More and more people are seeking unique travel experiences combining culture, history, and authenticity… three things that Norfolk Island has in abundance.
Cultural tourism is the act of travelling to experience the places and activities that authentically represent the stories and people of the past and present.
Most people travel to Norfolk Island aware of its convict history, but once they arrive learn that the Island has layers of history beyond anything they imagined. Who would have thought that a tiny island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean would house remnants from Polynesian seafarers, and turn out to be home for descandants of the infamous Bountymutineers?
Cultural tourism is important for many reasons. Perhaps the most prominent reason for Norfolk is the social impact. Knowledge is shared, not only to enrich a visitor’s experience, cultural tourism also actively reinforces the Island’s local identity and enhances cultural understanding. Tourism, in its own way, enables a very conscious preservation of the heritage and culture of the Norfolk Island people.
The Island is a Mecca for history lovers, with an endless supply of convict tales, and artefacts from famous ships we normally only read about. But what makes Norfolk truly unique are the stories, the cultural traditions, and the quirky way of life the locals enjoy. All visitors to Norfolk Island become immersed in an unsurpassed cultural tourism experience whether they have sought it out or not, as they interact with the local people, hear the Norf’k (Norfolk) language, witness the local customs, and taste traditionally cooked recipes passed down through generations.
There are many ways to delve into the layers of Norfolk Island’s history and culture, and a wide range of opportunities and activities are available for those that seek a deeper cultural experience.
Much of Norfolk Island’s early history centres around the Kingston World Heritage Site. One of Australia’s most interesting and important heritage locations, Kingston is a living heritage site and a showcase of Polynesian, convict and Pitcairn Islander history. Kingston is freely accessible and is a traditional focal point for island-life and continues to contribute to the identity and culture of the Norfolk Island community.
Kingston is recognised for being among the best surviving examples of an English penal settlement, testifying to the British Empire’s large-scale convict transportation and the worldwide colonial expansion through the presence and labour of convicts. It is one of eleven sites that make up the Australian Convict Sites World Heritage Property. The site is renowned for its picturesque character, outstanding Georgian buildings and evocative ruins. The only way to truly experience this rich, vibrant part of world history is to see it for yourself.
Throughout Kingston, Norfolk’s amazing and multi-layered stories are presented through a number of Norfolk Island Museum sites in heritage buildings that help you explore Norfolk’s turbulent past as well as today’s living culture. Each of the Museum venues host exhibition collections which focus on different aspects and areas of Norfolk’s history and culture. Each exhibition tells a different story and multi-venue passes are available for you to access the Museum venues at your own pace, and Tag-Along tours are a handy way to be guided by museum attendants to the most noteworthy artefacts in each collection.
Towards the shores of Kingston are The Sirius Museum and Pier Store Museum. The Sirius Museum holds a collection of artefacts that represents the most significant display of First Fleet cultural heritage material held anywhere in Australia and its territories. The flagship of the First Fleet, HMS Sirius, was wrecked off the reef at Slaughter Bay in 1789. On Kingston Pier you’ll find The Pier Store Museum – it’s Norfolk Island collection reflects the history of the descendants of the Bounty mutineers, their discovery of Pitcairn Island and their transition into Norfolk’s history and culture.
On Quality Row you will find three museum sites including The Commissariat Museum, No. 10 Quality Row and the Research Centre at No.9 Quality Row. The Commissariat Museum exhibits the very first inhabitants on the Island – the Polynesians. The primary displays are the First and Second European Settlements as they bring Norfolk’s convict past alive with items such as whips, leg irons, and stone, timber, metal and ceramic objects. Number 10, Quality Row Museum is a house built in 1844, which was the height of the brutal Second European Settlement. It has been restored to the period of its first inhabitants, furnished with nineteenth century furniture and items that were recovered from archaeological digs around the house. Next door at No.9 Quality Row is the Research Centre which provides an environment to learn more about an ancestor or explore the extensive research resources in this renovated house originally built in 1839.
Also located on Quality Row is Government House – the fourth Government House to be built on Norfolk Island. The House was completed in 1829 and remains the oldest working Government House building anywhere in Australia or its territories. Open Days are scheduled throughout the year to give the public the opportunity to tour the residence.
In addition to the museum sites in Kingston, many tour operators offer day time tours and activities as well as a number of evening tours and dinners to feel and experience the area under the cover of darkness. However you choose to spend time in the area, you’ll soon discover it is a unique hub, but a cultural tourism experience on Norfolk Island won’t begin and end in Kingston – the Island is far more multifaceted than that.
Outside of Kingston, the Burnt Pine township is the commercial hub of the Island and from there you can find many other tours, activities and exhibits that aren’t centred around the Kingston area, yet are all effected in some way by a history, heritage and culture that permeates almost every aspect of the visitor experience. Learn about farming, industry, Pitcairn Settler history or visit the Island’s world-class 360 degree painting at Fletcher’s Mutiny Cyclorama. Garden tours, guided bush walks or nature and bird-finding tours take you across the Island and through the National Park and Botanic Garden areas. They are all entertaining and informative ways to learn more about the Island’s remote location, unique and specific geology, topography, plant and wildlife, climate and ecosystems which have played a part in Norfolk’s story and continue to shape island-life.
The beauty of visiting Norfolk Island is that it’s entirely up to you how you choose to immerse yourself in the place. Explore the Island’s rich and diverse past or simply enjoy being a casual observer from bush walks and beaches, but one way or another Norfolk’s history and culture will have a profound effect on what is guaranteed to be an unmistakably authentic tourism experience.
Image credit: Robin Nisbet