You know you've arrived somewhere a little different when a beaming Qantas representative jumps on the plane and cheerily welcomes you to your destination. He's clearly happy with his lot on Lord Howe Island and it's not difficult to see why.

Lord Howe, between Australia's east coast and Norfolk Island, was designated a Unesco World Heritage site in 1982 for its "rare collection of plants, birds, marine life and exceptional natural beauty". The surrounding waters were declared a marine park in 1998.

What this means in real terms is spectacular scenery, unique wildlife and stunning vistas wherever you turn. I lost count of the number of times I was stopped in my tracks by yet another perfect postcard scene.

When you first arrive, a good way to get your bearings is to hike up to Kim's Lookout at the north of the island. A thigh-burning 45-minute ascent through a lush, subtropical rainforest delivered me to a lookout that left my camera's memory card severely depleted.

From here, the azure waters of the lagoon stretch out towards the spectacular peaks of Mt Lidgbird and Mt Gower, and you can clearly see the waves breaking on the coral reef that shields the bay.

On the way down, I pass children from the island's school out on an excursion with the island's only policeman (who has so little crime to investigate that he doubles as the customs officer). None of the youngsters wear shoes to school and I wonder if they realise they're growing up in such a blessed environment.

Kim's Lookout is a good warm-up for the island's most famous walk - the spectacular 875-metre ascent of Mount Gower. It's a strenuous four-hour climb that involves rope-pulls and traverses along narrow ledges to a summit that is often shrouded in cloud. Locals assure me that on a clear day the top offers unsurpassed views across the island. I'm happy to take their word for it.

Visitor numbers to Lord Howe are capped at 400 - an inspired decision which preserves the unhurried pace for which the island is famous. There are plenty of options for those who wish to be active (walking, fishing, diving and golf to name a few) and plenty of beaches, restaurants and cafes for those who don't.

On the other hand, hundreds of thousands of feathered visitors flock to Lord Howe to breed each year. I wouldn't know a rare bird if it tapped me on the shoulder, but all over the island I saw birds I've never seen on mainland Australia.

The marine life is just as spectacular, and during a snorkelling trip with local guide Dean Hiscox, I swam over pristine coral and through schools of brightly-coloured tropical fish. The water temperature at the end of September was still a bracing 18 degrees (Dean called it invigorating) but in the summer it warms up to a much more appealing 26 degrees.

In the 10 years Hiscox has been running these tours he's seen very little of the bleaching that is ruining other coral reefs around Australia. He's one of only three operators in the bay and they are all keenly aware the future of the reef is in their hands. It's an ethos that is shared by all of the island's 350 permanent residents and it's refreshing to see a natural wonder being treated with the respect it deserves.

If you prefer not to get your hair wet, you can still interact with the local wildlife at Ned's beach. Wade into the water and you'll be surrounded by one-metre-long kingfish that have been hand fed for years. Just brace yourself for the inevitable pang of guilt when you tuck into one at dinner later that night (they're delicious).

Lord Howe Island has seduced many people over the years with its stunning scenery and beguiling charm. Bill and Jane Shead first fell under its spell during the 1980s when they used to sail their yacht over from the mainland to holiday in the lagoon. In 1987, Bill spotted an advert for a dilapidated, old motel for sale on the island and the pair had an idea. Twenty years and plenty of work later, they've transformed the site into one of the island's premier resorts, Arajilla.

Hidden among a forest of banyan trees and kentia palms, the resort has an infectiously laid-back feel. None of the rooms have a key and guests mingle over pre-dinner drinks in the Balinese-themed lounge before dining at the restaurant on site. The cooking is superb, with an a la carte menu that features delicacies such as yoghurt and ginger quail with corn and avocado salsa, and lamb back strap wrapped in pastry with French lentils.

I stayed in one of the resort's recently refurbished rooms which are comfortable and spacious, and come complete with lounge area and private terrace.

A relatively recent addition is a spa, housed in a timber Mongolian yurt, that offers authentic Ayurvedic treatments. I recommend the 90-minute, marma-point massage which left me in a state of dreamy contemplation.

After two-and-a-half days I left Lord Howe with only one regret: I wish I had more time, because I barely scratched the surface of the activities available.

The writer was a guest of Arajilla and QantasLink.