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Norfolk Island Life – 5 Quirky Facts

Norfolk Island bobs about in the South Pacific, kissed by tropical trade winds and an air of mutiny. There are a couple of return flights a week from Australia and New Zealand and other than that, it pretty much keeps to itself. Despite this, NI is a community in transition. The Island moved from self governance to being fully governed by Australia in 2015. This means residents of NI are now required to enrol to vote in a division of Australia’s capital Canberra, nearly 2000km away. Locals are not happy. But what makes Norfolk Islanders so fiercely protective of their unique home?

Ball's Bay - Norfolk Island

Ball’s Bay – Norfolk Island

1. A Former Penal Colony

The Island has had several ‘lives’ including two stints as a penal colony. What is less well know is that the first penal colony was established by the ‘First Fleet’ who brought European convicts and settlers to Australia. By March 1788 they had arrived on the island and established a penal colony to stop the French taking possession of the island. The colony eventually failed as it was not self sustaining, closing in 813. In 1824 a second attempt was made to re-establish it as a penal colony. The settlement had a brutal reputation and was considered to be the harshest penal colony at the time. It was for the ‘worst description of convicts’ who had committed further crimes since arriving in New South Wales. The Island’s history as a penal colony ceased in 1847 when the last prisoners were sent to Van Diemen’s Land (Tasmania).

penal colony era building on norfolk island from 1827

Penal Colony era ruin 1827


2. Their Own Language

Islanders have their own language, Norfo’k Laengwij. It is a blend of English and Tahitian. It is spoken by the descendants of the Bounty Mutineers who settled on Pitcairn in 1790 but departed for good to NI in 1855. The language is unique to the island. The Island Assembly made Norf’k the co-official language of NI to ensure it was preserved for future generations. Words often have similarities with English but may be spelled or pronounced differently. For example: Europe/Urup and lern/learn. There are also Norf’k specific words such as jiffle/fidget; daffy/here and deffy/there.

Be sure you brush up on Norf’k Laengwij before you head to the Saturday Farmer’s Market. That way you’ll be able to identify local ingredients and try homemade delicacies.

Phili Plun Norfolk Island


3. Chickens Outnumber People

Chickens have been on the island since First Settlement in 1788 and have run wild ever since. The numbers run into the thousands. There are so many feral chickens that from time to time, they need to be culled. Whilst chickens do not have the same right of way as cows, they certainly think they do. No matter how remote or far from the town you go, you will almost certainly see a rooster and his flock of adoring hens strutting around scratching up gardens like they own the joint.

chicken roam free on Norfolk Island


4. Cows Have Right Of Way

There are no traffic lights and only one roundabout on the island. To keep the cattle out of Burnt Pine, the main town on the island, cattle grids have been installed at the entry points. After that though, you are on your own. Whilst much of the farmland is fenced, plenty of it isn’t and it’s up to you to make sure you don’t connect with any of the wandering cattle. If you do bump into a cow, you can be prosecuted for doing so. Sound your horn so you don’t end up on one!


5. Foragers Paradise

Due to its remote location, fruit fly has never made it to Norfolk Island. This means that fruit can be plucked directly from trees and eaten without a second thought to it being fly blown. It is a forager’s paradise. Cherry guavas, bush lemons, feijoas and Lady Finger bananas all grow wild and in abundance on the island. You simply pull off the road and enjoy a snack on the spot or you can take some back to your accommodation for a fruit salad that evening.

cherry guava growing wild on Norfolk Island


Norfolk Island is a unique place with an unusual history and many quirky characteristics. The transition away from self governance has been difficult and it’s’s easy to understand why the islanders are worried about their heritage and culture. You can do a lot to support the Islander by putting it on your holiday bucket list. It is a must visit destination.

More information: www.norfolkisland.com.au

10 comments… add one
  • Shannon Yun September 26, 2019, 1:20 am

    Thanks for this post! NI is definitely on my travel bucket list.

    • Fiona Ryan September 28, 2019, 3:52 pm

      You’re welcome. It worth the effort to get there.

  • Jan Rhoades September 26, 2019, 11:13 am

    As you know, I’ve been twice and loved it even more the second time around. I’d visit again.
    People need to visit to experience the experience.
    You can take any foodstuff onto the Island with the exception of fresh fruit and vegetables, or plant life. But if you do take cheese, biscuits, long-life milk etc, make sure you declare it on the ‘ambiguous’ entry document. You will be directed to the quarantine ‘office’ and be asked what you have in your bags. Be honest and you will have no problems.
    Yes, I absolutely agree, definitely a bucket list item.
    Flights from Sydney and Brisbane (not sure about Melbourne) twice per week on different days. 7 days are enough to enjoy your time there – 10 days would be luxury.

    • Fiona Ryan September 28, 2019, 3:53 pm

      It’s a great option for people on the east coast as well as Kiwis. It’s worth bringing some food as yes, it very expensive (by our standards) at the supermarket in Burnt Pine.

  • Tandy | Lavender and Lime September 26, 2019, 1:47 pm

    I’m amazed you don’t need a permit to forage. Why did they decide to become part of Australia?

    • Fiona Ryan September 28, 2019, 4:01 pm

      NI became part of Australia in 2016 as part of a reforms put in place with by the Australian government. The reforms mean that islanders are now covered by Medicare (which is important given the average of those living on the island and the fact that they often need to fly to the mainland for treatment). Islanders can vote in Federal elections but of course, BUT, they’re representative lives in Canberra, not NI. They are part of an ACT electorate, not their own. They are not impressed by this – less than 400 people voted. Realistically, the reforms were needed to allow NI to continue as a viable community but there is great resistance to the giving up of their independence.

    • Fiona Ryan September 28, 2019, 4:02 pm

      ps: no permits needed to forage in Australia. I suppose there’s just not that much that is foragable or edible in the grand scheme of things.

  • sherry September 26, 2019, 3:07 pm

    i’d love to go, and i did look into it a few years ago but everything was soooo expensive – the flights, the car hire, the accommodation. i left it for another day. i didn’t know they had been taken over by australia. ooh they must be cross.

    • Fiona Ryan September 28, 2019, 4:05 pm

      Yes – it’s very expensive. The best option is to get a travel package deal that includes return airfares, car hire and accom. It’s definitely worth saving for. I think Spacifica Travel is your best bet – they often have good specials.

      • sherry September 30, 2019, 12:06 pm

        i’ll keep that in mind next time i’m thinking of going to norfolk:) i was confused when tandy mentioned getting a foraging permit?! i guess they have to over there…

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