Norfolk Island is an island in the South Pacific Ocean and an Australian territory for historical reasons even though it is much closer to New Zealand. It is 1600km (1000 mi) east of Sydney and Brisbane but only 1000km (620 mi) northwest of Auckland.
Norfolk Island was a penal colony for the British colony of New South Wales during the periods 1788–1814 and 1825–1855. In 1856 it was settled by former inhabitants of the second largest of the Pitcairn Islands. The Pitcairn Islanders were descendants of Fletcher Christian and Bounty mutineers, together with Tahitian women. Pitcairn Island was unable to support 200 inhabitants, and Queen Victoria offered them land grants equivalent to a third of the then available land on Norfolk Island.
Approximately one third of the permanent residents of Norfolk Island are descendants of Pitcairn Islanders, with the remainder split between people originating from Australia and New Zealand. The permanent population of the island is about 1500 people.
Norfolk Island immigration is currently in flux, due to Australia assuming a greater level of control over the territory in the past few years. The following information is correct as of February 2017, but citizens of countries other than Australia and New Zealand in particular should consult with a specialist travel agent before making any determinations based on the below.
As of 1 July 2016, Norfolk Island immigration is handled the same as its Australian equivalent, see the Australia article for information on Australian visas and customs requirements. Flights between mainland Australia and Norfolk Island are now treated as domestic flights; travellers originating from Australia do not need a passport to enter Norfolk Island, with any photo ID document allowing the traveller to board the plane.
Citizens of other countries will need to have a visa allowing multiple entries to Australia, and may be turned back from their arriving flight without this.
Do be aware that despite Norfolk Island sharing immigration with Australia, all arriving passengers will need to complete an Australian arrival card. This creates the slightly unusual situation of departing from Australia, flying to Australia, and being asked on the card which country you "spent the most time in while overseas".
Norfolk Island has a single airport (IATA: NLK) occupying much of the south-west of the island and south-west of Burnt Pine, the island's commercial centre.
Air New Zealand operates direct flights from Auckland (Sunday), Sydney (Monday, Friday) and Brisbane (Tuesday, Saturday). Flights from Auckland will be discontinued in March 2017, however the new Norfolk Island Airlines anticipates flying Brisbane-Norfolk Island-Auckland and return on a daily basis after Air New Zealand abandons the route.
Flying time is 1h45 from Auckland, 2h15 from Brisbane and 2h30 from Sydney.
Do be aware that the airport is a very small one, and depending on the severity of bad weather on the island, it is not unheard of for flights to be turned around.
Norfolk Island Airport has relatively few facilities, and only opens in preparation for arriving/departing aircraft. There is a cafe on-site serving food and (non-alcoholic) drinks before departing passengers go through security screening, and Air New Zealand allows passengers to take their purchases on board with them. There are no food or drink facilities air-side, and no shopping of any description. The mural in the main hall area is an evocative summary of the island's history and culture.
Depending on the timing of your flight and arrangements regarding hire cars, it is possible to check in and then return to Burnt Pine for a meal before boarding.
There is no regular passenger service to Norfolk Island by sea.
Cruise Ships occasionally call at Norfolk Island. The local shipping Agent, Transam Argosy, lists details of cruise ships calling at Norfolk Island.
All passengers are ferried ashore using either the Island's "lighter" boats or inflatable Zodiacs (particularly on "adventure" cruises). This is because the island has no natural harbour. As a result, the ability to visit the island from a cruise ship is highly dependent on the weather, unlike most other South Pacific destinations.
There is no public transport system on Norfolk Island. While it is possible to walk the length and breadth of it, almost all visitors hire a car. In recent years, a taxi service has begun operation on the island, which particularly markets itself as a solution to the recently-introduced Random Breath Testing (anti-drink driving) regime, as some restaurants and accommodation are down very dark and unmarked roads.
It costs about $45 a day to hire a car, $20 a day for a scooter and $15 a day for a bicycle. Hiring a bicycle is an excellent way to get around the island as distances are not great. The "Land and Sea" store near the roundabout is the first place to enquire about hiring a bicycle. The island has many hills so a reasonable fitness level is recommended. Potholes and livestock are other dangers, especially at night.
It is usual, when booking accommodation or a package that a hire car is included in the tariff. The car will customarily be parked in front of the accommodation (to which you will be taken by mini-bus), if booked along with accommodation, or waiting for you at the airport if booked separately. In general, you will need to visit the company's office within 24 hours to complete necessary paperwork, with return of the car being to the airport. Petrol and daily insurance is an extra cost payable on arrival. There are three petrol stations on the island, all in Burnt Pine.
When driving, remember that livestock have right of way and - outside of Burnt Pine, which has cattle grids at each end - will roam freely on all the island's roads. The speed limit outside of Burnt Pine is 50kph, and particularly on winding roads it is recommended to drive slower than that in order to avoid colliding with cows which can occasionally appear right in the middle of the road.
Most roads do not have the lanes marked, but driving is on the left as per Australian and New Zealand practice. Do also remember that street lighting is nonexistent outside of the Burnt Pine area (and sparse there), with large potholes occasionally occurring on most roads. A small number of roads are unsealed, however these are marked on maps.
Locals - and most tourists - greet each other while driving with the "Norfolk Wave". At its simplest, this is a raising of the index finger from the steering wheel as you pass an oncoming vehicle. Depending on the situation, though, more demonstrative gestures up to a full wave are seen. Drivers will often wave to pedestrians, even in the centre of Burnt Pine.
If you don't have a bicycle, scooter, or hire car, walking is a great way to explore the island. Be aware that although Norfolk Island is only 8 km by 5 km, it seems much bigger than it is! Walking from place to place can take hours longer than you'd expect! The weather can also change quite rapidly from slightly butty to rain and back to bright sun, and outside of Burnt Pine there are no footpaths. Walking "off-road" can also be a challenge at times as properties on the island can be quite large, and you may have to enter private property to get where you are going.
Hitchhiking is very easy and nearly everyone will pick you up; it's also a great way to meet locals.
The official language of Norfolk Island is English and all the islanders speak it. However, among themselves they often use Norfuk, a dialect of the Pitkern language found in the Pitcairn Islands, which is in turn derived from the English spoken by the Bounty Mutineers and the Tahitian spoken by their wives. There has been a resurgence in the "public" use of Norfuk in recent years, with many businesses named in the language (the above-mentioned "Eldoo" hire cars, for example, is from the Norfuk term for "It will do/It is good"), particularly as a means of resisting the Australian takeover.
The spoken form of the language - written standards are still evolving and are often created in a more linguist- rather than casual-observer-friendly manner - can be a challenge to understand at first, but islanders tend to be willing to teach at least the basics, with some tour providers even offering "language courses" for a few hours. Many shops on the island sell one or both of Beryl Nobbs Palmer's "Dictionary of Norfolk Words and Usages" and Alice Buffett's "Speak Norfolk Today", both of which provide an insight into the quirks of the language.
Norfolk Island's currency is the Australian dollar, and the currency symbol is $. Norfolk Island is not subject to Australian taxation. There is only one ATM, at the Commonwealth Bank.
See Australia for more on the Australian dollar.
As a result of the lack of many taxes and duties, Norfolk Island has acquired a reputation as a "shopper's paradise". The main (and only) street of Burnt Pine is lined on both sides with shops selling everything from clothes to toys to books, and shop assistants will always be forthcoming about exactly how much you stand to save over "mainland prices" (both Australian and New Zealand prices).
A number of shops are described as "department stores", which can seem rather quaint to visitors from big cities, as these shops are often no larger than the others. The difference lies in the slightly wider range of merchandise available. One of the true delights of shopping on Norfolk Island is that in many shops you simply have no idea what will be for sale.
On Sunday mornings, an open-air market is held in the carpark of the post office. Prices are comparable to those found in the shops, but some retailers choose only to sell at the market.
Locally produced items are beginning to form a reasonable sector of Norfolk Island's retail market, with homemade preserves being a particular specialty. Additionally, the Norfolk Island Pine can be found in keyrings, magnets and other trinkets. Pine products are normally quite safe to import to Australia or New Zealand, but always make it known to the seller where you're intending to take the product you've just bought, since it never hurts to be sure.
The distinctive Norfolk language is also the source of some retail value, with books being written on the structure and vocabulary, as well as audio CDs of songs written in Norfolk. Many books are shamelessly pitched at tourists, but the work containing the most scholarship on the language itself is Speak Norfolk Today, by Alice Inez Buffett.
There is also a wide range of fictional and non-fictional books on Norfolk and the South Pacific in general available at most shops. The island's bookshop is The Golden Orb, which contains a section devoted to Norfolk and South Pacific literature.
Be aware that most shops are closed on Wednesday afternoons and also that those operated by Seventh Day Adventists are closed all day Saturday. and Sunday
Norfolk Island, unsurprisingly, is famous for its seafood, which is generally caught fresh by most of the restaurants on the island. The local trumpeter is a particular delicacy.
There is a wide range of other food available on the island, including both Italian and Chinese cuisine with plans afoot for an Indian restaurant to open shortly.
Local specialities also exist and are generally based on traditional Polynesian dishes. While some of these are served in the restaurants, tourists are often recommended to try a local progressive dinner at the homes of various islanders in order to experience most of these dishes.
Restaurant bookings can be made by telephone or by writing your name in the book generally located at the front door of the establishment.
Be aware that most restaurants are closed at least one night per week.
Special Dietary Requirements: Vegetarians can generally find palatable food at most restaurants, but are not specifically catered for anywhere. Vegans are not catered for anywhere. Kosher and Halal meals will be impossible to find, as there is no Jewish or Muslim presence on the island. Travellers with food allergies may be catered for at some restaurants, but this is not guaranteed.
The local distillery, Norfolk Island Liquors P/L, is found on Cascade Road and produces various liqueurs and spirits. Free sampling is available Monday,Tuesday,Thursday and Friday from 2.00pm - 5.00pm Also on the same premises is Cascade Soft Drinks, who manufacture produce a range of traditional soft drinks with old fashioned flavours, ranging from orange and lime flavours to pineapple and plum cola varieties.
The island's winery is located on Two Chimney's Road, and has recently begun offering cellar door facilities.
In Burnt Pine, connected to the Bicentennial Complex, is the Liquor Mart. This is the only alcohol retailer on the island, and sells a wide range of (duty-free) alcohol from around the world. As well as brands and styles familar from Australian and New Zealand bottle shops, there are often slightly unusual options, including imported Estonian beer and others. The liquor mart also sells the local liqueurs. For travellers, there is a further 30% discount available on spirits with presentation of a valid ticket or airline itinerary. This discount applies once per visitor per stay, and the staff are usually quick to point this out if they fear that a customer won't be getting value for money.
Do remember that, for the purposes of onward travel to Australia, duty-free limits apply on arrival in Sydney or Brisbane (the same also applies to travel to Auckland, but this is an international flight anyway).
All restaurants on the island are licenced.
As the island's economy is based around tourism, there are many options for accommodation, ranging from basic one- or two-person rooms through to resort-style establishments with restaurants attached hosting seafood buffets. The commercial hub of the island, Burnt Pine, has a number of well-situated guesthouses central to most shops, while accommodation elsewhere is designed to capitalize on views and proximity to nature. Note that there is no budget accommodation and camping is not permitted on the island. Those on shoestring budgets are limited to staying with friends or local contacts.
Anyone other than Norfolk Island residents will have to apply for a working visa which has be to supported by a Norfolk Island resident or workplace.
Crime on Norfolk Island is very low, though not unknown. Most islanders think nothing of leaving their houses and cars unlocked. Always remember to exercise commonsense when doing this, though, as most criminals are opportunists and it is not unknown for criminals to take "working vacations" too.
Driving is on the left, with a speed limit of 50km/h, decreasing to 40km/h inside Burnt Pine and 30km/h in the school zone around Middlegate (this speed limit is enforced throughout the school day, rather than only at the beginning and end of it as on the Australian mainland). Seatbelts are required at all times. When driving outside of the town, remember that cows and other animals have right of way; be especially careful of this at night as there is no street lighting and cows are often brown or black. Also remember to watch out for the "Norfolk Wave", a wave (ranging from a raised index finger off the steering wheel through to an enthusiastic movement of the arm) used by all locals to greet passing traffic.
Emily Bay, located near Kingston, is the only safe location to swim on Norfolk as it is protected by a natural coral reef. All other bays have unpredictable conditions. A Norfolk tradition is that of the "Seventh Wave", the unpredictable rising in wave height which can sweep unwary swimmers out to sea. None of the beaches are patrolled.
There are no specific health warnings for the traveller to Norfolk Island, aside from a general one not to overindulge at meals (which can very easily be done).
Surfers and swimmers anywhere but Emily Bay should be very careful about the currents and wave heights. Neither activity is actually advisable.
All visitors including Australian citizens should purchase international travel insurance.
As a general rule, always remember that almost half of the islanders are descended from the Bounty mutineers. Therefore, one must realise that some information can contain a certain 'spin' to promote localised fiction.
Whilst most locals are extremely friendly and hospitable, refrain from engaging in political discussions unless they initiate the conversation. Norfolk's relationship with Australia is very touchy, and some locals show verbal hostility toward mainland Australians. To say that Norfolk Islanders are essentially Australians is very likely to cause offence.
Despite the general hostility towards mainland Australia, the Norfolk Island Legislation Amendment Bill 2015 passed the Australian Parliament on 14 May 2015, abolishing self-government on Norfolk Island. Norfolk Island has now been brought under Australian federal control. Tensions run very high regarding this matter.
There are convict ruins dotted around the island, but resist the temptation to explore if the ruin is off-limits in any way, as there are periodic restoration attempts.
Norfolk Island remains one of the world's most expensive places to call. From Skype, count on $1.25 per minute! Most accommodation options have wifi though free wifi is limited to around 100 MB. Internet cards are sold at 100 MB for $9 in various shops. There's one internet cafe near King Tut's Tomb at $5 for 30 minutes. The internet on Norfolk Island is notoriously slow, so if you're spending a week on Norfolk it's best to think of it as being off the grid.
Norfolk Telecom SIM cards cost $20 (with $10 of credit included). If you're spending more than a few days on Norfolk it's handy, although you can only call within the island. Calls to landlines are slightly cheaper than to mobiles. Landline to landline calls are free. Calling off the island (even to Australia) is horrifically expensive, especially from a hotel! Some accommodation providers provide mobile phones in guest rooms for use during the stay.
The Norfolk Island phone book is distinctive, as there is a section listing residents by their nicknames for ease of use, and many of these are quite colourful ("Quack", "Moo", "Truck", "Kissard" and others make appearances). This is due to the fact that many of the islanders share the surnames of the original Pitcairner settlers - with some 380 residents with the surname "Adams" alone.