Norfolk Island

The author of five novels, and a writer-in-residence at Ohio's Kenyon College, P. F. Kluge first journeyed to the Pacific as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1967 after receiving his doctorate from the University of Chicago. A believer in the notion that you leave a piece of yourself wherever you go, he has returned frequently to reconnect with the part he left in Oceania, and recently traveled to the Micronesian island of Pohnpei for the millennial New Year's Eve. But even for Kluge, Norfolk was a South Pacific eye-opener. Some might describe the island as dull, admits Kluge, who concedes it is "manicured, safe, congenial." But he also found it to be very relaxing. "It was a quirky, Garrison Keillor kind of place, more Julie Andrews than Dorothy Lamour," he says. "And now that I'm not there, I miss it."

Catherine Karnow remembers having flown over water for two hours out of Sydney when the plane suddenly banked and she got her first glimpse of Norfolk Island - "a beautiful blanket of emerald green meadows" that conjured up Ireland rather than the South Pacific. "It was, without exaggeration, love at first sight," recalls the San Francisco-based photographer.

Karnow says that one of her favorite moments during her stay was when she came upon a group of island girls she had photographed earlier as they rode horses and windsurfed. The second encounter was at night, and the girls were dressed to the nines and arriving by carriage for the annual graduation formal at the South Pacific Hotel. Karnow says that Norfolk was, all in all, one of the most peaceful places she's been: "I slept better on that island than I can ever remember."

ROOM KEY Most Norfolk visitors stay in one of the island's four modest motels or several cottages (most with a kitchen). All of them are clean and reasonably priced with friendly owners - and many are spectacularly situated. There are also some luxurious villas, including the Shearwater. Comprising three luxury houses set on a wooded peninsula, it offers some of the island's finest views; doubles cost about $150 a night.

WHAT'S TO EAT For a community of some 2,000, the island has a reasonable number and range of restaurants, though on a lengthy visit you'll end up repeating. One spot worth at least a second stop is the Garrison, whose Detroit-born chef ("He's a genius," says Karnow) turns out excellent food, including memorable beef curry. From time to time the islanders also hold progressive dinners. Taking part in one of those feasts (you get one course of the meal at each of several homes) will satisfy both your hunger and your curiosity about what lies at the end of those long driveways. Norfolk menus include a fair amount of fish (a good bet) and seasonal produce, such as pineapple, paw-paw (papaya), guava, passion fruit, and avocado.

ON THE ROAD Norfolk is best explored in a rental car, and the rates are among the cheapest anywhere (about $20 a day for a compact). Note: The island speed limit is about 35 MPH - and cows have the right of way on all roads.

BEACH TIME Picturesque Emily Bay is the islanders' favorite swimming beach. (Karnow describes it as "stupendously beautiful - my idea of the perfect beach.") Surfers paddle to the outer reef at Slaughter Bay (also popular with windsurfers), or head to Anson and Cresswell Bays, both of which can be dangerous for water novices.

DIVE IN Norfolk divers have a choice of more than 40 prime sites, from caves and walls to reefs and hard corals - most in less than 60 feet of water. Better yet, the environment is truly pristine: There is no pollution, no rivers run into the ocean, and since islanders are the only ones allowed to fish these waters (and only using hand lines), the fish stock is largely undiminished. With pleasant water temperatures (ranging from about 66 in winter to 81 in summer) and good visibility (usually between 60 and 90 feet) things look good down under. For a little background, check out www.users.nf/bountydivers

DON'T MISS A walk to the top of Mount Pitt and its nearby companion, Mount Bates, for views of the island and the world. And at either Kingston Bay or Cascade Bay, you can catch a different kind of view - the acrobatics as small boats called lighters shuttle cango from ship to shore: The performance will make you glad that the island has no proper harbor.

NIGHTLIFE Aside from the shows re-creating the Bounty mutiny and convict life, an evening's entertainment on Norfolk can run the gamut from bingo to bridge to ballroom dancing (Monday nights at Rawson Hall). Kluge recalls a Sunday evening at the formal Church of England service at All Saints, in Kingston, which was followed by what some locals call "Christ karaoke." With the enthusiasm of teens fighting for control of the jukebox, worshipers - locals and tourists - shout out page numbers of favorite hymns, then join in the singing. Local newspaper editor Tom Lloyd presides and attempts to keep order.

READ IT AND LEAP Peter Clarke's The Essential Guide to Norfolk Island, widely available on Norfolk, has everything you need to know. For a preview, visit www.nf.peter

TRAVEL TIPS Whaling was once a way of life here, but tourism is the main industry today. The trick is to avail yourself - selectively - of the various commercial tourist attractions, such as the tour that takes you to the convict settlement. Beyond that, Kluge says the best plan is to include some exploration on your own every day. You can't get lost, and islanders you encounter will likely offer good recommendations: If they meet you on a walking trail, for instance, they'll likely direct you to another that is just as fine.