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Norfolk Island A Brief History

Paradise - Captain James Cook, on his second voyage around the world, discovered the uninhabited Island on 10 October 1774, some thirty thousand centuries after Norfolk island propelled itself above the ocean's surface.  Norfolk Island was essentially uninhabited up until Cook discovered the island.  He named the Island in honour of the Duchess of Norfolk, a wife of the noblest peer of England.  While the Island was uninhabited at the time of discovery, evidence of previous occupation by Polynesians has since been found.

First Settlement (1788 - 1814) - Norfolk Island is the site of one of the earliest European settlements in the Southwest Pacific.  It is arguably the most famous place of the secondary punishment for nineteenth century British convicts.  On 6 March 1788, less than two months after the establishment of the colony of New South Wales, Lieutenant Philip Gidley King and 22 settlers (including 9 male and 6 female convicts) landed at what is now Kingston, Norfolk Island. 


The produce from this settlemnt probably saved the Sydney inhabitants from starvation but by 1801 it was no longer needed.  However, the settlement met with mixed success.  the soil was fertile but clearing the rainforest proved difficult and early crops were attacked by rats and parrots.  On 19 March 1790 HHMS Sirius, the flagship off the First Fleet, was wrecked on the reef at Kingston.  Althoug there was no loss of life, the incident higlighted the settlement's vulnerability.


Despite these difficulties, the settlement continued to grow, reaching a population of over 1100.  However, the settlement failed to become self-supporting and proved to be both difficult and expensive to maintain.  From 1806 onwards the inhabitants were gradually transferred to Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania).  In 1814 the settlement was abandoned, following destruction of all buildings to discourage unauthorised occupation of the Island.


Norfolk Island was to remain uninhabited for another 11 years.


Second Settlement (1825 - 1855) - In 1825 a second penal settlement was established, without free settlers, for the worst convicts from New South Wales and Van Diemen's Land.  It was officially described as a place of the extremist punishment, short of death.  Conditions were harsh and inhumane, often triggering murders, mutinies and escape attempts by the convicts.  The only exception was the period from 1840 to 1844 when the treatment of prisoners improved dramatically under Captain Alexander Maconochie, an enlightened prison reformer.  During the Second Settlement the convict population of the Island reached a maximum of about 2,000.  The fine buildings at Kingston were built by convicts during this period.  However, by 1855 , public pressure finally led to the abandonment of the Island as penal colony.  Many of the convicts  were transported to Port Arthur and New Norfolk in Van Diemen's Land.


Islanders - The Third period of occupation on Norfolk Island began when the descendants of the Bounty mutineers sailed from Pitcairn Island to settle on Norfolk Island.  194 people (40 men and 47 women, 54 boys and 53 girls) made this 3700 mile, five week journey to Norfolk Island, arriving on 8 June 1856.


Almost all these new settlers were descendants of the most famous naval mutiny in modern history - HMS Bounty. Given this, most of the new settlers carried names such as Adams, Buffett, Christian, Evans, McCoy, Nobbs, Quintal and Young.  8 June remains the most significant date on Norfolk Island's calendar each year.  Bounty Day, or Anniversary Day as it is more formally called, is a public holiday where the current descendants celebrate the arrival of their forebears.

Map of flying distance to Norfolk island
Map of Norfolk Island

Norfolk Island - Current Information to Note


Please click here  for a comprehensive list of history, geography, 

demographics, culture, government, economy and infrastructure, 

immigration, flora and fauna and much more.


Currently, Australians require a photo id, or, ideally a passport to enter

Norfolk Island and must travel via an international terminal even though it is a domestic flight.  You need to pass through Border Control upon arrival.  Even though it is considered an external territory of Australia, it is unique in many respects. 


It enjoys a fantastic climate of a sub-tropical nature, endemic flora and fauna, a laid-back lifestyle and a truly safe environment for visitors and locals alike.  There are strict quarantine regulations to keep the island pristine - you are not permitted to bring fresh fruit or vegetables or honey with you.  You are permitted to bring food but please declare this as you enter. If you have dietary needs we encourage you to bring your favourite food items with you (unopened commercial goods).


Our currency is Australian dollars, there is one ATM, and two roundabouts .  Every night we enjoy a star show to behold with no interruptions from ambient light sources.  We even have a local mobile phone service but global roaming is non-existant here, wireless internet and electricity!  Our natural water source is from the sky but we have a backup water table under the island. 


We even have our own language spoken by the decendants of the "Mutiny on the Bounty".  This is a recognised UNESCO language and is a compulsory subject at our own school (kindy to year 12). 


We have cows and chooks wandering free all over the island and every corner holds another Kodak moment - truly breathtaking with every curve.  It's impossible not to slow down on the island which just means that even the most citified of travellers will be hooked by the end of a perfect stay and will feel like a million dollars.


We look forward to meeting you on our precious piece of Paradise!

Norfolk Island flag
Convict uniform
Bligh being set adrift - Mutiny on the Bounty
Captain Cook

Navigate yourself to latitude 29.03º south and longitude 167.95º east.. destination... Norfolk Island!


Churches:  Church of England, Uniting, Community Church, Jehovah's Witness, Bahai, Catholic and Seventh Day Adventist.


Climate:  Norfolk Island enjoys a subtropical climate with temperatures varying between 13 and 28 degrees throughout the year.  There is a local Bureau of Meteorology centre on the Island and forecasts are very accurate.  As we are a small land mass in the wide Pacific Ocean, the weather changes daily depending on the influences around us.  We generally have a lovely sea breeze at all times and the direction of the wind determines the temperatures as a rule (northerly is warm and southerly is cool).



PHONES - As we are in a remote location, we have developed our own local Telecom.  We have our own country code (+6723) meaning all calls to or from the island requires an international prefix (eg. 0011 6723 xxxxx).  Our phone numbers have only 5 digits – if it starts with a 5 it is a mobile number and if it starts with a 2 it is a land line.


INTERNET - We have satellite internet access (now including the NBN satellite) at good speeds although it does vary based on your location on the island.  For casual use you can purchase timed hotspot cards and use these in the main centres.  There are two internet providers on the island currently.  Channers provides FREE wifi during your stay.

RADIO AND PRINT - Radio Norfolk broadcasts daily FM89.9 and AM1566 and a local A4 paper is sold each Saturday.

MOBILE PHONES – Global Roaming is not available for visitors to the Islan.

You can also purchase a local sim card for $20 (includes $10 credit for calls) although this will not work if your mobile phone is 'locked' into a plan. You will then have a local Norfolk number to make or receive local calls.

Currency:  We use Australian Dollars and have one major banks (Commonwealth Bank) on the island.  There is one ATM outside the CBA and you can EFTPOS cash at the supermarket checkout.  Visa and Mastercard and debit cards are generally accepted all over the Island.

Customs and Immigration:  All travellers to Norfolk Island will be travelling on a domestic flight from either Brisbane or Sydney (leaving from international terminals).  As such, you will be required to be at your departure airport around 2 hours before your flight and you will need to go through Customs to get to your departure gates as you would for any international flight.  You must be travelling with a photo id or, ideally, a passport.

There are strict quarantine rules that apply where you are not able to bring onto the island any fruit or vegetables, flowers or seeds and honey. Australian duty free allowances also apply (250g tobacco products and 2.25L of alcohol pp).

Driving:  The general speed limit is 50 km/h, reduced to 40 km/h in the shopping centre, and 30 km/h near the school. All livestock roaming the roads have the right of way. The road rules are the same as Australia and locals wave to all passing vehicles. This is called the "Norfolk wave".  Visitors are encouraged to do the same.

Electricity:  240 volts AC.  As electricity is made locally by diesel generators, a power surge protection device is advised for electronic equipment, particularly computers.

Fishing:  There is no commercial fishing and, thus, the fish stocks are plentiful.  There are 6 fishing charter boats operating only on safe weather days.  The methods are local, tried and true and will always bring back a huge catch.  This is then sold onto the restaurants and cafes for all to enjoy.  Two operators also offer scenic excursions around the island and out to Phillip Island for those not interested in fishing.  One operator offers deep sea fishing overnights occasionally depending on demand.

Fitness Activities:  A fully equipped gym with professional instructors is located in town in “The Village”.  Casual and longer term membership is available.  Yoga instructors conduct all levels of yoga classes.  Bikes and gear can be hired from Land and Sea on Taylors Rd.

Geographical Location:  Norfolk Island is 1610kms ENE of Sydney, 1456kms ESE of Brisbane, 1063kms NNW of Auckland and 772kms SE of Noumea. Norfolk Island is a volcanic outcrop 8km long and 5km wide. Two smaller uninhabited islands, Nepean and Phillip, lie to the south at a distance of 1km and 6km respectively. Norfolk Island is 3855ha.

Health and Well Being:  The Island has always attracted talented well being experts offering various methods of massage, hair and beauty services and spiritual services.

Language:  As an external territory of Australia, we speak English, however, we also have an UNESCO recognised language called Norfolk.  This is linked to the Mutiny on the Bounty history and is a combination of various Great British dialects and Tahitian.  (see Mutiny on the Bounty).

Medical:  Medicare now extends to Norfolk Island and our local doctors can provide normal GP services. 


Museums:  There are very professional museums located in the Kingston area operated by KAVHA (Kingston and Arthurs Vale Historic Association).  A museum pass can be purchased from each one and they include a tag-along tour with guides to each museum each morning on a round robin basis.  There is also a wonderful privately owned museum near the school called The Bounty Folk Museum.  KAVHA also operate a truly rich resource centre for genealogy research particularly.

Population:  Norfolk Island currently has approximately 2000 inhabitants with roughly equal numbers of Pitcairn Island descendants, Australians and New Zealanders.


Petrol:  There are 3 full service petrol stations on the main road – they will pump the petrol for you!  Pricing for petrol is around $2.60 per litre for Unleaded and Diesel.  Please keep in mind that you do not need to drive long distances.  Most locals would fill their cars once/month if they are very regular drivers.

School:  We are very fortunate to have a full range of school years from Pre-school through to Year 12 following the NSW curriculum. The children receive a superior education.  There is also a child care centre on the Island as well as casual baby sitters.

Shopping:  The main supermarket is open most days of the year 9am-6pm, Monday to Sunday.  The island follows an old English tradition where retail shops close at 12.00pm on a Wednesday and Saturday and only a few retail shops open on a Sunday.  There is a small supermarket/bakery open Monday – Friday 8.30 am – 9.00 pm also 364 days/year at the airport end of town. There is a small mini-mart at the service station at the Kingston end of town.  There are also Sunday Markets held at the Bicentennial complex each week and a Farmers Market outside the Visitors Info Centre on a Saturday morning. The Australia Post Office opens Monday to Saturday.

Time Difference:  Norfolk Island is 1 hour ahead AEST time.  We enjoy daylight savings times during summer.

Tours:  There are an amazing array of tour options with two main operators and many independent tour operators.  Tours cover themes such as:  dinners/history/natural history/birdlife/Mutiny on the Bounty history and culture/photography and arts.

Transport:  There is no public transport on the Island.  A hire car including insurance is available for approx. $40 per day.  Long term hire is available at a weekly or monthly rate from the hire companies as well. 

Various settlements:

Polynesians:  It has been shown through archaeology and other detection methods that the nomadic Polynesians in earlier centuries were the first to take advantage of this piece of paradise. Bananas growing where they are not found naturally are always a good indication that Polynesians have been there previously.

First Settlement:  Norfolk Island was settled just 6 weeks after the First Fleet settlement in Botany in 1788.  This was more of a pioneering settlement with relatively low level criminals who were chosen for their labour or other skills to keep a new settlement established and working well.  There were men, women and children.

Second Settlement – Convict Penal Era: (years) The Island was then used as a very harsh and inhuman penal colony for second offenders who committed serious crimes.  There were no women or children permitted during this period and the convicts were sent to the Island for terrible punishments and to die.  The convict ruins are still standing in the World Heritage Listed area of Kingston where most buildings have been restored to the original Georgian style and are used today for the Island’s Administration services.

Mutiny on the Bounty:  In 1790 there was a famous mutiny happening in Tahiti where Fletcher Christian mutineered against Captain Bligh setting him adrift with some crew.  Bligh arrived safely 6 weeks later in current day East Timor and went on to have a long, interesting career.  Christian and a number of mutineers plus 6 Tahitian women and 2 Tahitian men sailed the Bounty to Pitcairn Island where she was scuttled and where they settled for many years of secluded life.  Their descendants were discovered by an American whaling ship long after all had passed away and it was found they had outgrown their Island home.  They were pardoned for their forebear’s mutiny and Queen Victoria gave the newly vacated Norfolk Island to settle in 1856.  A small number returned to Pitcairn Island and we currently have 6th and 7th generation descendants living on Norfolk Island still today.  They have their own unique culture, language, methods and traditions and it is a very proud society.

The Bounty ship
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