Rising out of the Tasman Sea about 350 miles due east of Port Macquarie, Australia, Lord Howe Island was formed from an erupting shield volcano seven million years ago, and remained undiscovered until 1788, when the British navy first spotted it. Nearly 200 years later, in 1982, UNESCO declared the entire island and its surrounding islets a World Heritage site, recognized for high numbers of endemic species and unusual geology—not to mention incomparable beauty.
For an island that covers only seven square miles, there is plenty to explore here. About three-quarters of the landmass is now protected, and thick forests blanket much of the island. The twin peaks of Mount Lidgbird and Mount Gower beckon hikers, and the coast is lined with intimate coves and long stretches of white-sand beach. The lagoon is sheltered by the southernmost true coral reef on the planet, and the surf is board-worthy at Blinky Beach. Just off the coast is Ball’s Pyramid, a pinnacle of rock that juts 1,844 feet into the sky, making it the world’s largest sea stack.
Lord Howe Island is a living lesson in the power of the Earth’s natural forces. The island and its surrounding isles were heaved up thousands of feet from the ocean floor by a volcanic eruption, and the sudden mountains and rocky outcrops visible today are a dramatic testament to this prehistoric explosion. Isolated in the Tasman Sea for so many millennia, the islands were once home to a wide spectrum of endemic species—about half of which succumbed to the settlers and hunters who arrived here in the 1800s.
Yet, between the coral reefs and the forests, there still exists an astonishing variety of flora and fauna: about 500 species of both tropical and temperate fish, 241 kinds of plants, and more than 200 types of birds—including endemic species, such as the flightless Lord Howe Island woodhen and the Providence petrel that are some of the rarest in the animal kingdom. The island is also the home of the kentia palm, one of the most popular houseplants around the world.
There are several wildlife success stories here: along with the woodhen, which was brought back from the edge of extinction through breeding programs, the Lord Howe Island phasmid, a large stick insect also known as a tree lobster, was recently rediscovered on Ball’s Pyramid after some 80 years of presumed extinction.
Lord Howe Island had no human population until the first settlers arrived from New Zealand and Europe in 1833. The island became a stop for ships passing between Australia and New Zealand, and served as a supply station for whalers until the 1870s, when the whaling industry began to decline. Today there are about 350 residents on the island, some of which some are descendants of the original settlers. Human inhabitants remain far outnumbered by birds and other wildlife on the island: the island government allows only 400 tourists at any one time, and no more than 11,000 travelers here each year.
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