Norfolk Island trip report (not short)

Subject: Norfolk Island trip report (not short)
From: Laurie Knight <>
Date: Mon, 24 Mar 2014 21:07:43 +1000

Lee and I have just returned from back to back trips to Norfolk and Lord Howe Islands. They weren't explicitly birding trips, but I got to see the birds I wanted to see.

Although they are both high elevation subtropical islands and there are easy taxa level ticks on both, they are chalk and cheese. Norfolk Island is like a country town (very much like Mt Tambourine which is at a similar latitude or Maleny), while Lord Howe is more like a rainforest island tourist resort.

As we were flying from Brisbane, we did a Sat - Sat trip to Norfolk, followed by a Sun - Sun trip to Lord Howe. The unfortunate aspect of that was persistent high winds prevented us getting to Phillip Island when we were at Norfolk, and Ian Hutton was running his annual birdweek when we were on Lord Howe - this meant that Ian was tied up with his birders, Jack's boat was tied up with Ian's birders (so we had to go on Gary's boat to Balls Pyramid) and that meant I had to go with Ian's oversized group up Mt Gower rather than with Dean (who took his group up on the day we went to Balls Pyramid).

Anyhow, to the story. We flew over on an Air New Zealand A320 (code share with Virgin) departing from the international terminal. [Norfolk Airlines went broke and I heard that a C'wealth bail out was required to break the contract with Palau Airlines - owners of the plane NA was leasing]. A lot of freight went into the rear hold of the plane. While watching the plane being loaded, I saw a suitcase fall off the conveyor at a height of 2 metres - a reminder that you need to exercise care packing fragile items.

As has been noted before, passengers on the plane could accurately be described as "newly wed or nearly dead", the ratio being around 1:10. There was a large group of line dancers from Mareeba boarding the plane. (There was some event happening on the island and there was a group swaying to "Achy Breaky Heart" when we visited the market the next morning).

The Island economy is 95% dependent on tourism for its non-Cwlth funding. Because it is self-governing, there is no Medicare (so you have to cover your own medical bills) and I don't think NI residents get Aus social security payments. There are no campgrounds and most visitors stay in motels or lodges and go on bus tours. We stayed in a self-contained cottage at Jacaranda Park. This was a nice and quite spot with views from the back deck down a creek system to the coast. There were often White Terns wafting about and chooks working their way through the joint.

Because the island's administration is somewhat light on in the finance stakes, the roads are generally in a poor state - the patches have patches, and the potholes open up when it rains. The island speed limit is 50 km/hr, virtually no one walks anywhere and there are few cyclists (other than kids riding to school). The main street was always busy during daylight hours.

We had a hire car as part of our package (I think it worked out at $35 per day for a Hyundai Accent which had about 9000 km on the clock - for a flat fee of $15 we had unlimited km - given the size of the island the risk of excess km was not overwhelming, but we preferred not to worry about it). The manager of our lodge handed us the keys at the airport when we arrived and we completed the paperwork on the Monday (as the business - Crest Autos - wasn't open for most of the weekend). The price of petrol was about $2.60 per litre, so the 25 litres I put into the tank at the end of the trip cost a fair amount (there are 3 service stations to choose from). Given the small size of the place and low speed limit, we were bemused by some people's choice of car - one lass, for example, was driving around in a WRX.

If you want to have phone/email access on the island, you have to purchase a sim card from one of the local telcos. I don't recall seeing any public phone boxes. We had the use of a mobile phone supplied by our lodge manager, so only had to pay for the calls we made.

Norfolk doesn't have a regular sea port - goods have to be trans- shiped by light craft, so stuff on the island is relatively expensive (food in the store can be twice the price here). Sea freight goes via Auckland, while the air mail goes via Sydney.

Fresh stuff grown on the island, fish and bakery items are more reasonably priced. Fresh stuff is hard to come by in the shops however - the shelves are bare for many items (except potatoes, onions and pumpkin). The trick is to get into the stores early before the fresh stuff has gone or to check out the occasional stalls out the front of the farms (for things like bananas). However the produce is often on the green side, so you have to guess whether it will ripen before you leave the island.

Otherwise, there is plenty to choose from in the Supermarket. We were bemused by the 3 kg cans of baked beans and spaghetti produced by Watties (perhaps the motels use it for their cooked breakfasts). If you want to eat out, there are quite a few reasonably affordable cafes and restaurants. Governors Lodge, for example, has a handy $10 lunch deal - just the thing when you want a quick meal before heading out to the airport.

There is surprising relatively little emphasis on eco-tourism. Margaret Christian's (there are lots of Christians on the island) Birdfinder Tours (ph +6723)22800 or 50901 ) are the exception. Margaret charges about $65 for a 4.5 hour transit of the key birding areas on the island (Mon, Wed, Fri, 8 am to 12.30). Given that most of the people who go on them aren't birders, they are more of a natural history tour (Margaret was a parks ranger for a number of years). I think you get a cheaper rate if you book directly with her (rather than going through an agent) and you get her guide to the birds of Norfolk at a cheaper rate (the photos are good). You end up having morning tea at her place - perched on top of the northern cliffs where you can watch the seabirds cruising past. She operates a cat exclusion zone, so she has nesting boobies, petrels and shearwaters on her block. She also has a whale watching platform.

The environment on Norfolk is heavily modified - by logging, hunting, ferals, and war infrastructure. A number of species have been lost. Virtually none of the environment is pristine, less than a quarter could be classified as "natural". The main areas of birding interest are the National Park (run by the Cwlth), the Botanical Gardens, the 100 acre forest and the coastline.

Most of the native land birds on Norfolk are either endemic species or subspecies. There is the "Green Parrot" (Norfolk Parakeet), the Slender-billed White Eye, and the Grey Geregone. The Golden Whistler is a highly likely to be classified as a stand alone species (it is not sexually dimorphic), and the local Sacred Kingfishers and Grey Fantails are also taxa ticks. I'm not sure, but Norfolk may also be the only place in Australia to pick up the Pacific Robin.

Most of these species are easy to see (they come in close) and the Silvereyes and geregones are widespread on the island.

The green parrot is the exception - it might be a case of "last chance to see". The current population estimate is 50-80 birds with no more than 10 breeding females. I only clearly saw and photographed one bird - probably a breeding male. A local told us about its call - the territorial call sounds a bit like a cackling Kookaburra. The one we saw made that call.

There is no shortage of parrot food on the island and they do visit fruiting trees in neighbouring properties (on a seasonal basis). I think rat predation is possibly the main threatening process - details in the national recovery plan ( ).

As for other species, the Emerald Ground Doves were fairly common and there were a few Welcome Swallows out and about. The introduced (feral) Crimson Rosellas were particularly abundant and an annoying distraction when I was looking for Green Parrots. The only raptors I saw were the kestrels flying around Kingston.

Chooks, Common Starlings, House Sparrows and Blackbirds were the abundant ferals. Song Thrushes and Californian Quail were mainly around the wooded areas. The quail were my favourite ferals and were easiest seen while driving along the lanes near the national park. Green and Gold Finches were thin on the ground.

There are 4 main entrances to the National Park - Cooks Monument, Mt Pitt, Palm Glen and Red Road. There are plenty of reports of green parrot sightings around Palm Glen and the Palm Glen track (I heard a likely call on the PG track). The only sighting I had was on the Red Rock track, near the junction with the Bridle track ( ) The parrots were more commonly seen early in the morning or late in the afternoon, but my observation was early in the afternoon. If you are looking for the parrots, talk to the rangers (office at the botanical gardens).

The main place to see shorebirds is the grassy surrounds of the airport runways - the birds clump towards the end of the cross runway when a plane lands or takes off. I saw mainly golden plovers and turnstones. I don't think I saw any waterfowl on the beaches (apart from some ducks paddling through the one swimming bay on the island).

There were plenty of White-faced Herons wandering the golf course, PF Swamphens "Tarler Birds" poking around the wetlands as well as Mallards / Pacific Black ducks. The locals were of the opinion that the Swamphens were doing a spot of nest raiding on Phillip Island - I can't remember which species they were preying on.

Norfolk is obviously a place to go seabird watching. One of my favourite memories involved a late afternoon fish fry at Puppy Point - after enjoying about 8 pieces of freshly caught and BBQ'd fish, I watched the Great Frigatebirds, Black-winged Petrels, Black Noddies and White Terns cruising past the setting sun in front of the sea cliffs ...

White Terns "nest" on tree branches all over the Island. Margaret Cameron took us to see a juvenile tern camped on a lowish branch hanging over the road. Its parent arrived with a load of fish neatly arranged in its bill and fed the young one in front of our cameras. We also walked past a Black Noddy colony on our way down to Rocky Point (some birds were collecting pine needles from the track). It was blowing a gale when I poked my nose out at the end of the path - I turned around and noticed a mostly fledged tropicbird chick parked in the bush behind me.

Most of the Sooty Terns scarpered shortly after we arrived, but there were a few immatures flying along the northern coastline. We enjoyed the walk down to Bird Rock. Cook's Monument is probably the easiest place to do a sea watch - there are plenty of birds cruising past, plenty of off shore rock stacks and excellent park facilities (toilets, scenic seating and picnic tables). Palm Glen, Mt Pitt and the Botanical Garden also have excellent facilities.

Overall I found it easy to fill the time during the week I was there. The locals were friendly and we were invited out a couple of nights. March is a fairly good time to go weatherwise, but perhaps not the best for boating. If I were to go back to the Island, I would go at a time of year when the weather was better suited to getting over the Phillip Island ( ) or during winter/spring when the Long-tailed Koels are in town.

Regards, Laurie.

Birding-Aus mailing list

To change settings or unsubscribe visit:

<Prev in Thread] Current Thread [Next in Thread>
  • Norfolk Island trip report (not short), Laurie Knight <=

The University of NSW School of Computer and Engineering takes no responsibility for the contents of this archive. It is purely a compilation of material sent by many people to the birding-aus mailing list. It has not been checked for accuracy nor its content verified in any way. If you wish to get material removed from the archive or have other queries about the archive e-mail Andrew Taylor at this address: andrewt@cse.unsw.EDU.AU