Howe Astounding – KW 87


Gabi Steindl heads to Lord Howe Island


In KW #87, Gabi Steindl make the challenging trip to Lord Howe Island, a tiny stretch of land nestled 700km northeast of Sydney in the Tasman Sea. She discovered a kiting paradise and a true natural treasure for her troubles.



Words: Gabi Steindl / Images: Beau Pilgrim

The island is only 11 kilometres long and two kilometres at its widest point and during the short transfer to our accommodation it felt even smaller than I had expected. Just one main road runs across the crescent shaped islet with a few smaller side-streets forking off here and there. The only township is located on the northern side and everything is extremely lush and tropical in fifty shades of green. The spectacular twin-peaks of Mount Lidgbird (777 metres) and Mount Gower (875 metres) dominate the south end of the island. At eight kilometres long and one-and-a-half kilometres wide, an absolutely breath-taking lagoon runs along the western side. As an eroded remnant of a seven million-year-old shield volcano, Lord Howe counts 28 small volcanic islets along its coast and it’s also home to the world’s most southern coral reef. I simply could not wait to start exploring and ‘Getting there’ is worth it to be able to experience the beauty of this place by land and sea! 

Approximately 350 permanent residents call the island home and it’s not easy to become a true islander. You have to have lived on the island for ten consecutive years to get your ‘islander-status’, which makes you eligible to buy land. Even then it’s still not a walk in the park as there are only a small and limited number of blocks left for sale on the entire island.



The popular use of cars only really kicked in during the last ten years; the first one having only appeared on the island ten years before that! Today there are about 250 motor vehicles on the island, including machinery and transport mini-buses. There are a total of seven cars that are available to rent, but bicycles are the best way to get around. Chad immediately set us up with two bikes from the bike-hire stable at Ocean View, the Wilson’s family business. 

Established more than 100 years ago, it is one of the original guest lodges on Lord Howe and I was excited to meet Chad’s dad, Kevin, to find out more about the local history.

The island was first sighted on 17th February 1788 by Lieutenant Henry Lidgbird Ball, commander of the first fleet ship ‘Supply’ while transiting convicts from the east coast of Australia to the penal settlement of Norfolk Island. Ball named the uninhabited island after British Admiral Richard Howe and it remained basically untouched until the mid18th century, functioning mainly as a supply stop for ships between Australia and Norfolk Island, but was also used by whalers. 

Kevin’s great grandpa, Thomas Bryant Wilson (aka: TB), came to the island on his ship ‘Esperanza’ in 1876 and opened the Ocean View in 1912 as one of the island’s first guesthouses with six rooms. Today it offers 15 self-contained apartments. Kev’s brief summary of the island’s history ended on a tragic note: one of TB’s sons, Gower (named after the Mount), his eldest son Jack and four others were on their way from Sydney with a new boat for Ocean View when they were lost at sea on 1st November 1936 and never found again, highlighting the challenges in forging any sort of settlement here at that time.

All place names on the island (including beaches and mountains) originate back to that first fleet. It was so interesting to find out all the little details about each of the sights while exploring this magical environment.

Lord Howe is a UNESCO World Heritage listed paradise of global natural significance with a remarkable geology and an extremely varied landscape, even more so considering its actual size. A large part of the island is still practically untouched forest, with some unique flora and fauna that hasn’t been found anywhere else in the world. The ocean is absolutely crystal clear, full of colourful fish and coral. Most of the island is made up of luscious rainforest, palm, pine, banyan and pandanus trees, with the sweet smell of frangipani and hibiscus hovering in the air.



I was taken to the most remarkable of wonders of the Lord Howe Island Group on the first day. Dave Gardiner invited us on a day-out on his boat ‘Greenback’ – named after the locally prolific Yellowtail Kingfish. We set course for ‘Ball’s Pyramid’, the world’s tallest volcanic sea stack on the beamy, 9.3 metre custom-made fishing boat (which, by the way, also offers great space for a boat kite launch!). Situated 23 kilometres southeast of Lord Howe, the jagged pinnacle of rock thrusts 551 metres up out of the Tasman Sea. 

Named after Lieutenant Henry Lidgbird Ball, it has been captivating explorers since the first fleet. Just like Lord Howe, Ball’s Pyramid is a relic of the gigantic volcano that once stood in the area. Both formed when lava erupted simultaneously from several vents, spreading over a wide area and are joined underwater by a seamount that sits on the western edge of the Lord Howe Rise, a major submerged plateau that extends for almost 2,000 kilometres from the southwest of New Caledonia to west of New Zealand. 

1,100 metres long and 200 metres wide, Ball’s Pyramid is just 0.5 per cent of the mammoth volcano that it was once a part of. “The options for kiting on Lord Howe are pretty much endless. No matter your taste or preference of wind direction. If it’s offshore or cross-off on one side of the island, it’s onshore or cross-on on the other.”

I will never forget the moment I grasped the first glimpse of the basalt spire, shooting out of the ocean like a spearhead and breaking the endless view of the horizon. Coming closer and closer, I was in utter awe.

“In the distance it’s like a fairytale castle wreathed in clouds. It’s a medieval fortress, protected by an ocean moat and guarded by a ridge of towering battlements. It seems to drift on the water supported by a shroud of clouds. It is so unreal. Another world, mysterious and unknown, where the air is filled with the pounding of the waves and the wild yells of sea birds.” Those were the words of Australian John Davis, who was in the team of the first successful climbers that made it to the summit on 14th February 1965.

Ball’s Pyramid offers astonishing diving and fishing. Dave is ‘the man’ when it comes to fishing and we could have easily filled up the giant esky on the boat with kingfish, hapuka or cod. However, practicing sustainable fishing methods, we called it a day once we had enough for a number of dinners and for Greenback Eatery’s next ‘Fish Night’, which happens every Thursday night and is usually booked out days in advance.



I had my kite ready to go for a boat-launch, hoping to get out at the Pyramid, possibly to even do a crossing back to Lord Howe, but it wasn’t meant to be. Regardless, two more major highlights were still to come. I was sitting on the bow, staring out to the horizon in total bliss, when a large pod of bottleneck dolphins suddenly came up all around the front of the boat, playfully swimming with us as we steamed along. 

Everything seemed utterly surreal when one of them launched nearly ten metres up in the air right in front of me. We all screamed and cheered for the beautiful show. Free-diving a little later in more than 600 metre deep water that was the strongest and deepest shades of blue that I have ever experienced, I felt like a mermaid and couldn’t get the grin off my face until I put my tired bones to bed that evening, still rocking after a truly unforgettable day.



This feature first appeared in KW #87 in June 2017. Subscribe to the magazine for six issues a year of the original international kitesurfing magazine, rooted at the heart of the sport, and find more tales of adventure like this every issue.


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