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What Should I Know About Norfolk Island?

Norfolk Island is an ideal place for snorkeling.
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  • Written By: Brendan McGuigan
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 04 April 2014
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Norfolk Island is a small external territory of Australia. It covers just over 13 square miles (35 sq. km), making it the eighth-smallest nation or territory in the world. Norfolk Island is located east of Australia in the Pacific Ocean.

Norfolk Island was apparently uninhabited for most of human history, with the first evidence of settlement appearing sometime in the 14th century. These first settlers were Polynesians likely from one of the islands of New Zealand. Although they appear to have made a permanent settlement on Norfolk Island that lasted for at least a few decades, eventually they vanished, leaving the island once more vacant.

Captain Cook was the first European to spot Norfolk Island in 1774, and he named the island after the Duchess of Norfolk. Norfolk Island boasted a ready source of flax and tall trees that seemed suitable for masts, both items the British were in need of at the time, so a settlement on the island was quite desirable. A penal colony was established in 1788, with prisoners who had the possibility to turn into freed settlers, and it struggled through hardships for the next few decades. By the early 19th century the settlement was abandoned, and the livestock and buildings were destroyed so no one would be tempted to try to claim the land.

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A decade later a new penal colony was established, this time with the idea of sending the worst prisoners imaginable, to isolate them from the mainland colonies. By all accounts the second colony on Norfolk Island was a truly hellish place, and a number of second-hand reports claim that prisoners who were sent there, never to return, sought out death as a sort of pardon. A number of damning reports on the conditions at the island eventually led to reforms, and ultimately the penal colony was closed, with the remaining prisoners sent to Tasmania.

In the 1850s a new settlement was established on Norfolk Island, this time by free settlers from the Pitcairn Islands, mostly the descendants of Tahitians the mutineers from the Bounty, who had outgrown their own islands. The free settlement grew slowly but steadily, focusing primarily on agriculture and whaling as means of subsistence.

At the dawn of the 20th century, with the creation of the Australian Commonwealth, administration of Norfolk Island passed from Britain to Australia. In the late 1970s its status changed slightly to grant the island government a decent degree of autonomy, removing it somewhat from the Australian parliamentary system, but making it the only external territory to have self-governance.

The scenery and beaches are the main attractions on Norfolk Island, with some historical points of interest to fill in the gaps. Norfolk Island National Park contains some amazing rainforest, and a number of trails offer excellent hiking and bike riding. The astounding Norfolk Island Pine, featured on the flag of Norfolk Island, can reach heights of up to 180 ft. (60m), and are a popular natural attraction.

Fishing, scuba diving, charter boats, swimming, snorkeling, surfing, and sea kayaking all offer an opportunity to enjoy some of the beautiful water around Norfolk Island, and a number of pristine beaches offer something a bit more relaxing for those who just want to lay back and enjoy the sun.

Flights arrive daily on Norfolk Island from a number of airports in Australia and New Zealand.

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