If you’re lucky enough to live on Norfolk Island then you will know the feeling of heading towards Emily Bay on a warm, golden afternoon. You throw the towel in your trusty old vehicle and jump in, bare foot and clothed in just your swimmers. Already you feel lighter, free from the stresses of the day as you anticipate the treat of the magical place awaiting you only minutes away.
As you slowly drive down your concrete driveway you reach for the button to wind down the window to allow fresh air to flow through the car. The vibrant colours of hibiscus flash past- red, orange, yellow, pink and purple. The fragrant scent of the frangipani floats past on the warm breeze.
You give a friendly wave to your old mate walking by as you slowly pull out of the driveway and begin your journey to Emily Bay. Pulling over the crest of the hill before descending to Kingston and glancing to the west you can see the low lying sun casting shadows over the green rolling hills, scattered with cattle grazing. You continue on waving to the driver in each passing car, as is a customary part of Island life. The winding descent to Kingston begins, the road is bordered by steep ridges of red volcanic soil with sparse patches of grass compacted by the regular beat of cow hooves up and down the tracks.
The road cascades down the mountain and as it begins to plateau the ridge to your right falls away and reveals an open dense green paddock, a crumbling old stone building and the old mill pond strewn with geese and ducks waddling about. You slow down for a gaggle of geese that have boldly decided to cross the road, taking no notice of the car threatening their very existence. Then further around the bend it is Mrs. Moo’s turn to slow your journey. She strolls across the road and then pauses in the middle to call to her new calf to hurry up. Having had no choice but to bring the car to a complete stop, you look to the paddock on your right for the naughty calf. The smell of the paddock, a combination of wet grass and manure wafts by. You spot the calf not far beyond the Norfolk Pine trees lining the edge of the paddock. He looks to his mother and then continues to play with another calf nearby. She calls out more urgently to get the cheeky calf’s attention and this time he comes bounding toward her with his clumsy limbs just holding him upright. It is important to stop or to move slowly near these newborns since they are unpredictable and likely to jump out in front of your moving vehicle. Finally the pair is safely across the road and you move the car on slowly, keeping an eye on the skittish calf to make sure he’s well out of danger’s way.
Reaching Kingston and Arthur Vale’s Historic Area is a welcome sight in the afternoon glow, contrary to some of its horrific history. Slowing to turn right at the intersection, the stone white War Memorial stands tall in front of you surrounded by white posts and a triple rail fence. The memorial proudly and lovingly commemorates the men and women of Norfolk Island who fought in wars. A proud, lone pine tree on the Norfolk Island flag flies high on the white posts alongside the Australian flag, fluttering gently in the mild sea breeze. On the opposite corner stands All Saints Church, its stone architecture in all its majesty. All Saints Church – formerly the Commissariat Store – built in 1835 was converted to a place of worship for the Pitcairn Island families in 1874.
As you turn right you can smell the sea breeze, glimpsing the blue water ahead. An old beat-up ute passes by. A couple of older boys are sitting in the back tray with sunburnt faces, bare chested and the fins of their surfboards just visible. They enjoy the warm breeze on the ride home after an action packed day at the beach. A couple of cyclists cruise on by, out for a leisurely afternoon ride. You approach the ruins of the old gaol, the crank mill and the hospital. They are all evidence of the convict settlements on the island dating as far back as 1788. The skeleton of an old lighter boat sits high on the grass decaying in its retirement from working the freighter ships. It is a boat worthy of appreciation, such a purposeful and commendable piece of craftsmanship.
Rounding the next corner Slaughter Bay comes into full view. It is quite a contrast to the imagery its name may evoke. It’s a calm day and the low tide is exposing the coral reef in front of the bay. The reef acts like a shield to the bay, protecting it from the ocean’s onslaught and the more ominous creatures of the deep. Some local surfers are trying their luck just beyond the reef. A couple of cars are parked randomly on a grassy patch just off the road and a few boys are perched on the bonnets surveying the action.
The most striking thing about Slaughter Bay is its colour. The water sparkles so many shades of blue, from the turquoise colour that laps over the pale sand to the darker shades where it is so crystal clear you can see coral and parts of the reef below. There are one or two bathers soaking up the sun’s rays on the beach, whilst a couple of people are snorkeling in the warm water, exploring the reef’s treasures and colourful sea life.
Slaughter Bay tempts you as you drive onwards to Emily, certain that she won’t disappoint. Although only just next door and a short walk or swim from Emily to Slaughter Bay, it always amazes you at just how long the approach along the foreshore seems to take before Emily Bay comes into view. Some days the conditions keep you guessing as you drive past Slaughter and the sea is choppy and wind-blown, yet as you peer down the small slope towards the cove where Emily Bay is located, perfection is unveiled.
The smell of fresh fish cooking on a barbeque catches your stomach’s attention as you pass by a group of people camped out by the old Salt House. They look very relaxed on such a beautiful afternoon with a cold beverage in hand. Crossing the narrow bridge over a small stream the Norfolk Pines look majestic in clumps either side of the road. You can see the ‘Se Musa Bus’ serving its last patrons for the day. The old bus converts to a beach-side kiosk each day – its Norfolk name meaning ‘so full I will almost bust’. They will be packing up soon for the afternoon and driving back up to town.
Driving past the amenities block on your left you pull into the next sandy inlet to park the car in your usual spot, turning the ignition off and leaving the keys in place just as every other local does. Just you and your towel. That is all that is needed as you step out of the car onto the warm sand. The beach track in front of you spills down the hill towards you like a sandy slide. You stroll up it, sighting a familiar face coming down toward you lugging their beach gear. “Hey Whataway?”they call to you in the Norfolk language. “Well thanks. How are you?” is your reply. A friendly smile and “I guud” is the response as you walk by. Reaching the top of the sand mound is a great time to survey the whole bay. Looking out to your left towards Point Hunter is Lone Pine, a single Norfolk Pine tree that leans over Emily Bay. It is as though it is out there keeping watch over all the activity that goes on below. The reef is exposed along either side of the bay forming a platform. This platform creates a fun rock-hopping trail to explore. On the left side, looking down toward the Salt House you can see a few more people set up around the Barbeque, settling in to enjoy the last few hours of sunlight.
Turning to the centre of the bay you see that there are a couple of older children playing out on the raft; a floating pontoon that is tied down to some large rocks in the middle of the bay. Throwing your towel down on the fine white sand you decide that a swim to the raft will wash away any tension from the day.
Moseying down to the water you notice a couple of tiny sand crabs scurrying back to their holes to take cover. Small pieces of shell and coral cover the sand near the water’s edge. The water is so clear that you can see the sand clearly beneath it, all the way out to the deeper water where the raft awaits. Stopping with your feet just in the water for affirmation of what you had already suspected, the temperature is just perfect. The water is just warm enough so you can wade in slowly without any compulsion to shudder before diving beneath the cool blue water. You taste the salt and watch the rays of light penetrating the deep water in front of you. You stay beneath the surface as long as your lungs allow you to, trying to absorb the cool water around the heat of your body and admire the dancing light above you.
Breaking the surface you again feel the sun’s warmth start to permeate the skin on your face as the rest of your body treads water below the surface. Feeling reenergised you put your face back in the water and begin swimming toward the raft. As you’re approaching you hear big splashes as the children on the raft jump into the water and begin swimming past you, returning to the beach. Reaching the raft you swim to the right side of it towards the steel ladder to climb aboard. You reach out to grab hold of the first rung to hoist yourself out of the water and climb the few rungs to the green platform. Standing alone on the middle of the raft you turn 360 degrees to realise the wonder before you. The unique picture of untainted beauty is too hard to transcribe and so next time I’ll meet you down at Emily Bay.
Image Credit: Robin Nisbet
Article content disclaimer: Article first published in YourWorld, Volume 05 Issue 01, 2015. Please note that details of specific travel, accommodation and touring options may be outdated. References to people, places and businesses, including operating days and times may be have changed. References to Government structure and Government businesses/entities may no longer be applicable. Please check directly with businesses and/or Government websites directly rather than relying on any information contained in this article before you make travel arrangements.