Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Escape to a slower pace on Norfolk Island with Baunti Tours

After spending seven days on beautiful Norfolk Island I came back to Australia determined to relax and take life easier. The Norfolk people endeavour to do this for most of their day and this certainly makes Norfolk Island a laid-back place to spend a holiday. Community spirit abounds and a friendly wave is the norm on a walk around the island.

Travelling with Baunti Escapes Tours (or the English ‘Bounty’) we departed from Brisbane International Airport for the short flight across to Norfolk Island. My request to Norfolk Air for a gluten free meal was fulfilled – and I was impressed with the variety of gluten free food on the tray! We were met at the Norfolk Airport by Megan Christian (sixth generation descendant of Bounty mutiny leader, Fletcher Christian) who made sure we were all safely on the right mini bus for the trip to our hotel.

Waiting for us in the lounge of our hotel, the All Seasons Colonial Hotel, was a refreshing cocktail and as it was a hot, humid day this was most welcome! Whilst we were being given the keys to our allocated room our luggage was delivered promptly by hotel staff. Our room was spacious, well-appointed and spotlessly clean.

At sunset the hotel had organised a poolside barbeque to allow guests to meet and greet each other. I chose salads and steak that were gluten free – avoiding the delicious Norfolk sausages just to be on the safe side! Prior to departing Australia I had emailed the All Seasons Colonial Hotel and Baunti Tours to confirm that my gluten free diet could be guaranteed at both the hotel and the many tours and dinners that were part of the itinerary.

Our breakfasts were part of the tour package and the breakfast chef produced a gluten free loaf of bread especially for my toast. When I queried where he had purchased it on the island he told me he makes gluten free bread very successfully from a packet of Orgran bread mix. The only problem for me was that every morning two enormous slices were waiting for me at breakfast!

After the first night’s barbeque by the hotel pool our dinners were held in a variety of interesting places. One evening we had a dinner in Annabelle’s Restaurant in the hotel complex and both courses were beautifully presented and mine – of course – gluten free. The restaurant is a lovely venue with relaxing garden views through huge glass windows.

A tour was on the itinerary every day and if morning or afternoon tea was part of the deal I was always provided with something gluten free to eat. I enjoyed an assortment of gluten free food – the last morning being gluten free crackers, a HUGE tomato (and a knife to cut it) and salt to add flavour.

A progressive dinner allowed us into four beautiful Norfolk Island homes for a short while. The homes – made mostly from the timber of the Norfolk Pine – were all very different. However what they did have in common was the spectacular views! All but the dessert course was gluten free – I was offered a gluten free alternative but by that time of the night I was quite happy to say “No thanks – I couldn’t eat another thing!” The night concluded with an ‘old-fashioned’ sing-along – we were played renditions of familiar songs and invited to join in as we sipped small glasses of sweet sherry!

On another evening we were taken by Les Quintal, a seventh generation descendent of the Bounty mutineer, Matthew Quintal, on a Fish Awas Way (a fish feast). To start the evening we taken to Les’ private cliff top property to share his spectacular views whilst enjoying wine and nibbles – mine of course being gluten free. In the background a woman played traditional Norfolk music and sang songs telling of the island’s history – the music played on an instrument hand-made on Norfolk Island. Before moving off to the next part of the night, the fish feast, a young woman performed some of the traditional dances that reflected the island’s Tahitian heritage and she also spent time explaining the significance of her graceful movements.

The Edible Gardens Tour proved an interesting experience. For the people on the tour it was hard to comprehend that Norfolk Islanders only eat fruit and vegetables grown in season. If the season is poor then fruit and vegetables are in short supply. Last year Norfolk Islanders suffered from drought conditions and their fresh produce was severely affected. Particularly fresh fruit was lacking on the supermarket shelf. However one strapping young gardener explained that because Norfolk Island does not import fresh fruit and vegetables their produce remains relatively pest and chemical free – unlike Australia. The tour finished at Strawberry Fields where the owner, Candida Langman, has created an intricate maze. Some of the more physically able people walked and walked and walked through an intricate maze and – with the help of Candida – managed to find their way to an afternoon tea made from the fruits of Strawberry Fields. As well as providing samples of the fresh fruit she grows, Candida also served polenta topped with her fresh basil pesto – a treat for those on a gluten free diet!

Dinner at Dino’s was another glorious night of gluten free food. I was even provided with two slices of toasted gluten free bread so that I could enjoy the dips set on the table to start the evening. I was assured that all the desserts were gluten free and being partial to licorice I chose the licorice ice cream. I assumed it would be licorice flavoured – however after spotting the small pieces of licorice in the ice cream I did give it a miss. There were two other choices that were gluten free desserts but after the two courses already enjoyed I decided I did not need dessert after all!

Although not of concern for anyone on a gluten free diet, the liqueurs made on the Norfolk Island are well worth a ‘taste’. As part of a Farm and Industry Tour we stopped at Norfolk Island Liqueurs and tasted delights such as Convicts Curse and Pitcairn Passion. There are 15 liqueurs in the range and they are certain to tantalise your taste buds and are only available on Norfolk Island.

However the highlight of the week for me was the Baunti Dieh (Bounty Day) Dinner. Baunti Dieh is traditionally held on 8 June each year to celebrate the arrival of the Pitcairners on Norfolk Island in 1856. To allow us to share some of the experiences of the special day our hosts for the evening, Wally Beadman (a seventh generation descendant of Fletcher Christian) and Nicki Kennedy, a more recent arrival from Australia in 1997, served us four courses, each course reflecting the type of ‘traditional’ foods enjoyed on Bounty Day each year. I could not have asked for more care and attention from Wally and Nicki. One of the hors d’oeuvres served was green banana fritters – spoonfuls of grated and fried green banana proved a delicious, simple, gluten free crunchy treat. Dessert was the only course that was not gluten free and instead I was brought a large bowl of beautiful fragrant rice covered in sweet syrup – much too large for one person but I endeavoured to do my best!

For people residing on the east coast you have a paradise in close proximity! If you come from further afield, it is worth the journey to Norfolk Island. For a week Baunti Tours ensured I was provided with gluten free food without any fuss and always with good humour. If you are reading this you will know how much this is appreciated when on you are on holidays – even eating a small amount of gluten can ruin a few days of a holiday! Baunti Tours made my holiday to Norfolk Island a happy and healthy one!

(Marlene Anderson. Perth. Australia. 14 December 2010)

No comments: