Tourist influx exposes Norfolk cargo woes

·3-min read

It's just as well idyllic Norfolk Island has its own brewery or Australians flocking there to holiday might be feeling a tad parched.

Cold rooms at the island's main liquor outlet are almost empty, a sobering situation that epitomises the Australian territory's never-ending battle to source supplies.

A few lonely cartons of XXXX sit forlornly in a corner of The Liquor Bond's store room, opposite empty shelves that should be stocked with mainland wines.

Island administrator Eric Hutchinson says there's nothing new about the challenges of getting stores in via ship. It's a fact of life that from time to time things are in short supply.

That's true at the moment as the South Pacific island plays host to an influx of Australians who - starved of holiday destinations during an era of COVID travel bans - are pushing up demand for everyday items.

It was about three years ago that one of the two cargo ships that serviced the island was decommissioned.

The sole ship doing the rounds now is the MV Southern Tiare, which travels from New Zealand's Chatham Islands, via Auckland.

But Mr Hutchinson says it doesn't come nearly often enough to meet the community's needs.

Sure there's air freight but that's incredibly expensive, and space is limited. It's simply not cost effective for heavier, bulkier supplies like livestock feed and building materials.

"It's really created a very, very difficult situation and it impacts on everything that happens on the island," Mr Hutchinson says.

It's not as simple as finding another shipping company willing to step in. Norfolk is one of the few places on the globe that doesn't have a safe anchorage or port facility.

That means ships that do come must be set up to allow cargo to be broken down offshore and loaded onto smaller lighters.

Then there's the weather. Even the laborious transfer of goods can't happen if conditions aren't right.

The Australian government has chipped in with air freight subsidies. And planning is well advanced for a new barge access facility but so far Canberra hasn't committed the cash to build it.

In the meantime, locals are doing what they always have on the isolated outcrop: getting by with what's at hand or can be scrounged through limited supply chains.

"Yes there are shortages of certain items. The Liquor Bond is certainly short of beer, of wine, but there'll be a barge soon to replenish that," Mr Hutchinson says.

As for food well there's never a shortage of that, including locally grown fruit and vegetables, a spectacular abundance of high quality seafood and locally-raised livestock.

Sure there have been times when supermarket shelves don't have everything everyone might want. A few weeks ago, before the last ship arrived, flour and butter were in short supply.

But Mr Hutchinson says tourists see it as a quirky part of the visitor experience.

"People will get fed and they'll get fed very, very well when they come to Norfolk Island. Do we have what you'd see in Brisbane or Sydney, the answer to that is 'no'. But it's part of the charm of being on the island."