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October 23, 2014

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Joanne Niswander: Lord Howe Island. How can I describe it?

By Joanne Niswander

First, let me apologize for the slow communication. Wireless Internet is hard to come by in the hinterlands of Australia, and that's where we've been lately. I'll probably be back in the States before I'm able to send my next report. But here's what's been happening since my last communiqu'e:

Lord Howe Island. How can I describe it? A tiny tropical paradise that is one of Australia's best-kept secrets. Lord Howe is about 7 miles long and 2 miles wide (much of it taken up by two tall mountains). It lies out in the ocean a two-hour plane flight east from Sydney. The island is only a tiny spot on the map, but a very beautiful and interesting one.

The entire island is a World Heritage Site and, because of this, there are restrictions to protect the island from commercialization (no McDonald's here, or anything else of that nature!). There are only 350 permanent residents on the island and visitors are restricted to 400 at any one time. We discovered that there are many ways that the 350 permanent residents work together to make sure their visitors are well treated - it's their means of survival.

Visitors to Lord Howe Island are usually either looking up or looking down, since most come for the birds or for the underwater adventures. My daughter and family came for the latter, I was interested in the former. My binoculars and I had plenty of company since there are several birds endemic to the island (found no other place in the world). Some very serious birdwatchers come here just to put a few new birds on their life-list.

While I was walking and birdwatching, the rest of my traveling family was revelling in the beauty under water. Lord Howe Island is the southern hemisphere's southern-most coral reef (the Great Barrier Reef is farther north and closer to the equator). The pictures my son-in-law took underwater prove that there's a whole other amazing world below the surface. Awesome!

Each evening, the three of them would pore over their illustrated diving book to check out which exotic fish they had seen that day. One day my grandson Elliott swam with the turtles as the big 2-3 foot creatures came close to the shore and he had his snorkeling gear on. So now Elliott has another good story to tell his 8th grade classmates when he gets home.

Our accommodations on Lord Howe were very comfortable - a two-bedroom vacation unit with a big living/dining/kitchen area overlooking a wide back lawn, palm trees, plus cows grazing on the upland meadow in the background.

Every day the Lord Howe Island Woodhens (seen nowhere else in the world) came to our back yard. The Welcome Swallows held a feeding frenzy each morning and evening. The tiny Golden Whistler sang to me as I walked the trails at Stevens Preserve. What fun!

We almost had to stay at Lord Howe Island an extra day than we had planned, as high winds overnight stopped plane flights for several hours. But our flight was only delayed and we got back to Sydney airport in plenty of time for our next flight - to Cairns on the tropical northeast coast of Australia.

That's the area I'll be reporting to you about next time. Good-day for now, mates!

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