Cycling in paradise

Cars are few. Bikes are plenty. The speed limit is 25km/hour. Most visitors ride bikes. Nobody needs a bike lock. The air is clean. The water is clear and unpolluted.

“Wake up! Wake up! You’re dreaming!” I hear you yell.

And I might have thought the same if I hadn’t seen it for myself.

There is an island, given birth about seven million years ago when lava flowed from a volcano in the Tasman Sea, a sea that shares its shores with Australia and New Zealand. The island is only thirteen kilometres long. At its widest, it is 2.2 kilometres, at its narrowest a mere 500 metres and the island’s highest peak rises to 875 metres, and another to 777 metres. It is the remains of a once large volcanic caldera. And last week I cycled my way through seven days on this island paradise of Lord Howe Island.

Travel two hours by plane from Sydney or Brisbane and this unique island sets an inspiring standard for sustainable living. Lord Howe Island (LHI) is a UNESCO World Heritage area. Being 600kms from the nearest landmass, it has extraordinary land and marine ecosystems. It has the world’s most southern coral reef. Its marine waters have spectacular biodiversity. About 75% of the island’s original natural vegetation is intact. Nearly half of the indigenous plant species are found nowhere else in the world. And, because of its unique system for self-governance, the island residents are able to care, control and manage their island home. Sustainability is a priority and seen as a necessity.

Mt Gower and Mt Lidgefield on Lord Howe Island: A UNESCO World Heritage area.

In the distance, Mt Gower and Mt Lidgbird with a lagoon of turquoise waters at their feet.

Bike-riding is part of this picture. Tourist beds on LHI are limited to 400. Roads are few. Cars are expensive to ship to the island and fuel is very expensive. Visitors have to move around and so the bike hire service flourishes. This was my second visit to LHI and this year I noticed a few electric golf carts enabling some elderly people to enjoy the island. Most people, however, ride a bike, hiring it for their entire stay and using it to move from their accommodation to the lagoon boatsheds for a turtle tour to North Bay, to the start of a hiking trail that winds through the island’s nooks, ridges and peaks; and to park it at Ned’s beach while they snorkel amongst corals pink, purple, blue, green, soft, hard, and swim with the elaborately tinted Wrasse, the graceful Butterflyfish, and the curious Silver Drummer fish.

Elaborately tinted Wrasse cruising the coral.

Elaborately tinted Wrasse cruising the coral.

You’re unlikely to see any lycra sitting on the bike seats – just shorts, sarongs, bikinis, and towels worn around wet bathers. Every bike wears a basket that carries the day’s essential kit – beach towel, hat, snacks, water, snorkelling mask, snorkel and flippers or perhaps a map for rambling a trail. No one carries a bike lock. It’s not necessary. Just park your bike and it’ll be there when you return. Each destination – a beach, the start of a trail, the lagoon, the place you sleep, the places you eat – all have a simple bike rack to house your bike. And if there’s no bike rack just lean it against the trunk of a Kentia Palm or in any random location. It’ll be there when you get back.

Bike rack at Ned's Beach.

Bike rack at Ned’s Beach.

Cycling is not just for the island’s visitors. Many locals make their way through each day on two wheels. Collecting their mail from the post office, buying their supplies, or to write on the noticeboard after the fortnightly barge arrives from Port Macquarie: “I have someone’s Vaalia yoghurt. Does anyone have my Bulgarian cheese?” There’s often a plastic milk crate tethered to a local’s bike for carting things around. Though one guy had a trailer attached to his mountain bike and told me he’d moved house three times with that trailer!

Bikes are part of life on Lord Howe Island. They help keep the place pristine and they help visitors enjoy a unique holiday in a unique location. Visitors – all ages, sizes, shapes and experience – travel around on bikes. Some clearly haven’t been on a bike for years. Some like me are adjusting to the feeling of an unfamiliar bike. The one thing we all share though is the infectious happiness from freewheeling on this beautiful island paradise.

(p.s. I think I may have broken the speed limit a couple of times riding downhill on Anderson Road.)

Bike parking by the lagoon on Lord Howe Island

Bike parking by the lagoon on Lord Howe Island.

This bike's owner has moved house three times with this trailer.

This bike’s owner has moved house three times with this trailer.

Sustainability is essential. The island has to be self-sufficient for its water supply.

Sustainability is essential. The island has to be self-sufficient for its water supply.

The island's maximum speed limit is 25km/hour.

The island’s maximum speed limit is 25km/hour.

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