do in Norfolk Island!
You’d be forgiven to have never heard of Norfolk Island. This is a gem of a holiday destination, located within easy reach of Australia and New Zealand! With many qualities to boast, expect picture-perfect coastlines, deep history and interesting locals, to name a few. It is easy to understand why it is a popular tourist destination. Plus, it’s a tax free island, so you can use the Tax Refund Scheme before you jump on your flight!
At the airport departure lounge in Sydney, my tween girls rightly pointed out that the average age of fellow travellers to Norfolk Island appeared to be 70 and over. The truth is that Norfolk Island remains an undiscovered paradise for many people, making it a worthy place to visit for those looking to holiday close to Australia, but outside of the domestic states.
Personally, we chose to go to Norfolk Island because we were seeking a place with safe snorkelling directly off the beach and Emily Bay on Norfolk Island fitted the bill.
Whether you are a young’un or an oldie, Norfolk Island deserves to be seen at a relaxed pace. Be prepared to step back 30 years in time, where no one locks their cars or houses, and service attendants fill your car with petrol. Depending on your interest, I would recommend a minimum of 4 to 7 days on the island to fully appreciate its beauty and history.
Where Is Norfolk Island?
Unsure where Norfolk Island is? Located off the East Coast Of Australia, it is roughly in line in latitude with Byron Bay and sits around 1400km east of the Australian coast, between New Zealand and New Caledonia. Lord Howe Island is just 900 km from Norfolk Island but is located closer to the Australian mainland.
How To Get To Norfolk Island
Norfolk Island is an Australian Territory in the middle of the Pacific Ocean. The island was managed by the NSW government although Queensland is set to take over to provide services for the 2,000 residents. Passports are recommended, but are not compulsory for entry to Norfolk Island, so you can just use your Australian drivers’ license as a form of entry identification.
If you’re wondering how many flights to Norfolk Island there is a week, Qantas flies three times per week from both Sydney and Brisbane. The flight is on a large Boeing 737 and the flight duration is around 2 hours and 30 minutes.
Just a warning, visitors to Norfolk Island need to complete a covid declaration online 24 to 48 hours prior to travel. Australians can currently travel to Norfolk without the need to quarantine on the island or on arrival back home.
Do You Need To Hire A Car On Norfolk Island?
Norfolk Island is pretty small but it’s worth hiring a car to drive around the island. As it’s only 8km by 6km, nowhere will take you more than 15 minutes to drive around this little slice of paradise. This is a great option if you’re not interested in doing any tours around the island.
Norfolk Island is a UNESCO World Heritage site with convict buildings and a past you’ll be fascinated to learn about. It’s also home to beautiful untouched beaches, reef-protected waters, rolling hills and national parks you could spend days hiking in. Here are the best things to do in Norfolk Island.
1. Swim And Snorkel At Emily Bay
Emily Bay in Norfolk Island is a magical place for snorkelling and swimming! The water is mostly calm as it is protected by the coral reef at the entrance to the bay. Make sure you bring your flippers and snorkels to fully enjoy the marine life under the clear water. The coral and fishes looked healthy and on par with what is found in Fiji and Vanuatu.
For avid snorkelers, follow the reef around to Slaughter Bay if the water is calm. Bring your waterproof camera for that Instagram-worthy shot of yourself and your loved ones on the pontoon in the middle of Emily Bay.
We holidayed in mid-late April and wore our short-arm wet suits for comfort. Just a word of advice – snorkelling is best at Emily Bay at low tide. Make sure you check the Bureau of Meteorology website for tide and swell information. Glass-bottom boat tours are also an available and fun experience!
2. Enjoy A Scenic Walk In Hundred Acres Reserve
Whilst there are plenty of Norfolk Island walks to consider, The Norfolk Island scenic walk in Hundred Acres Reserve is a must! This is an easy 40min loop walk through a beautiful forest that takes you to the cliff face over the water’s edge. Just a word of warning, stick to the path to avoid accidentally falling into mutton bird nesting holes!
Explore the woods for birdlife or have a picnic at the clearing in the middle of the woods. There is one steep hill on the way back (if you have kept the ocean on your right) as you walk past an impressive Moreton Bay Fig with the biggest roots I have ever seen.
3. Soak In The Views At Captain Cook Lookout & Monument
Panoramic views of the coastline can be found at the Captain Cook Lookout in Norfolk Island! I was taken aback by the enormity of the ocean from this lookout, it’s an amazing sight to be seen! For eager photographers, late afternoon light and sunset offer the best times for capturing the perfect landscape shot.
There is an excellent, moderate to hard walk that starts from the lookout, following the Red Road Link Track to Bird Rock. It is an invigorating walk that provides fabulous coastline views. We retraced our same path back to where we left our car at the Captain Cook lookout. Stopping frequently for photos, the walk duration was around 1.5hrs and just under 5km return.
If you are into hiking, try out the other Norfolk Island National Park tracks of varying difficulty. Don’t worry, the tracks are well sign-posted! In fact, I have to say the tracks in Norfolk Island National Park are better maintained than a lot of the other parks I have been to in Australia.
Mount Pitt in Norfolk Island is the second highest peak, providing great views of the island including the airstrip and town. You can easily walk along the summit to Mount Bates which is only one metre higher but has obstructed views. The summit track connects with other Norfolk Island National Park tracks if you wish to extend your walk. We turned back after Mount Bates as my kids and husband were complaining about the steepness of the track. Pffft!
5. Join A Norfolk Island Tour
There are loads of Norfolk Island tours to consider with either Pinetree or Baunti Tours. They both offer an interesting array of tours that range from progressive dinners to birdwatching and cemetery tours. If you are keen on ocean fishing, consider joining a tour with Charter Marine as you are bound to catch more than enough for dinner.
You may also have a free half-day tour included as part of your accommodation. Our half-day tour on the day after our arrival gave an excellent overview of the island, allowing us to plan our week to cover the sites of interest.
6. Check Out The Beautiful St Barnabas Chapel
I was not expecting much when I glanced at the exterior of St Barnabas Chapel in Norfolk Island as we drove by. To my pleasant surprise, the workmanship inside St Barnabas Chapel is amazing. Make sure you check out the wooden roof shaped like an upturned ship hull, the stained glass windows and the intricate pearl-shell designs on the pews. Something to note is that the church is closed for cleaning on Saturdays. Visitors are welcome to attend the Sunday church service.
7. Immerse Yourself At The Norfolk Island Museums
Norfolk Island is steeped in history including Polynesian, European and Pitcairn Islander settlements. The best way to appreciate island history is to visit the museums and the historic buildings located in Kingston on the island.
You can purchase a museum pass for $35 per adult which covers all four island museums and includes two tag-a-long tours. School-age children are free.
My husband particularly enjoyed the HMS Sirius Exhibition in the museum that detailed the sinking of this First Fleet ship. At the Pier Store Museum, I was fascinated by the stories about the Mutiny on the Bounty and the subsequent descendants of the Mutineers that arrived on Norfolk Island via Pitcairn Island.
Although the Norfolk Island museums are small, they are well-designed with good interpretive materials. Once a month, Norfolk Island Government House is also open to the public. Entry is $10 donation (they rotate the charitable beneficiary).
8. Wander Through The Norfolk Island Cemetery
Situated next to the Golf Club and looking out into the ocean, you do not have to have a morbid fascination to marvel at the detailed descriptions of how each soul met their fate at Norfolk Island cemetery. The gravesite of the famous Norfolk Island resident and author of the “Thorn Birds”, Colleen McCullough, can be found here.
9. Find One Of The Rarest Parrots In The World!
We were lucky to see the endangered Norfolk Island green parrot twice during our trip! This is one of the only places in the world where you will find it. We chanced upon one during the Palm Tree walk in the National Park and then again, on the walk from Captain Cook Memorial to Bird Rock.
Norfolk Island is also full of seabirds, including the white tern, sooty tern, masked booby, black-winged petrel and wedge-tailed shearwater. If you are a budding ornithologist, this is the place for you.
10. Watch The Sharks At The Wharf
When fishermen throw away the remains of their catch on their return to shore, be ready to watch sharks circle and feed. We happened to be at Cascade Wharf when this occurred, and I swear it’s better than seeing the sharks at SeaWorld! You can also buy freshly caught fish directly from the fishermen.
11. Visit the Fletcher’s Mutiny Cyclorama
Promoted as a panorama artwork, painted on the curved wall of a circular building, this Norfolk Island attraction brings to life Fletcher Christian’s Mutiny on the Bounty via a visual and sound experience. Unfortunately, we didn’t visit the cyclorama but it would certainly be of interest to some tourists.
12. Talk To The Locals
Norfolk Island has some quirky locals who will be happy to teach you a few phrases of the island language Norfuk or Norf’k (kind of a cross between Old English and Tahitian). Tune in to the local Island Radio Station when driving around the island. The music and conversation from the radio really sets the scene for exploring Norfolk Island!
Don’t forget to check out the page “Find a person by their nickname” in the local Phone Book. It’s not a joke as many people have the same surnames on Norfolk Island so it’s easier to find them by nickname.
13. Check Out The Norfolk Island Markets
There is a Norfolk Island Farmer’s Market on Saturday mornings and arts and craft market on Sunday mornings adjacent to the Tourist Information Centre. I picked up some cute earrings and souvenir tea towels on Sunday so I was a happy shopper! Kids and hubby were happy as they scored a sausage sizzle at the markets!
Where To Eat In Norfolk Island
There are some fantastic places to eat in Norfolk Island which really surprised us! Here are some of our favouirtes below.
The Norfolk Island Bowling Club
The chicken schnitty at The Norfolk Island Bowling Club was a highlight for my husband and daughter, so much so, we went there twice! You can make a dinner booking but if you choose to turn up unannounced, my suggestion is to arrive at 5:25 pm as there will likely be a queue forming for kitchen orders. Don’t expect a fancy interior. It is a bowlo with furniture that reminded me of a 1980s RSL club.
The Olive Café
If you’re looking for the best breakfast in Norfolk Island, you have to go to The Olive Cafe. Expect healthy and delicious meals like fresh poke bowls, and expect to die for breakfast options like Chef Perrine’s Breakfast special of beetroot hummus on poached eggs with local mushrooms, spinach nuts and feta!
Feast At The Island Fish Fry And Watch The Sunset
We didn’t do the Island Fish Fry but we did visit the property at Puppy’s Point where Pinetree Tours run the Island Fish Fry. I can see why many tourists would love indulging in fried fish while watching the glorious sunset from a picture-perfect location.
Hilli Restaurant & Café
We had a lovely two-course dinner at the Hilli Restaurant & Café. Expect fresh local ingredients and a delicious menu to choose from. Make sure you book ahead as it’s a popular Norfolk Island restaurant! We loved it!
Bounty Bar and Grill
You can’t go wrong with the Bounty Bar & Grill. It’s a favourite amongst locals and tourists, as we enjoyed a tender steak and pork ribs for dinner with the kids.
High Tide Café
Although there isn’t a huge selection for places to eat in Norfolk Island on Sundays, High Tide Cafe tends to be one of the more popular options. This place gets busy and they offer fantastic salads and sandwiches.
Seriously Chocolate is not just a chocolate shop! The toasties are an affordable option for adults and kids too!
Pack A Picnic And Enjoy The Views
There are many scenic spots with picnic tables and BBQ areas dotted around Norfolk Island. My favourite would be the one overlooking Emily Bay and the one at Captain Cook lookout.
Where To Stay In Norfolk Island
We stayed at Whalers’ Watch which is a 3 bedroom luxury property on Martins Rd, about 8 mins outside of the main town in Kingston. I liked the modern kitchen and the kids and husband were thankful for wifi, Foxtel and the pool table. You can check reviews on Trip Advisor for our accommodation which we loved!
Paradise Hotel & Resort
A friend of mine joined us for the last three days of our holiday and she stayed at the Paradise Hotel & Resort, close to the main strip of town. She told me the room was nice with a small kitchenette. There is also a swimming pool on the property and The Garden Restaurant on-site was fully booked for many of the nights.
Governors Lodge Resort
The Governors’ Lodge Resort is on the opposite side of the road to the Paradise Hotel, which is another large resort hosting individual travellers as well as tour groups and families. It’s got an on-site restaurant, a couple of swimming pools, tennis courts and its set amongst beautiful sub-tropical gardens.
The Tin Sheds For Couples
I had initially wanted to book The Tin Sheds Norfolk Island accommodation for our holiday but it is for couples-only. Located within walking distance of cafes and shops, this 5-star couples accommodation consists of three apartments, with a kitchenette for self-catering if desired. The spa bath would have sold me if we didn’t have the kids with us!
Norfolk Island Tips
There’s quite a few things you should know before you go to Norfolk Island! Here are my Norfolk Island tips you need to read before going.
Hire A Car
Make sure you hire a car and give way to cows and chickens (they have right of way!). Norfolk Island sounds small at 8km by 5km in dimensions but there are 120 km of roads on the island. If you are not on a packaged tour with included bus transport, a hire car will be a necessity. Outside of town, there are many potholes and bumps on the roads. It is also very hilly and devoid of footpaths so take care if you do choose to walk.
Don’t forget to do the obligatory Island wave to other drivers around the island! Just a word of caution regarding car hire. We received an invoice for $40 fuel from the rental car company on our return to Sydney. They claimed we didn’t refuel the hire car, despite us leaving a copy of the petrol station refuel receipt on the car dashboard.
Luckily, we had credit card evidence and they reversed the charge. To avoid angst, my advice would be to take a photo of the petrol station receipt and fuel gauge after the final refuel, as well as the odometer readings at start and finish of the hire.
Bring A Torch
Bring a torch if you are venturing out at night as it is incredibly dark. Cycling would only be an option for the very fit. The island has three speed limits for cars, 30, 40 and 50km/hr.
Bring some non-perishable foods
We were lucky that the supermarkets were well-stocked during our time on Norfolk Island. The island relies on a monthly supply ship that may or may not unload due to weather conditions. Prior to their recent stock delivery, a supply ship had not been for 3 months, so empty supermarket shelves were true and may be true again in the future.
I had bought a duffle bag of non-perishable items from Sydney, including commercially packaged (unopened) rice, pasta, pasta sauce, stir fry packet mixes, biscuits, chips, breakfast cereal and muesli bars. It is possible to buy fresh milk from the butchers in the Island Mall but availability is poor and you have to be there at store-opening or early morning to get it. We survived on long-life milk.
Apart from bananas, I did not see any other fruits on sale. I was lucky to have purchased zucchinis, long beans and carrots from the supermarket and the butchers but did have to supplement with frozen veggies on some nights. I also saw potatoes, pumpkin, onions and some very small capsicums at the supermarket. Prices for most supermarket goods are about double of what you would pay in mainland Australia.
Check the opening hours of shops and restaurants
I found the shops had weird and sometimes short opening hours. Most shops shut on Wednesdays and Sundays. Museums are open 11am – 3pm, with all but the Pier Store Museum closed on Sundays. For restaurant bookings, we physically turned up at the Tourism Information Centre and asked them to make the bookings on our behalf.
Be Careful with Water & Energy Consumption
Although the island currently looks lush and green, it has suffered from drought previously and is likely to experience it again in the future. Homes tend to run on rain or bore water. The island’s energy is provided via diesel generators which can only manage a fixed capacity. This is the reason why air-conditioning is rarely found in homes and businesses.
Have A Digital Detox And Forget About Internet
Australian phone networks don’t work on Norfolk Island as they run on a 2G local network. You can purchase a local SIM card for your phone (if it is unlocked and not on a plan). I believe you can purchase local SIM cards (data only or phone and data) from the airport and newsagent in town.
We relied on our accommodation wifi for internet connection to read emails and send messages to my friend staying at the Paradise Resort. Do not expect to be able to send photos or videos to friends and family as the internet connection is too slow for large amounts of data.
Other Things To Know
Norfolk Island uses the same power sockets as Australia so there is no need to bring additional adaptors. Most businesses use EFTPOS machines and debit and credit cards are widely accepted in Norfolk Island. The currency of Norfolk Island is the Australian Dollar. There is a Commonwealth Bank in town that has an ATM, but at the time of writing, it was out of order.
6. Summary Of Norfolk Island
We were completely captivated by the beauty of Norfolk Island. Although we were only away for a week, it felt like we had been away for longer. It was nice to have been able to wind down and adjust to the slower pace of island life.
Norfolk Island is a fascinating place and it is so conveniently close to home. Already, there is a tourism boom happening and airfares to Norfolk Island have increased in price by 25% over the last 12 months. As the Covid pandemic restricts international travel and Australians bored with domestic travel seek more exotic and safe destinations, it won’t remain a hidden paradise for long.
Big thanks to Teresa for sharing her epic guide to Norfolk Island! We can’t wait to visit there sometime soon! If you would like to share your recent travels, restaurant finds or places to visit anywhere in Australia, please fill out our Write For Us form and we’ll get back to you asap!