So many of us have busy lives, short breaks can really help to rejuvenate and recharge the batteries. I welcomed a mini health and wellness break to Norfolk Island and found that a three-day visit was just what I needed to slow down the pace and get things into perspective.
Although I had heard of Norfolk Island, I had no idea what this little gem in the South Pacific Ocean had to offer. I decided to arrive without any expectations and was pleasantly surprised by what I discovered.
Made up of three islands - the others being Philip and Nepean, Norfolk is the largest at 3455 hectares, approx 8km wide and 5km long. There is no public transport, so the best way to navigate the unsealed roads is by car, the bumps and potholes double up as a little massage and help you keep to the 50km limit. I am told to keep an eye out for wandering cows, chooks, ducks and geese which have the right of way and not to forget the "Norfolk wave" when I see fellow drivers.
Within moments of arriving at Coast's Niau Cottage it's hard not to unwind and tune into your senses.
The gorgeous self-contained one-bedroom cottage is well-appointed, in a peaceful setting with wonderful views across rolling green hills out to sea. There are friendly horses roaming the paddocks and a salt water swimming pool as well as a spa room where you can book in for the most divine massage. Communication worries are instantly solved as they will provide you with a local mobile phone for the duration of your stay and internet can easily be purchased.
The scenery on Norfolk is spectacular - the contrast between the vivid green rainforest and crystal clear waters with golden sandy beaches is breathtaking. Norfolk pines are abundant on the island; when a resident reaches the milestone of living to 100 years (no doubt due to the stress-free and healthy lifestyle), the community acknowledges them by planting 100 trees on Norfolk in their honour.
As Norfolk is home to descendants of the Bounty mutineers it is worthwhile starting your visit with the award-winning 360-degree panoramic painting Fletcher's Mutiny Cyclorama, an incredible work by local artists that tells the story of the culture and heritage of the islanders. I also found it beneficial to get an overview of their history at World Heritage Kingston Arthurs Vale Historical Area (KAVHA). As you explore Norfolk you understand why the streets and areas are named as they are.
Taking a personal tour with knowledgeable Rick Kleiner is a great way to get your bearings and learn about the island. There are approximately 20 national parks and reserves providing great short or longer, more challenging, bush walks. One option is to start at Captain Cooks (where Rick tells me humpbacks can be seen if you're lucky) and amble along the bridle track that hugs the coastline; you'll be rewarded with spectacular views. Explore the forest paths leading to Bird Rock, or meander through Hundred Acres to Rocky Point, passing the enormous Moreton Bay fig trees at the start, picturesque and offering plenty of photo opportunities.
The locals pride themselves on their homegrown, free-range, organic, seasonal produce. All cafes and restaurants source their food locally. The only imported food staples are potato, garlic, onion and ginger.
There is a great choice of cafes offering uncomplicated but delicious tasty and healthy food options, from The Olive to the Golden Orb bookshop and it is worth the short drive out of town to discover Bedrock cafe, which has wonderful views out to sea. Be sure to try Noelene's famous vineyard platter at Two Chimneys Winery. It's a taste of the best fresh produce available from the family's garden. Roderick, who will show you through the cellar door, explains that the island has a great health and wellbeing quality to it, with fresh, unpolluted air second only to that at the North Pole.
The locals add to the charm of the place. With a small community it isn't surprising that they all know each other by name, and many businesses operate out of homes. They look out for each other and with that comes trust and safety - often homes are left open and people don't lock their cars, and there are honesty boxes on the side of the road with great selections of seasonal fruit and vegetables.
All of this refreshing honesty makes for a very relaxing break.
You can choose to be as busy or as laid back as you like on Norfolk. It's easy to spend an entire afternoon picnicking and walking, or to fill up your day with activities. Visit the KAVHA historical area, complete with four museums, see the Georgian buildings and convict ruins - not just in this area, you'll spot them in backyards too.
Climb the 220 steps up to Flagstaff Point to get a great bird's eye view of the settlement - or, if you want to go higher, head up to Mt Pitt, where you can get a wonderful 360 degree view and walk across to the even taller peak of Mt Bates. Wander round the shops and check out the art galleries, handmade jewellery, soaps, chocolate and pottery and don't miss the farmers and arts and crafts markets at the weekend where you can try exotic fruit smoothies made by Binky from Island Nectar.
Kayaking and fishing tours are available. Cook your catch at the island sunset fish fry, go along to a cooking school or join in on a fun progressive dinner in islanders' homes. Karlene can take you on a low-tide snorkelling tour at the reefed in and perfectly safe Slaughter Bay. She will warn you to watch out for the little fish who like to let you know they are there.
Marvel at the great variety of tropical fish and coral; this area is also great for swimming or, if you prefer to stay dry, you can take a glass-bottom boat tour.
Nearby at postcard-perfect and sheltered Emily Bay, it feels like you have landed in heaven. If you are lucky you will be the only one on the beach and you can swim out to the pontoon through the remarkably clear, warm cobalt blue water. The locals pride themselves on being fit and healthy, spending their time on pursuits including tennis, bowls, archery, Pilates and yoga. There's also a nine-hole golf course in the beautiful grounds of Government House at Kingston. Anson Bay on the west coast has good surf breaks - walk the track down to the secluded beach and take food with you, along this coastal road you will find irresistible picnic areas with the most incredible views.
It's well worth a look around the Botanic Gardens to discover some of the tropical flora and fauna native to Norfolk Island. Gaze across the tropical canopy and learn about the endangered green parrot which is native to Norfolk. Also here you will find a live cam which transports you over to Philip Island (if you don't have time for a half-day tour) to see the masked booby's nest and watch the birds.
Only 1.5 hours from Auckland, Norfolk is a quick and easy trip.
I will be visiting again for longer next time: there is so much to see and do and you really want to slow down the pace as much as possible and take your time exploring.
In November there's the food festival, the jazz festival and a 25k relay around the island which anyone can take part in, so there is plenty to come back for.