Adventure Australia Travel/holiday

Lord Howe Island and the trek of doom

After our amazing weekend in Sydney we swapped city life for 5 nights on world heritage listed Lord Howe Island. We flew in on a tiny plane and were immediately greeted with blue skies and bright sunshine – a welcome change from the chilliness of Melbourne and Sydney. Fun facts! Lord Howe is located 600km east of the Australian mainland in the South Pacific. The island is just 11km long and 2km wide at the widest point. And there are just 350 permanent residents, with tourists restricted to 400 at any one time.

Our studio at Beachcomber Lodge had everything we needed for our stay, and was just a short walk from some of the island’s shops and restaurants, as well as their much loved Ned’s Beach (where we later squeezed in a scuba dive).

Mount Gower
Mount Gower

One of the first things we did was sign up to the Mount Gower trek taking place on Wednesday. I perhaps foolishly decided to read lots of TripAdvisor reviews about the trek, so I pretty much knew what to expect:

  • a tough trek/climb, not suitable for anyone with a fear of heights (and only suitable for moderately fit/very fit people)
  • very steep sections which would require the use of ropes (ropes??!!)
  • an 8 hour return trip at the very least (starting at 7am).

I was not happy about any of this (especially the bits in brackets above) and by the time I woke up on the morning of the trek I was actually just hoping it would be cancelled due to the rain we’d had during the night! But unfortunately for me the trek went ahead, and before I could say ‘maybe I should stay behind and have a massage instead’ we were starting out.

Pretty early on we were already using the aforementioned ropes. But it wasn’t the sort of climbing seen in survival drama movie 127 Hours; rather than each person being attached to their own climbing ropes and doing all sorts of things with carabiners, these ropes were permanently fixed to the rocks and we just grabbed onto them when needed to pull ourselves up.

The next section was interesting though – we had to don helmets and then edge sideways along a very narrow path (holding onto a rope of course!), with the mountain towering above us and a 100m drop below us. The only redeeming feature was the incredible view of the entire island in front of us. I began to wonder if there was any point carrying on – how could the view from the top possibly beat this?!

Ball's Pyramid
Ball’s Pyramid

Next our guide Jack Shick showed us how to shimmy up a palm tree with just a foot strap thing (as you do), and then we ditched our helmets and did some normal, surprisingly flat walking. Jack provided some interesting commentary about the vegetation on the mountain along the way (but only when he wasn’t talking to his friend, who had joined the trek sporting a flowing grey beard and flip flops!), and then we had a lovely little morning tea break by a creek. After that there were some more steep sections, including a couple of really tricky ones, but we also got an amazing view of Ball’s Pyramid (the world’s tallest sea stack).

View from the top - just before the rain!
View from the top – just before the rain!

Before we knew it we were at the summit, enjoying our lunches with a breath-taking view of the island below us. The plan was to start our descent at about 12.30pm, but as if on cue the sky completely clouded over and it started pouring with rain just as we got up to go! This made the journey down very difficult – not only were we negotiating the usual rocks, tree roots and ropes, but we were also trying to avoid slipping and tumbling to our deaths. And the really tricky sections going up were 10 times harder on the way down. At one point Alex told me to ‘hold onto the rope and lean back as if you’re abseiling’ – interesting advice given we’ve been together for 9 years and have never been abseiling once! But he redeemed himself by grabbing my arm, Indiana Jones style, when I accidentally lost my grip on the rope and so nearly fell a long way onto a very hard surface!

Needless to say, I was really hating the trek by this point. It was just so slippery and scary, and the group had separated out quite a bit due to the one-at-a-time rope sections. Then Alex slid into me and knocked me over – leaving me with a big bruise on my thigh and a HUGE bruise on the left cheek of my bottom (still there over a week later!). Although plenty of other people were struggling too (I was relieved to hear I wasn’t the only one swearing from time to time!), a man who was probably in his late 70s and had had both knees replaced was as agile as a mountain goat!

Finally, finally we got to the bottom, a mere 9.5 hours after we started out. I was damp, sore, covered in mud and bruises and totally exhausted, but I’d done it!

View of Mount Gower
View of Mount Gower (the mountain on the right!)