It’s just off the rhumb line between Auckland in New Zealand and the Gold Coast. It’s obviously volcanic, its cliffs rising steeply out of the sea, and it’s grandly beautiful. It’s also midway between lots of other sailing destinations – Sydney and Suva, Port Vila down to New Zealand. It’s called Norfolk Island.
As you approach sailors will see two smaller islands to the South , Nepean and Phillip, where masked boobies, wedgetail shearwaters and other exotic seabirds are nesting. Across Sydney Bay, at Kingston on Norfolk Island proper, the well-preserved, convict-built stone dwellings of Australia’s harshest penal settlement are clearly, if distantly, visible. Beyond them, rolling green pastures and groves of towering pine trees rise gradually to the subtropical forests of 318 m Mount Pitt and Mount Bates, their tops swirling with mist and cloud. Sounds like a perfect stopping point for many en route cruisers, so why aren’t there more sailboats there?
Kiwi Ian Kenny, who originally came to Norfolk Island as a whale harpooner, offers fishing trips and island cruises in his seven metre fibreglass runabout. He sees superyachts and sailboats approach the islands fairly frequently while he is out fishing.
'They come, they look, and mostly they continue on their way after a few hours,' he says. 'Maybe they have not considered the logistics of going ashore. That is a pity, because owners and their guests, not to mention crew, could have a very interesting time here.'
Norfolk Island map - Norfolk Island Tourism
Allan McConnell of Norfolk Island Customs said that a fleet of 12 sailing yachts had anchored together in Ball Bay, well protected from a SW to NW swell, although the island’s oil storage tanks are located here, so scenically it is not as pretty as other areas of the shoreline.
Larger tall ships Soren Larsen, Tucker Thompson and Sea Cloud have arrived as well.
And if anybody has lost a 14 m bridge deck sailing catamaran called Incinerator, the good island folk saw it floating past last December, and salvaged it!
McConnell cautions that visitors anchoring off Norfolk should leave competent crew aboard capable of relocating the vessel if the weather conditions change.
Two Irishmen and a Kiwi lately put their 12 m sloop aground in Cascade Bay by allegedly ignoring such advice. The relevant chart Aus 609 should be aboard.
The need to ‘leave competent crew aboard’ makes it difficult for the typical cruising couple to visit and enjoy the area. However, as long as you are aware of the changeability, and are prepared to leave someone on board at all times or cruise in company so that watchers can remain behind, the visit can be incredibly rewarding – and here’s why….
What to do Ashore:
What to do ashore? One of the most fascinating aspects is seeing a fully fledged tourism industry still flourishing on the strength of a single shipboard dispute 217 years ago.
Beneath Norfolk Island’s picturesque outer cloak, sharing an area barely 5 kms by 8 kms, lies a remarkable congregation of 1,600 islanders. Some Australians and New Zealanders are also allowed to live there these days, but both national groups seem rather beholden to the core force of Norfolk Island society, the descendants of the British mutineers on Her Majesty’s naval ship The Bounty, formerly under the command of Captain William Bligh.
Inside view of house at old convict settlement - Norfolk Island Tourism
History buffs will also head for Kingston to see the ruins and in many cases well-kept Georgian buildings of the 1st Settlement (1788-1814) and the 2nd Settlement (1825-1855), when the worst prisoners from New South Wales and Van Diemen’s Land were sent here to suffer 'extremist punishment short of death'. Conditions were harsh and inhumane, inciting many murders and mutinies.
Today, the residential houses of Quality Row are in a picture-postcard setting, and Administrator Grant Tambling, a Northern Territory politician who has been a Federal MLA and Senator and amusingly once represented the Darwin seat of Fannie Bay, where a notorious gaol is located, sits in the colonial-looking Government House.
Norfolk Island became a territory administered by Australia in 1 914, but has had its own nine member Government since 1979.
Norfolk’s lovely Pacific-fringed golf course - Norfolk Island Tourism
The golf course is glorious, a green expanse of player friendly kikuyu grass stretching from the unique Georgian clubhouse to the beach-fringed Pacific Ocean, with Nepean and Phillip Islands offshore as backdrops. It costs $25 for 9 holes played twice from different tees. Clubs can be hired. A game of golf might make a refreshing change from seaboard life for the golfers
‘Two Chimneys Wines’ has a cellar door. Rod and Noelene McAlpine have produced a Sesquicentenary Celebration Wine Collection, with the assistance of Cassegrain Winery of Port Macquarie, and Rod hopes that four or five boutique vineyards will become established. Norfolk Island Coffee Plantations’ 100 per cent Arabica, available since late 2002, is another popular purchase.
Island style wining and dining - Norfolk Island Tourism
It is also possible to try a 'progressive dinner,' sampling a different course at various islander homes. Or you could head for the swimming beaches at Emily and Slaughter Bays, or tackle the walking or riding trails. Shopping is GST and tax free, for now at least.
So that’s Norfolk Island. There are no McDonald’s restaurants, no mobile phones and no traffic lights, so these people clearly know a thing or two about civilisation. They speak Strine but also have their own language, which is a mixture of old English and Tahitian, with some similarities to Pidgin.
INFORMATION FOR VISITING SAILORS: (please note, the following information is for guidance only, and visiting sailors should make their own enquiries as to currency and accuracy)
The islands, including Nepean and Phillip, are located at 29.02 S, 167.57 E, which is 1,760 km ENE of Sydney, 1,440 km nearly E of Brisbane, and 1,120 km NNW of Auckland.
There are 2 anchorages at Norfolk Island
· Sydney Bay (Kingston) anchorage - southern side of the Island
· Cascade Bay anchorage - northern side of the Island
The chart of Norfolk Island, approaches and anchorages is AUS609.
Please also refer to the correction list for this chart.
No fruit, vegetables or food of any kind is to be taken ashore by passengers.
Canned drinks or Water Bottles are acceptable.
The Bureau of Meteorology has an important Norfolk Island Office, tel (6723) 22079 or bom.gov.au/weather/nsw/norfolk.
Customs would like to know in advance who is turning up, because port clearances are required. Tel (7623) 22140 or customs.gov.nf. On arrival call them on Channel 16 VHF, but unless special arrangements have been made, a listening watch is only kept during weekday office hours.
Information on the Anchorages (supplied by Transom Argosy):
Cascade Bay -
Leads Cascade Bay -
Leads: 2 White Triangular Panels, pointing upwards giving a leading line of 222 degrees.
Anchorage: By staying west of these leads and steering 210 degrees with the upper beacon in line with corner of a white paddock fence (protecting a Norfolk Pine tree plantation from grazing cows)
Anchor with three shackles in the water.
With Radar: Landing rock 0.2 miles, Beach straight ahead 0.35 miles and North point of Bird Rock on 313 degrees.
(When Bird rock bears 307 degrees it is time to be ready to let go the anchor)
Anchorage Day or Night is very good holding ground on a sandy bottom
Tidal Currents: Westerly Current from Low to High Tide. Easterly Current from High to Low Tide.