Lord Howe Island activities are determined by three factors: the direction of the wind, the sky and the best location for lunch. Choose well, and you’ll have a memorable day of adventure. Choose poorly, and you’ll have a memorable day of adventure (although it may be a tad more challenging). Get the idea? If your fitness level is good, and you have a head for heights, then try the 5km round-trip to one of our favourite spots – Goat House Cave on Mt Lidgbird. Don’t think that 5km means easy. Over that distance, you’ll climb and descend 450 vertical metres, or about 1500 steps, although there are no steps. A simple sandwich, a few snacks and at least one litre of water are all you’ll need because you’re in for a natural treat. As with most rewards on Lord Howe, some (serious) effort is required.
You’ll need to follow Lagoon Road south, past the golf course and Capella, to a left turn just after the last cattle grid. The photo opportunities begin well before you reach Mt Lidgbird, so remember to take a break along the way and capture the incredible scenery.
The track begins with a few boardwalks leading through the Soldiers Creek valley surrounded by a luxuriant forest of Pandanus, Scaly barks and Kentia palms. The first high point (don’t worry – there are many) is Smoking Tree Ridge, where tracks lead to Intermediate Hill, Rocky Run and Goat House. Smoking Tree Ridge was named after the old Kentia seed collectors who carried 40kg of Kentia seed from as far as Boat Harbour Flats (that’s a long way), and stopped for a well-earned smoke. Yes, times have changed. They also used to fire a rifle to let the women at the first home near Soldiers Creek know that they were almost home, and should boil the billy. Today, it’s still a lovely resting spot – without the cigarettes and guns.
The next part of the walk is straightforward – you climb. After a misleading gentle walk along the ridge, tree roots turn into natural stairs and the sound of the ocean is replaced by the sound of Red-tailed tropic birds nesting high in the cliffs above. Soon, you’ll see your first rope which signals the start of the steep climb, and after 30 minutes (plus or minus) you’ll catch your first glimpse of the ocean far below. Remember to have a break, but not for too long – climbing is all about ‘slow and steady’.
Sooner or later, you’ll appear at the cliff line and be totally wowed by your location. Nothing prepares you for the surprise of just how high you’ve climbed. An overgrown sign announces your near arrival to Goat House, but you’ll still have some work to do. The final traverse and climb is more psychological than physical as you deal with a level of exposure that you may not have experienced before. Those with a bit of acrophobia will sit down or crawl, while those who are comfortable with heights will scale the last few ropes to the Goat House Cave. It’s worth pushing on to the cave, even if you’re scared, because you’ll be rewarded with Lord Howe’s best view of vivid green hills, turquoise lagoon and infinite cobalt blue ocean.
Well done! Bon appétit!
TIPS: The climb to Goat House from Soldiers Creek should take about 3-4 hours return with time for lunch. It’s best in dry conditions, and dangerous in the rain. If you’re up there from March to June, in the afternoon, make sure you call the Providence petrels down from the summit ridge.