One of Australia’s more attractive offshore islands, Lord Howe Island is a great place for nature photographers.
A wide-angle view of the southern parts of the island taken from half-way up Malabar Hill.
Located 600km east of Port Macquarie, Lord Howe Island boasts the most southerly – and some of the most spectacular – coral reefs in the world. The island is also relatively small, which makes it easy to see most of the key areas in less than a week.
Much of it is high ground covered with relatively untouched forest. In the south are two volcanic mountains, Mount Lidgbird (777 metres) and Mount Gower, which rises to 875 metres and is the highest point on the island.
A classic view of Mount Lidgbird and Mount Gower, taken from the shore of the lagoon near the boatsheds.
Kentia palms originated on the island and occupy much of the forests. There are also 240 other species of indigenous plants, roughly half of which are found nowhere else in the world. They exist in situations ranging from valleys, to ridges, plains and misty mountain tops. The only native mammal is the large forest bat. There are no snakes, no highly venomous or stinging insects, animals or plants, and no dangerous daytime sharks off the beaches.
As well as the spectacular landscape, most visitors are attracted by the marine life and/or birds, both of which make great subjects for photography. Of the 490 fish species recorded 13 are endemic and 60% are tropical. Scuba divers and snorkellers are drawn to the area and opportunities for underwater photography abound.
An underwater shot taken during a snorkelling trip to Erscott’s Hole in the inside of the western reef.
The island is also home to more than 200 different species of birds, which are a magnet for photographers. Eighteen species of land birds and 14 species of seabirds breed on the island and many migratory species visit the island and its adjacent islets. Some are tame enough to get close for taking photos.
The Lord Howe Island woodhen (Gallirallus sylvestris) is a flightless bird that has been brought back from the brink of extinction in the last couple of decades. It is still classified as endangered but relatively easy to photograph at accommodation facilities that encourage them, and also on top of Mount Gower.
Buff-banded rails are another largely terrestrial bird species that is easy to photograph. They are found throughout much of Australasia and the south-west Pacific region and were introduced to the island relatively recently.
When to go
Lord Howe Island can be visited at any time of the year, but for tourists there are two distinct seasons. Between August/September to April/May is the ‘high’ season when flights and accommodation are very expensive.
Prices drop in winter, which is mild with average minimum temperatures of 13°C in July and August (the coldest months) but no frosts. Winter is also the windiest time of the year and June and July have the highest average rainfall. Some places close during this period, but most operate with restricted hours.
There are more than 15 citizen science projects that run over winter, monitoring flora, fauna, marine life and invertebrates. Participants can get involved in the conservation of the island’s World Heritage values. Visit www.bit.ly/lordhowe1 for details.
For those interested in water-based activities, the best time to visit is in February and March. The best time for photographing birds is in October, since the migratory shearwaters and terns arrive in masses to breed. This is also the best time for fishing.
The cooler months are the best time for walking and cycling. Visit the official Australian tourism website at www.bit.ly/lordhowe2 for more information.
For most visitors, the only feasible way to reach Lord Howe Island is by air. QantasLink offers year-round scheduled services to Lord Howe Island, using Dash-8 aircraft that can accommodate 32 passengers. Connecting services with Qantas are available from all Australian capital cities and many regional centres. Between February and June, and September to December, there is a seasonal weekly service to the island from Port Macquarie.
Since the landing strip is only a kilometre long, luggage is restricted. Each passenger is permitted 14kg of checked-in and 7kg of carry-on baggage. Flight time is under two hours, with flights departing from Sydney on most days, and from Brisbane on weekends.
Because of its relatively compact size (about 10km long and between 0.3 and 2km wide), the island is best explored on foot. You can also hire bicycles at Wilson’s Bike Hire on Lagoon Road.
There are also eight hire cars available, dispersed among a range of outlets. Paddle boards and kayaks can be hired from Lord Howe Environmental Tours, Pro Dive Lord Howe Island, Howea Divers/Islander Cruisers, and Ned’s Beach hire.
Scuba diving is available between September and June and there are more than 60 world-class dive sites to visit, most located just a short boat ride (10-20 minutes) from the shore. Non-divers can hire snorkelling gear by the half-day, day, or week and either snorkel independently or participate in organised coral viewing and snorkelling tours (which are highly recommended).
A few operators run tours highlighting various aspects of the island’s history, geology and/or wildlife. Lord Howe Environmental Tours (located on the lagoon shore) runs coral viewing tours on a glass-bottomed boat, snorkelling and kayaking tours and the strenuous Mount Gower Trek, which takes a full day. Bookings can be made at the boatshed.
Beachcomber Lodge runs round-island or Balls Pyramid scenic tours, each lasting roughly three hours when weather permits. Its 7.5 metre Ocean Cylinder cruiser, Wolfe was built in 2010 and holds seven passengers.
Other tour operators include Chase ‘n’ Thyme Bus Tours, Ron’s Rambles, Islander Cruises, Sea to Summit Expeditions and Greenback. Full details can be found at www.visitlordhowe.com.au.
We can particularly recommend the evening bird tour ($25pp) run by octogenarian Clive Wilson, which provides excellent opportunities to photograph Providence petrels at the base of Mount Lidgbird just before sunset.
The community-based Friends of Lord Howe Island was set up in 2001 to assist the Lord Howe Island Board with weed eradication and other conservation projects on Lord Howe. Visitors can assist with various projects and attend lectures and demonstrations by experts conducting research on the island. Visit www.bit.ly/lordhowe3 and click on the Environment tab for more information.
A Providence petrel passes before a sunset, taken from near Kings Beach in the south of the island.
What to photograph
Lord Howe Island is wonderfully scenic and provides a great variety of subjects for your camera. A trip to Transit Hill, which is roughly in the centre of the island, provides excellent all-round views and is a good way to get a feel for the landscape.
Situated to the island’s north, Malabar Hill has some of the best views of Lord Howe’s south end and is well worth the rather arduous climb. Sweeping panoramic views encompass the towering volcanic peaks of Mt Lidgbird and Mt Gower to the south while the Admiralty Islands dominate the north.
During the two-hour return walk to Malabar Hill, you will pass through dense palm forests with muttonbird burrows. Red-tailed Tropicbirds performing airborne courting rituals are common sightings around the Malabar Hill summit between September and May.
Also in the island’s north is the Old Settlement Beach, which also provides impressive mountain views. During mid to high tides, turtles are often sighted swimming in close to shore.
The rock platforms at Ned’s Beach and Middle Beach on the eastern side of the island are great places for taking close-ups of corals and other marine life, particularly if you don’t have a waterproof camera. Be sure to visit when the tide is low.
The Middle Beach rock platform, seen through the relics of ancient corals, with the Admiralty Islands in the background.
What gear to take
Much depends on your areas of interest and the types of pictures you’re after. Bird photographers will require fast telephoto lenses, although they needn’t be longer than about 200-300mm because you can get quite close to many birds.
Fast lenses won’t be necessary for most landscape photography, although they can be useful when shooting in the forests with a hand-held camera, in which case stabilisation will be required. ‘Weatherproof’ equipment is recommended, especially if you plan to shoot in the forests and/or on the rock platforms.
Snorkellers and underwater photographers need waterproof equipment, preferably with wide angle lenses that can focus on small and close-up subjects. Turn off the camera’s flash to prevent reflections from water-borne particles from creating bright spots in your pictures.
For general photography, a lens (or lenses) covering the equivalent of 24-135mm in 35mm format should be more than adequate. A tripod can be handy for shooting in low light levels, either at the day/night transitions or in forested areas. But, be aware its weight will be included in your baggage allowance, which will affect the other items you can pack.
If you plan to do much walking (climbing Mount Gower or Malabar Hill, for example) keep your load as light as possible. The Mount Gower climb is particularly demanding, with roughly 20 sections requiring use of ropes.
Sunsets are a feature of Lord Howe Island and there are plenty of places along the lagoon that provide excellent vantage points. In late autumn and through winter, the best places are between Cobbys Corner and Kings Beach where the setting sun remains visible on the horizon.
Sunset from Cobbys Corner. This wide-angle view shows the Mount Eliza headland and Dawsons Point Ridge at the northern end of the island.
Fast shutter speeds will be required when photographing birds in flight because most of the seabirds are very fast flyers. A minimum shutter speed of 1/500 second makes a good starting point.
Check your white balance setting if you plan to take underwater shots with a camera that doesn’t support raw file capture. Shooting raw files enables you to correct the colour balance when files are converted into editable formats.
Article by Margaret Brown – see Margaret’s photography pocket guides