Inside Australia’s mystery island
Cows have the right of way, the phone book features nicknames and homes are sold with the furniture thrown in.
Norfolk Island, which is roughly 1500kms off Byron Bay, has a host of fun facts under its belt - like how there are no traffic or street lights - but perhaps the most surprising is that the peaceful and picturesque South Pacific island has a median house price of $400,000.
A place most of us have heard of, but know little about, Norfolk Island was for a long time an Australian territory with quirky laws restricting the purchase of real estate to those who were born on the island, married an islander or bought a local business.
In 2015, the remote island underwent historic changes to ownership rules when the Australian government announced comprehensive reforms.
Since then, the dreamy locale has opened up to a world of new househunters.
"It's now the same as if you're moving from Sydney to Melbourne, there are no restrictions whatsoever for Australians and New Zealanders," said David Hall, a local real estate agent who has been selling property on the 35sq km island for more than a decade.
"Up until Australia took over, prior to that, it was different.
"The Norfolk Island Government had an immigration policy so you couldn't just come here and live. You could buy a house, but only live here for up to three months and that was restrictive.
"The only way you could buy and live here permanently back then was to buy a business, run that business for five years, and then after that period if you'd behaved yourself, you could apply for residency."
A simple life
The Australian external territory, which was home to 1748 residents at the last Census, is located at the centre of a triangle made up of Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia.
It is just 8km long and 5km wide, has one solitary roundabout, no public transport, a maximum speed limit of 50km and peak hour only exists when the local livestock take to the streets.
As well as speaking English, locals have their own living language.
Norfuk is a blend of eighteenth century English and Tahitian derived from the original settlers on the island.
While there were no indigenous people recorded on the island at the time of European settlement, the descendants of Tahitians and the HMS Bounty mutineers, including those of Fletcher Christian, were resettled on Norfolk from the Pitcairn Islands.
As a result, the Norfolk Island phone book has a "faasfain" (or fast find) section featuring nicknames, rather than surnames, because so many of the locals share just a few family names.
Mr Hall said life on the island is simple, but that's just the way locals like it and now more mainlanders than ever are buying their own slice of the property paradise.
"The sales volume has gone up, probably nearly doubled since Australia took over and that's been fantastic. People who want to retire are happy because they don't have to work, they can come over here now and just retire. And why not, it's one of the safest, cleanest and most beautiful islands in the Pacific," he said.
"It's so safe here that the only cars you find in the street that will be locked will be those of tourists, because they can't get out of the habits of mainland Australia."
It takes a village
While retirees are definitely taking note of Norfolk Island, with the median age almost a decade older than the rest of the country at 49, Mr Hall said there is also plenty on offer for aspiring residents of all ages.
"Kids can ride their bikes to school and don't have to be taken by their parents. It is so safe you can walk the streets day or night, in complete safety. It's unique, it's really lovely. We don't have street lights, but most people have a torch," Mr Hall added.
Norfolk Island's local school caters for more than 300 children from Kindergarten to Year 12 and according to Census 2016, there were officially only 16 unemployed people.
"If you're over here and you're not working, it's because really you don't want to work," explained Mr Hall.
"We're also getting more people who are working via the internet, now we've got the NBN," he said, adding that there is a need for more traditional talent as well.
"We have quite a few really good builders, we have a couple of timber mills, three joiners, a heap of plumbers and electricians. But there is a shortage, basically, of tradespeople, because they're all so busy."
A particular marketplace
The unique island, which is home to just over 1000 houses, has an unusual real estate market unlike that of the mainland.
While the median house price might sit a little higher than some other remote Australian regions, Norfolk Island buyers get a lot more bang for their buck.
"They're mostly fully furnished, right down to your knives and forks and crockery, to your beds and blankets and in some cases it'll even include the car," Mr Hall said.
"We probably need to do more in promotions, so that people know that they can come live here, and at a fraction of the price you're going to pay in the mainland," he said.
"The highest sale price last year was $1.2 million. It was lovely modern home with magic views. For something like that, you would probably pay $4 million to $6 million in Sydney."
Although property data firms don't collect sale prices for Norfolk Island, Mr Hall has determined that the median price last year was $399,000, up from $313,000 in 2014 which was a year before the ownership rule changes.
Investors have begun to take note of Norfolk Island, with a solid rental market according to Mr Hall, however anyone looking to ride the holiday rental wave should reconsider.
"We've had some people buy without even coming to look at the property, but what we really don't need is any more short term accommodation, there is a lot of that here," he said.
Property purchases do not attract stamp duty, instead there is a local "transaction levy" which is calculated on a sliding scale.
"Basically, it's 2 per cent up to $250,000; between $250,000 and $500,000 it's 3 per cent; and above $500,000 it is 4 per cent," he explained.
Another financial quirk is that the island has no GST, so life's vices such as alcohol and cigarettes are actually cheaper than on the mainland.
The tyranny of distance
While the idea of a tree or sea change might be a dream for many worn out city slickers, Mr Hall warns that island life runs at a very different pace.
Island life is remote - a world away from Amazon deliveries and Westfield shopping centres - so Norfolk Islanders have had to become a resourceful bunch, living by the rules of self sufficiency and "reduce, reuse, recycle" long before hipsters took on the second-hand economy.
"Most people grow at least some fruit and vegetables at home because the climate is ideal for it, but not everyone does.
"If you can't grow what you need you'll probably find it at a roadside stall where there are honest boxes," Mr Hall said.
For new furniture, household appliances or even personal travel, patience pays off. Airfreight and travel costs can be sky high given there isn't a flight everyday and sea mail is slow.
"You can sometimes wait months for things to be shipped over.
For travel, if you plan your visits back to the mainland in advance you can get a good deal with flights. You just have to be prepared to wait, but it's worth it," Mr Hall said.
Originally published as Inside Australia's mystery island