Norfolk Island: Top 15 things to see and do & Why this paradise NEEDS to be your next Aussie holiday
Updated: Apr 28, 2021
If you're looking for an untouched off the beaten track 'overseas' adventure without leaving the Australian Borders, then Norfolk Island is the place for you. Experience dramatic cliff sides walking trails more beautiful than the Great Ocean Road, crystal clear and calm bays for swimming, rare biodiversity found nowhere else in the world, and history that is hard to believe didn't come straight from a movie. And the best part - you can experience all of this, almost all to yourself. Follow our guide to find out all the top things to see and do for planning your visit.
Things to know before you visit Norfolk Island:
First - The Epic Tale of Norfolk Island's History: (We PROMISE this is the best history lesson you'll ever learn):
If you want to appreciate Norfolk Island, you should know a little about its history first. Here's a quick summary of what you should know:
A dark convict history:
Norfolk Island is Australia's second oldest settlement after Botany Bay in Sydney, discovered by Captain Cook. It has a dark convict past, which you will learn about on your visit to one of Australia's best-preserved UNESCO world heritage convict sites.
Mutineers and Tahiatan wives:
Today many Norfolk Islanders descend from an epic tale of the mutiny on the Bounty in 1789, where lieutenant Fletcher Christian seized control of the HMS Bounty ship along with several other mutineers. The men offloaded the Captain and his men onto a small lifeboat and set sail to pick up their Tahitian wives before landing on Pitcairn Island. After years of evading capture, and expanding their settlement, they eventually outgrow the island and were granted by Queen Victoria the land of Norfolk Island to settle on. We loved seeing how proud the Norfolk Islanders were of their history and their traditions from both British and Polynesian influence. The island very much had a close community feel.
Getting to Norfolk Island within 2.5 hours from the Australian Mainland:
That's right, it's only 2.5 hours away from Brisbane or Sydney directly with Air New Zealand! What are you waiting for?
One of the beauties of Norfolk Island is how untouched it is, which is one of the most charming parts about it. The hotels on the island are small locally-run independent venues.
We stayed at the Seaview Hotel, which for 6 nights cost less than $1K. Here we enjoyed amazing ocean views from our room overlooking Phillip Island, breakfast included and a phone to use on the Island (as Australia sim cards don't work there, you'll need a local number).
While everywhere on the Island is no more than 15 minutes drive, we recommend staying around Burnt Pine area to be close to the restaurants and cafes.
How long do you need on Norfolk Island:
We'd recommend between 4-7 days to see all of the highlights.
When to visit Norfolk Island:
We'd recommend coming in the summertime, as this is when the Seabirds return to the island for breeding which gives an incredible chance to see some birdlife which cannot be found anywhere else in the world. Temperatures during summer tend not to reach above 27 degrees.
Planning your week on Norfolk Island - Top things to see and do:
1. Snorkel or swim in Emily Bay and Slaughter Bay:
Experience crystal clear waters, soft sand beaches and an array of underwater activity at Emily Bay and Slaughter bay. These are the most protected beaches on the island for swimming. If you prefer not to swim it is also possible to take a glass-bottom boat tour around the area or rent kayaks.
2. Experience the UNESCO World Heritage-listed settlement and Convict past of Kingston:
Learn about Australia's second settlement, Norfolk Islands convict gaol history and the settlers of Pitcairn island all in the Kingston area.
For $35 you can get an unlimited museum pass to the four island museums in the area, we recommend a visit to them all. They open at 11 am, however if you arrive at 9.30 am tickets include a pre-opening guided tour through the museums.
While you're in the Kingston area don't miss:
wandering through the settlement remains
A walk to the top of Flagstaff hill
a visit to the Boody Bridge
a walk through the cemetery
3. Walk along the dramatic coastline from Captain Cook point along the Bridle Trail:
Named based on the expected landing point of Captain Cook on the Island, this is one viewpoint you can't miss. Start from the Carpark of Captain Cook Point and make your way along the 1.7km Bridle Trail for some of the most spectacular and dramatical coastal views over Norfolk Island. The track runs along cliff edges and through the lush island forest landscape.
4. Enjoy a sunset picnic at Anson Bay:
Anson Bay is one of the most picturesque bays on Norfolk island. Surrounded by stunning cliffs it has a clear turquoise beach below. If you're feeling adventurous you can take the steep hike to the bottom for a swim, but if you prefer to relax, pack some snacks and a blanket and make your way here for sunset.
5. Taste an island Fish Fry from Orn Da Cliff at Sunset:
Set outdoors on large tables overlooking the cliffs for sunset we got to try a taste of the local dishes (our favourite was the coconut bread) and watch the local Polynesian dances while enjoying an evening with music and getting to know the other tourists on the island.
This dinner only operates on certain nights of the week so be sure to plan if you're interested in doing it. It is BYO alcohol if preferred and you have the option to drive yourself there or take a tour bus. We booked our tour with Pine Tree Tours.
6. Take in the views while learning about the legendary Barney Duffy at the Headstone Reserve:
Another stunning cliff facing trail with ocean views walking toward the Headstone Reserve. The track would be no more than 500m but offers exceptional scenery not to be missed. A headstone located on the rocky point of the reserve tells the story of the legendary Barney Duff, an escaped convict who evaded capture for over 7 years living in the woods. However, it is a well-debated story as to whether the legend is true or not.
7. Look out for one of the world's rarest birds - the Green Parrot in the Norfolk Island National Park:
The Norfolk Island Green Parrot found only on Norfolk Island is one of the world's rarest birds. It is one of the 20 endangered priority Australian bird species on the list for protection in 2020. After the 1970's only 50 remained in the wild, however after extensive rehabilitation work during the last 20 years the population has been steadily increasing.
We managed to spot 3 of the Green Parrots in just one day in the Norfolk Island National park along the 910m Palm Glen Circuit Track, the 290m Palm Glen track and the 700m Red Stone link track. All of these were connected and doable in one walk. We also continued this walk onto the 760m Bird Rock track for more stunning ocean views.
8. Meet the locals and learn about Norfolk Island life with the Progressive Dinner tour:
This was one of our favourite tours in Norfolk Island and is something we'd highly recommend for a true insight into what local life on Norfolk Island is like. It's a unique experience which we'd never done anything else like in our travels. Enjoy a 3-course meal progressing across 3 local Norfolk Islander family homes for entree, main and dessert. While dining, each homeowner will share their stories about their family history and day to day experience on the island, with times for Q&A. We booked our tour with Pine Tree Tours again, it was roughly $84 per head, and like the other tours, it doesn't operate every night so be sure to plan when you wish to go.
9. On the topic of Rare Birds and unique wildlife, spot it all with Margret Christians Green Eyes Bird watching and nature tour:
For a true understanding of not just the birdlife but the unique flora and fauna of Norfolk Island be sure to book Margret Christians Green Eyes Bird Watching tour. We spent a half-day exploring the park areas of the island spotting rare birds and learning all about the delicate ecosystem of the island. Margret worked for the Norfolk Island National Park service for over 20 years and was one of the most knowledgeable and interesting people to hear. The highlight of the tour was morning tea in her backyard which overlooked the cliff-fronts right where the sea birds are nesting and breeding. As this is private land, it's one of the only ways to see this up close.
10. Sumit the Island from Mt Pitt to Mt Bates:
For some of the best views over the top of the island, drive to the summit of Mt Pitt. From there take the Summit Trail along the ridge of the top of the 2 mountains to Mt Bates. It is an easy 500m walk with some interesting world war two history along the way, including the remnants of an old power station.
11. Find the seabird nesting sites in the 100 Acre Reserve:
Take the walking trail through the reserves forest and clifftops, where you can visit the sea birds nesting grounds burrows. The walk is roughly 1-2kms.
12. Visit the pre-historic looking Moreton Bay Fig Trees
Stop along Headstone Road to visit the epic and prehistoric-looking Moreton Bay fig trees. They are located just next to the Homestead Restaurant and are incredibly Instagram worthy.
13. Visit the Botanic Gardens:
For more easy boardwalk trails and to learn about Norfolk Islands plant life be sure to visit the Norfolk Island Botanic Gardens. Here you can spot the giant Norfolk Tree ferns, they hold the Guinness world record for the worlds tallest tree fern species.
14. Try the local wine at Two Chimneys Winery:
If you love wine tasting, make a stop at Two Chimneys Winery, where you can enjoy a drink or two on the verandah overlooking the vineyard.
15. Visit Cascade and Kingston Pier:
For a glimpse into Norfolk Islands Marine history and their traditional shipping methods, be sure to visit Cascade and Kingston Pier.
16. Stop to check out the cows by the roadside
Norfolk Island is full of cows freely roaming the lands, you'll see plenty by the roadside as you make your way around the island. Be sure to stop and take a few photos with them.
17. Visit the St Barnabas Chapel
St Barnabas Chapel has to be one of the most beautiful buildings in Norfolk Island, take a quick stop to explore and appreciate the wooden structural work made of Norfolk Pines.
18. Pick up some local produce to take home
We spotted this cute little honesty box on the road toward Captain Cook lookout point. It was filled with locally made Jams and Relishes. We picked up a tomato relish to take home and it was probably one of the best we'd ever tasted. If you're looking for other locally-made treats, try Prinkle or Slick and Sons Deli.
19. Take a hiking tour of Australia's Uluru - Phillip Island
Take a tour out to Phillip Island, just a short boat ride from Norfolk Island to experience a dramatically different island landscape. The island is a key breeding point for sea birds. Unfortunately, we didn't make it on our trip as it's very much dependant on the tide. We recommend booking early and keeping a day aside for it in case you can go, but you need to be flexible on your timing.
20. Visit the old supermarket and village
We loved the retro vibes of the supermarket - it's was such a cute stop we recommend to pay a visit.
Where to eat in Norfolk Island Norfolk Island also has some amazing local produce, restaurants and cafes, here are a few we highly recommend trying during your visit:
Cafes for Breakfast:
The Golden Orb Cafe: For a casual breakfast with forest views, visit the Golden Orb Cafe. Enjoy breakfast outside on the Verandah under the avocado trees
The Olive Cafe: Easily the most popular cafe on the island, don't miss having breakfast and the Olive Cafe.
Prinke: For the best coffee on the island (in our opinion) and healthy and sustainable foods, visit Prinke. There is also a delicious sandwich shop next door where you can order food to eat within the cafe.
High Tide Cafe: For a casual brunch, with outdoor tables along the main street of Burnt Pine head to the High Tide Cafe.
Lunch and snacks:
Slick and Sons Deli: For gourmet cheese, olives and cold cuts, head to Slick and Sons Deli. This is the perfect spot to pick up any picnic goods.
Tempo Cafe: For a quick and casual lunch, visit Tempo Cafe in Burnt Pine.
Seriously Chocolate and Sweeties: For homemade ice cream and local chocolates, head to Seriously Chocolate and Sweeties, both located in Burt Pine. They are great options for picking up souvenirs to take home.
Norfolk Island Restaurants for Dinner:
For a gourmet dinner overlooking the 100 Acre reserve, sitting on the outdoor verandah be sure to visit Homestead. This was one of our highlights of the trip. We loved the lamb as a main course and creme brulee as dessert. Be sure to make a booking in advance.
For another top quality dining experience, the Hili Restaurant and cafe is a must. Located in a super cute house connected to the Queen Victoria Gardens this is a beautiful dining spot. Our favourite dish was the Cheese Souffle, made from locally farmed goats cheese and the Pork belly for mains. You will need to book in advance to get in, the restaurant is not open every night too so again be sure to plan when you want to go.
For a casual dinner head to the local RSL. We found they had the best free wifi on the island and for free too. The outdoor deck also has great views for an afternoon or evening drink.
For an amazing steak dinner, don't miss the Bounty Bar and Grill. This is a popular spot, so again be sure to make a booking.
We hope you enjoyed guide to Norfolk Island, Australia. To see more of our other Australian destination guides click here.
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