The stars on Lord Howe Island are like nothing we’d ever seen. It’s as if someone scattered glitter across the sky, then did it again, and again; little specs glowing everywhere. It was the kind of scene only possible in places as remote as this blip on the map, which sits about 500 miles east of the coast of mainland Australia. Earlier that day we’d flown in from Sydney on a prop plane, the beginning of the third and final leg of the Passport to Creativity partnership with Adobe Students. Students Amelia Le Brun and Hugo Germain traveled from London, England, and Bordeaux, France. Mentor Adrienne Pitts would guide their work throughout the week, helping them capture the sights, sounds, textures and characters of the island in creative ways.
The island’s single airstrip juts out into the ocean. Flights land right over the crystal-clear blue and teal lagoon. It’s a magical way to arrive. Members of the Lord Howe Island community board greeted us and ushered us into their cars for a tour of the island. Less than 45 minutes later we’d seen everything visible from the main road, driving from the two towering mountains at the southern end to the beaches at the northern end, passing a few other beaches and a cow pasture along the way. Our hosts pointed out the lagoon, home to the world’s southernmost coral reef, and the various hikes where we would be able to see the full expanse of the 5.6-mile island.
Adrienne is a photographer and creative director originally from sunny New Zealand, where she developed a deep and abiding love for the beach, sunny days and blue skies.
Amelia le Brun
Amelia is a photography student specializing in digital, film, and landscape photography. She lives in the United Kingdom and draws inspiration from the environment around her.
That night, and many of the nights that followed, brought together the various legs of the Passport to Creativity journey: We’d attempted to stargaze during the first leg of the trip, but clouds blocked every opportunity. In Kenya, mentor Jarrad Seng spent over an hour teaching the group how to capture various star shots, including silhouettes that he’d later stitch together using Adobe Creative Cloud apps. It came full circle as Passion Passport’s team was able to pass on Jarrad’s lessons. Amelia and Hugo picked it up incredibly quickly.
“My favorite moments were the quiet evenings spent on the beach looking up a the Milky Way, as the realization of how insignificant we are in comparison to the earth and the size of the universe sunk in,” Amelia later said. “Trying to capture the unreal beauty of the endless stars only added to the dreamlike magic.”
The magic continued the next morning as the group explored the reefs around the island. In less than an hour we swam with blowfish, starfish, brilliantly-colored coral, and even a shark.
“Never had I seen such diverse and stunningly beautiful marine life,” Hugo said later. While incredible to capture, the colors were bittersweet: Some of the brightest among them are the result of coral bleaching, a process that is rapidly killing off coral around the world. It can be the result of pollutants in the water, but there are few if any pollutants in the waters surrounding Lord Howe. Any coral that is dying here, Marine Park Manager Cam Lay later explained, is dying because of rising sea temperatures and levels. As the coral dies off, so do some of the fish that rely on that coral for habitat. The island narrowly missed a colossal bleaching event this year, Lay added, in part because of a lucky sea swell.
The curator of the island’s museum, Ian Hutton, also spent a generous amount of time with our group throughout our week. He took us to the south end to see the hundreds of Providence Petrels swarming the area and explained that these seabirds now only make land on Lord Howe. Many of them nest a top Mount Gower, the island’s tallest mountain. They too face the threat of climate change, as rising air temperatures are causing clouds to sit at higher levels. As cloud levels rise, they’ll eventually move higher than the top of the mountain, and the moist cloud forest that currently exists atop the mountain will disappear. Should that happen, the petrels will likely stop breeding there.
Amelia and Hugo made it to the top of the mountain to see this dense, foggy cloud forest on their final full day on the island – a feat Amelia called her highlight, as she loved the feeling of accomplishment that came with pushing her physical limits. The hike was an 850-meter ascent, nearly straight up the mountain, including scaling many rock faces along the cliffs.
Ian also joined us on the 12-mile trip out to Ball’s Pyramid, the tallest sea stack in the world. The remains of a former island, this giant tower of rock rises more than 1,841 feet from the ocean. It’s visible from the shores of Lord Howe, but viewing it from afar does not doing it any justice. Getting up close, it is stunning.
It was on Ball’s Pyramid that a group of climbers found two phasmids in 2003 – quite the discovery, considering the phasmid was thought to be extinct for nearly a century. They brought back two mating pairs, and today there are thousands in the Melbourne Zoo and under the care of the Lord Howe Island environmental team. Team member Sue Bower let us hold a few phasmids one afternoon on the island. They’re massive as far as insects go, something you’d never want to find creeping into your room. That could easily be the case for future visitors, though, as the plan is to eventually reintroduce the phasmid into the wild on the island.
Throughout the week, it was clear to all involved that what keeps Lord Howe Island thriving is the community that calls this island home. Many of our guides were excited to share stories of their families’ five- and six-generation histories here. They are proud to be maintaining the island’s unique species and its pristine landscapes. There were several days when tour operators found us on a lunch break to let us know that their boats were free for a few hours or to plan an adventure for the next day – they wanted us to see the entire island.
Sixth-generation islander Jack Shick took us out to a sea arch off the coast of Ned’s Beach and told us that it was perfectly safe to swim through, a highlight for those of us that happened to be on the boat that day. Anthony Riddle sought us out to let us know he could take us on a spontaneous snorkel, and that was the only time we saw a sea turtle – a moment Hugo said was among his favorites all week.
Capturing the stories of the people who make various places so unique is one of Adrienne’s specialties. Throughout the week on Lord Howe, she worked with Hugo and Amelia to help them capture the character of these individuals, as well as the overall feel of the island.
“Adrienne was the best mentor, friend and person I could have wished for,” Amelia said. “The thing that has stuck with me the most is the idea of telling a story. It is very easy to photograph a beautiful landscape or present an amazing scene. However, she made us question; what can the viewer take from this image? What does it tell us? It is important that your photo has depth and interest. The idea of telling a story is something I have already put into effect and will forever consider and put into action when I shoot.”
On the last morning we thought we’d missed our early-morning snorkeling window because of heavy rains, but Jill and Ken from Lord Howe Environmental Tours squeezed in a quick hour of snorkeling to give us one final look at the reef. We pulled up to the airport still wearing our swimsuits.
More so than any of the other destinations visited during the Passport to Creativity journey, this was a place where the people are the keepers of the land, where they are directly responsible for helping the island earn its reputation as the cleanest place on earth. We were honored to get to know a handful of these people, and know that with them looking out for it, Lord Howe Island is in the best hands possible. Whether it will be able to continue to stand the test of climate change, though, is less than certain.