Friday 15th June

Mid-winter, and we are on our way to Lord Howe Island. This was booked months ago – a “Protecting Paradise” package, in which, in return for a good deal to go and stay there, we were meant to be helping in the planned eradication of rats from the island. But, due to Federal Government politics, this is not happening. So we go and enjoy it.

We mostly packed on Wednesday; just as well, as last night got busy with last-minute things after we got home after visiting Rob in hospital; day 4 after his CABG following his surprise non-STEMI last Friday. He's doing fine now.

So – the alarm was on for 6am. This meant that neither of us slept so well, as is often the case. We left at 6.45am, in the dark, for an uneventful and straightforward trip to the airport – with only a 4-minute connection time for the 901 bus.

At the Qantas check-in, a helpful lady managed to convince the computer that the bookings for Melbourne-Sydney and Sydney-Lord Howe were for the same people, so we were able to check our bags straight through. Then it was waiting and onto our full plane to Sydney.

The flight to Lord Howe, on a little Dash-8 propeller plane, was half empty. Not peak tourist season. When we got on we were handed a little pack of food, as the catering for the plane may not have been done in time; but as it turned out, it was. So we are not starving.

We flew in to Lord Howe – the clouds had all gone, and it was a clear blue sky day with excellent views as we flew in. We landed and got out; it was lovely and warm. So nice! Andrea from Milky Way Apartments met us, and drove us on a little tour of the main spots in the settlement before settling us into our apartment – No. 1.

After a quick unpack and making a coffee, we walked down to the beach in front. It is such a photogenic place, especially on a day like this! And then we went up a path. No plan, just off we went. Up and up to the top of the ridge above North Bay, and then along past Kim's lookout and over Malabar Hill. It was a really nice walk; the only problem was that we had little idea of what the time was, and how long till sundown. As it turned out, we got back to the settlement area in plenty of time.

We'd arranged to go out to dinner at the Golf Club, beyond the airport. At 6pm a lady drove us there; but it was early, and very noisy with a big group of blokes drinking. We decided it was not for us. So back we walked, in the dark, under the clear sky with a great view of the heavens. A very pleasant walk. The only problem was the cars; they came along from time to time, and we had to turn on our torches so they would see us. There are at least ten times as many cars as there were last time we were here.

After a stop at the Coral Cafe, at the museum (which was full – no room for us) we ended up eating at The Anchorage Restaurant. It was nice. We sat outside, and it wasn't too cold; very pleasant. But we were the only people to do so!

We continued home. Here, we found Alison's computer's battery was flat. I was surprised; but I should have checked it. So hers is charging now and she used mine to look at her photos. Now it's 10pm and we're both tired – we'll go to bed in the big bed here. Tomorrow, we'll go and look at the shops, etc., and get some supplies. It's meant to be good weather again for tomorrow at least.

Saturday 16th June

We both slept soundly; it was nearly 9am before we got up. There had been some heavy rain last night, but today we've had partly cloudy skies. It's remarkably hot when the sun is out, and I don't mind it going behind a cloud sometimes.

We went out to check out the “commercial centre” of the island. Past the anchorage restaurant of last night to Thompson's Store, which had a rather limited range of foods; along to the museum (where I checked out their internet, and found that the “roaming” internet everywhere seems better); up to Joy's Shop, with a much better range of foods where we bought some things; and up to the Top Shop, at the top of the hill (shut today, along with many things here, because there's a large Seventh Day Adventist population). Then back down to Anchorage for a very pleasant coffee and muffin outside in the sun.

We walked back along the beach, and then out the pier. There's meant to be a supply ship coming today, but it can only get in at high tide and it didn't come on this morning's tide. We spoke to a couple from Sydney who'd been snorkelling (in wetsuits); they thought it was marvellous and were amazed at the amount of coral here, so far south, and none of it bleached.

Home for lunch and a read. The bread we bought from the bakery here was very good. And for the afternoon we returned to the beach – but as the wind was blowing over the lagoon, we went over to Ned's Beach on the other side of the island. It was low tide, the reef there was exposed, and we walked over it for ages. Corals, clams, sea slugs, anemones, sea urchins – there was a lot to see. We returned partly along the top of the cliffs, where there was sharp jagged rock reminiscent of that on Christmas Island. The sort of stuff you don't want to fall on.

And we came home just after sundown. It's been a warmish day - I've been in shorts and crocs all day – but now, it's getting colder. Time to go inside and close the doors.

We had gnocchi for dinner, with a glass of wine, and watched “The Matrix” - a film I'd seen years ago but not remembered much of.

Sunday 17th June

It rained again overnight. But this morning it was dry again with a sunny sky; Alison made sandwiches, we packed the backpack, and set off – for Intermediate Hill and the Goat House. We stopped by the pier to see the ship – the “Island Trader” - unloading. It comes in at high tide (which was 10pm last night) and stays for a couple of days to unload / load, at low tide resting its bottom on the sand by the pier.

We walked along the foreshore, and then around the airstrip; seeing a Dash 8 take off. Then turned off on the track up Intermediate Hill. This was a reasonable uphill walk, getting eventually to the top where a short tower had been built – only ~ 3 metres high, but this meant you could see the view rather than just trees – and the view was pretty good, in every direction. We had our morning tea, and continued on down the other side.

We stopped to look at a pair of woodhens before we got down to the saddle, and we then continued up the other side along an increasingly steep track, getting eventually to where ropes had been put in to help; and then, by lunchtime (12.30) we got up to the Goat House. There was no-one else there; and it may be midwinter, but it was warm and sunny. We ate a sandwich, had a play, walked around the corner to see Ball's Pyramid, ate another sandwich, and then eventually walked back down again.

The weather looked like it was becoming less clement; so when we got back to the saddle we chose to turn left and go straight back down to Lagoon Road.

It was the right choice, because after stopping to don ponchos on the track down, when we regained the road the heavens opened. It bucketed down, and by the time we got back to the airstrip we were both walking in squelchy soaked shoes. As a plane was in, we decided that the cafe at the airport would be open and a coffee in a warm dry environment would be nice. So we walked in the airport road, being passed by all the vans taking the newly arrived passengers to their accommodation. No-one offered us a lift.

We had a coffee, in our wet ponchos, and then set off again. The rain had lightened a lot. A car stopped and offered us a lift into town; we couldn't refuse. It turned out they were Bill & Ginny who used to run Mary Challis Cottages, where we stayed last time we were here! They are now retired. So it was a short walk home from where they dropped us off. We had a shower, put on clean dry clothes, and put on a load of washing.

On all today's walking we saw only 3 other individual walkers, which I find surprising.

Monday 18th June

The weather has, not surprisingly, gone off a bit. There was rain and wind overnight and we were in no hurry to get up; when we did, we found we had to hurry down to the museum for “Volunteer Induction” at 9am. This was a very relaxed affair; a short talk about the island and what we could do, we walked across the road to see the biosecurity dogs (the only desexed dogs on the island – they have more energy), then back to a film about rat eradication from an island off California – interesting, but with a lot of repetition and waffle as these films often have.

It was cold. We walked back, stopping for a (big) coffee and muffin on the way. And then set out for food; walking first up to the Top Shop (small, without too much at all) and then down to Joy's Shop, which has the biggest range of any of the shops here. An apple, an orange, a capsicum – enough for dinner. Then further away to the Liquor Store, by the Government Offices. It was just after midday, and the Liquor Store didn't open till 1pm. So we walked up to Transit Hill, whose track started just across the road. It is half the height of Intermediate Hill, and with quite a different view.

Back down, a bottle of wine bought, and home for lunch. We started by eating out on our verandah, but it got too cold and we needed to move inside – where we stayed for a while, reading. (And I tried connecting to the internet, but the provider claimed I'd used up my allowance. And there was nothing here I could do about it, so I gave up – and later wrote an email to send when I am back in internet range again.)

But then, we needed to get outside again. So, we went over again to Ned's Beach, where it was more sheltered. And it was, but not as much as it was before; and the sun was nearly off it again already. We walked along the beach, and picked up some washed-up pumice stone. Then home for afternoon tea before walking down to the museum for the 5.30pm lecture on LHI history from Ian Hutton, the director. It was very interesting and worthwhile.

We walked briskly home – a 13 minute walk, getting a bit warmer from the exercise. And ate dinner from most of the bits and pieces we had left.

The weather is going to be similar to this until we leave; luckily there are various things to do at the museum over the next day or two, till we have to leave. Though we still would like to walk up Mt. Eliza, where we've never been.

Tuesday 19th June

The weather fooled us; after an intense downpour just before we got up, we went outside to a cloudless sky. We ate our breakfast outside in the sun, talking to the man in the unit next door; then went down to the museum to see the phasmids – the LHI “Stick insect”, extinct on the mainland but re-discovered on Ball's Pyramid and being grown in captivity here for reintroduction. Eggs like ball bearings, tiny green nymphs, and large black mature insects, as long as your hand. Very interesting.

After our “usual” coffee at The anchorage, sitting outside in the sun, we packed our lunch and set off for Mt. Eliza. This involved a walk up and over the ridge to North Bay (623 steps on the way down the other side) where I briefly lost Alison on the beach. But we regrouped and went up Mt. Eliza – a fairly steep climb but not as far as some others have been. At the top, it was warm and sunny – at least it was when the coolish wind wasn't blowing. No-one else was there; we've not met many other people out walking at all. We sat up there, had lunch, looked at the view; saw the “Island Trader” sailing out of the lagoon into the (much rougher) open sea, and then the plane coming in to land.

After a quick trip to rocky “Old Gulch” we walked up the 623 steps to the ridgetop and back down the other side home. Despite it being only 2.30pm a lot of the area is in shade already; we made a coffee and lay down on the lounges outside the family units – which seem to be uninhabited.

At 4.30 it was time to go back to the museum to be “conservation volunteers.” As it turned out, we were the only volunteers, working with four LHI Board employees. We went out to listen for horned owl calls; there were four locations, and we went to the top of Transit Hill, where we watched the sun go down. Alison heard a call; but then there were no more, and at 6.15pm we were called down. And then, on the way down, we heard an owl call, quite close!

We cadged a ride back to Anchorage Restaurant for dinner. We ate the best squid we've ever eaten, and even had an extra serving of it for dessert! Alison started talking to a single Chinese girl at the next table, arrived today for three days. An unusual tourist to come here. Then we walked back home.

Wednesday 20th June

I'd put the clock next to the bed; there was no need for the alarm, but knowing what time it was meant getting up in time was easy. We packed everything up, left our bags in the public living area, and set off for Cobby's Beach, on the far side of the airstrip, for a session of looking for introduced marine pests.

Walking around the airstrip added ~1½ km to the walk; so we opted to clamber over the rocks at the lagoon end instead. Technically not really legal, so we kept our heads down and got around to the beach on the far side. Good. But another rain squall came, and we clambered inland for some shelter. Here, we found the rubbish depot. Quite a busy place. We sheltered till the rain went, then joined the group for the session.

No introduced pests were found (none were expected to – it's an exercise in early detection / prevention) but it was very interesting, with a couple of people who knew a vast amount about marine life. There were lot of clams, urchins, and we were even shown an anemone hermit crab – it picks anemones and sticks them on its shell, to deter predators.

At 11am, it was time to finish. Alison gave the organiser her big bundle of rubbish she'd collected, and we set off home along the road. This time we went the “legal” way around the airstrip. There was another bit of rain, but not as intense as the rain earlier. After dropping in at the museum to see how to get notice of future “Protecting Paradise” packages, we went back to Anchorage for coffee and muffin, sitting outside in the sun talking to others. It was very pleasant.

We went over to the Marine Parks office to say hullo to Sallyanne, who used to work on Rottnest with Roxane; and it rained again. We sheltered for a while but then gave up and walked back to Milky Way. We organised ourselves for the flight and then spent the rest of our time talking to Tony and Helen, from Chiltern, who were on our flight over and who'd come over to offer us a cup of tea while we were waiting.

Then to the airport and sitting in the sun for an hour before it was time to get on the plane, and go.

It has been really good coming back here again, and midwinter weather here has been a pleasant surprise.