Driving Norfolk in the rain!

When we woke up on our second day on Norfolk Island, the weather had turned against us and a fine rain changed our plans for the morning. Walking didn’t seem a good option so we decided we would have a look at the west and north coast of Norfolk by car. Perhaps the rain would stop and the views would be great. Our destination was to check out the site where Captain Cook landed back in 1774. Normally on most Islands if you drive from one end to the other end, it would take quite a long time…at approximately 8 Km long, it is only the hilly country that slows down the drive. We drove through the centre of Burnt Pine and headed for the west coast along Douglas Drive.

Before we reached the main road along the west coast of the island, we noticed a sign pointing towards St Barnabas Chapel on the right, we decided to turn in and have a quick look. It looked like an interesting church in a picturesque setting but unfortunately it wasn’t open. We continued on with our morning drive but were lucky enough to visit the chapel as part of a bus tour later on that afternoon. (See Appendix 1).

Our next stop was on Anson Bay Rd at Puppy’s Point to have stroll and check out the sheer edge of Norfolk. For much of the west coast there is no easy access to the waterfront and the cliffs at Puppy’s Point were a good example of the sheer edge of the island.

At its widest point, Norfolk is only 5km wide so we were able to cover the distance reasonably easily to reach the Captain Cook Memorial at a headland overlooking Duncombe Bay where Cook landed. He was on his second voyage in search of Terra Australia but went too far south, became the first person to cross the Antarctic Circle (twice) before heading north again on a circuit that took in Norfolk Island, New Zealand and back home again around South America.  As for Norfolk, he wrote… “We found it uninhabited, and were undoubtedly the first that ever set foot on it.”

I have always considered that to get an Island named after you, as a person you would have to be quite significant and the occasion of the request would have to be momentous. In the case of Norfolk Island, the Duchess of Norfolk was sitting next to Cook at a dinner party and casually asked him if he discovered an Island on his next trip, would he be kind enough to name it after her. He apparently agreed but she had passed away before she realised that her casual request had been granted. Perhaps if Cook had discovered Australia before Norfolk Island, we might live in a country called ‘Norfolk’

The memorial to Cook is on the east coast at the edge of the Norfolk Island National Park. The road through the park is very hilly with hairpin bends and in the rain it wasn’t the easiest of drives. We made it to the headland and clearly the National Park had invested in excellent infrastructure for visiting tourists. However you cannot prepare for squally weather so it was raincoats and umbrellas as we staggered down the hill to read the inscription on the memorial to Cook’s one day visit. All our visit achieved is the recognition that it is a ‘good weather’ site and if the weather had have been fine, then we would have been able to have a great walk along the coast and get a great view of Norfolk’s mini ‘Apostles’ (see image above right); these sea-stacks are great breeding grounds for the visiting migratory sea-birds.

After dealing with the wind and rain, we hurried back to our car and noticed the curious adornment on the tree we were parked under. The Norfolk Pine was draped with a pale-green lichen called ‘Old-Man’s Beard’ that seemed to be a very attractive addition to the tree. Apart from being an adornment, this lichen is a good indicator of air quality… if air quality is good, the beard grows longer, if air quality is poor it may only grow to a few millimetres.

From the north/east coast we headed back the way we came, drove for some time along Anson Bay Rd before taking the ominously named Headstone Road. This took us to a peninsula on the south/east corner of Norfolk that has been declared a reserve, called simply ‘One Hundred Acres’. It was still too wet to go for a long bush walk through what we were told was an excellent forest for walking. A little further along we came across a grove of enormous fig-trees that towered over the road. We thought they were astounding but the locals didn’t need to be told this; apparently it is the favourite spot for formal photos for Year 12 students at the end of each year.

We continued along New Farm Road and took a right turn at Bumbora Road. Our map and the sign on the side of the road told us we were heading towards the attractively named spot on the south coast called Crystal Pool. As was bound to happen, we reached a section of the road that was leading downhill and very muddy due to all the recent rain; the sign advised us that if we drove down, returning up the hill would be challenging. The rain was easing so we decided we now needed a good walk so we parked the car on top of the hill and headed down towards Point Ross. There was another warning sign at the top of the hill that particularly emphasised the four other dangers that we could face on this walk. I was a bit dubious about the danger of muttonbird holes but the number I encountered on the way down the road seemed to suggest that there was no danger of this bird becoming extinct on Norfolk

The scenery was rugged and beautiful at the bottom of the hill and the sea was very rough that morning. We didn’t find the actual Crystal Pool anywhere around the headland but we were told later that the headland was a favourite spot for the local surfers who clearly knew no fear! The photo of one side of the Point can be seen below right and the cliff edge can be seen quite clearly. Not far from the cliff edge were the two signs on the left below that warned us of dire consequences of getting too close to anything. Luckily the scenery was worth the dangerous stroll down the hill.

By the time we made it back to the top of the hill dodging muttonbird holes, the rain had stopped. We were now left with a clear day and time before lunch to have a quick look at the ruined water-mill at the top of Arthur’s Vale or, as its known today, Watermill Valley. It is the valley directly behind Kingston and was where the first farming on Norfolk Island occurred after the first settlers arrived in 1788. A wooden water mill was built here by the first settlers but it was succeeded in 1828 by a stone water mill, the ruins of which still stand today beneath the dam, the original of which would have powered the mill in the 19th century. This mill was eventually replaced by the Crank Mill down on the shoreline. These mills were essential for the survival of the settlers on Norfolk as they provided the flour staples that were the basic food of the settlers. The image on the left below is an early diagram of the valley and the one on the right shows the dam today that once fed the water-mill.

Around the public space next to the ruined watermill we couldn’t help but notice the large number scrawny chickens that seemed to be allowed to roam free in this area without any sight of a home roost. On a bus tour later that afternoon our guide decided to give us a commentary on her distaste for what were in fact feral chooks that roamed Norfolk Island and were a danger for bus traffic. Our companions at the watermill belonged to no one! Even if you’re hungry and decided to catch one and put it in the pot for the evening meal, there is very little meat in the dish or any culinary satisfaction.

The other animal that roams free on Norfolk are the cows. Unlike the chickens, the cows have tags in their ear so their owners can claim them when it’s time for them to visit the glue factory. The cows are more problematic for passing traffic than rogue chickens; in the image on the left, a concerned citizen is attempting to move cows off the road.

APPENDIX 1: St Barnabas Chapel

This chapel was originally built by the Melanesian Mission whose school and headquarters were based on Norfolk Island from 1866 to 1920. It was originally built as a memorial to a Bishop of Melanesia, John Coleridge Patteson who was killed on the Solomon Islands where he was taken for a ‘Blackbirder’, a slave trader in workers for the Queensland sugar plantations. A chapel like this doesn’t appear out of nowhere on an isolated pacific Island without there being an unusual reason for its presence and its extraordinary beauty. The Bishop was so popular that a fund was set up to create a memorial and donations were very generous which explains the funding of a beautiful building and some amazingly rare decorations.

The West Rose Window is amazing and was created by the firm of William Morris in Surrey England. William Morris’s fame as both an artist and an author is still recognised more than a century after he died. His stained glass and his wallpapers grace many a fine mansion in England. Fans of fantasy novels that became prominent in the latter half of the 20th century (eg. Lord of the Rings) can thank William Morris who wrote one of the foundational fantasy novels, The Well at the World’s End (1896). He was a close friend of members of the Pre-Raphaelite group of painters who were very prominent in the late 19th century, including Edward Burne-Jones and Dante Gabriel Rossetti. Remarkable as it is to discover a rose window by William Morris, the stained glass windows in the front wall of the chapel were created by his friend Burnes-Jones.

Many churches feature stained glass windows at the front of the church with the four evangelists depicted using traditional animal symbols to indicate the identity of the Gospel writer. In the images below, Burnes-Jones continues to use the traditional evangelistic symbols but these famous Jewish writers, Mark and John, are depicted without beards, as handsome young men in the prime of their life. While the rest of the church’s decorations are gorgeous, to view the stained-glass windows of St Barnabas Chapel would, for many people, be worth the cost of the entire trip.

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