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EXPERT REVIEW An eco-luxury boutique hotel on Australia’s Lord Howe Island feels like the last piece of paradise on earth

Eco


Overall eco rating


Located on an isolated Australian island, dependent on the mainland for supplies, Capella overcomes its eco-challenges through harvesting rainwater and energy from the sun, recycling water on site, recycling and minimising waste, working with local producers, growing its own vegetables and herbs, and transporting guests on bicycles and electric vehicles.

  • Solar panels meet almost all hot water needs (topped up from LPG fuelled burners if necessary) and a new system will shortly provide the hotel with renewable power.
  • Well-designed rooms with floor to ceiling sliding glass doors to the balconies and louvered entrance doors ensure good ventilation making the air-conditioner installed in the room unnecessary for most guests. 
  • Around 50% of annual water consumption is from rainwater, water efficient systems are installed in guest accommodation and waste water treatment recycles water for irrigation.
  • Waste disposal is a challenge for the island generally, so the luxury green hotel has significantly reduced its waste and continues to try to minimise this - for example, guests are given refillable water bottles to fill in rooms before setting out on activities, rather than wasteful, single-use plastic bottles - the usual stuff is sorted and recycled.
  • Lord Howe Island's Board has won awards for its waste management.  Most of Capella's food and green waste is sent to a communal composter set up by the board where it is mixed with other wastes including shredded paper and cardboard.  Plastics, metals and other items are shipped off island
  • The property provides guests with 20 bicycles to use to move around the island, along with two electric vehicles.
  • The chefs work with local farmers to use as much local produce as possible, supplementing this with their own vegetable and herb garden.

  • The hotel doesn't have any green certification - the certification process can help hotels give their performance and management a boost through a structured review/reality check
  • The remote Australian island can still access green goods and services as demonstrated by the island's composter but it is reliant on the mainland for many of these and the longer supply lines increase the challenge

People

Social issues are not a major concern on the island paradise.  Capella faces challenges recruiting staff from the tiny community but makes up for these with passion and a commitment to green principles. Once on Lord Howe Island, staff settle into the small community and the Lodge helps support and raise funds for schools, churches and medical facilities on the island.

  • Management and staff are committed to green principles, many moving to Capella and Lord Howe Island for this reason.
  • The Chef is passionate about working with local producers to ensure wherever possible, produce is grown to meet the needs of the hotel.
  • Good links to small local community businesses for guest and hotel services

  • Most staff, from the kitchen staff to housekeeping, travel to Lord Howe Island from the mainland or overseas, due to the challenges employing local staff on an island with such a tiny population (300 people).

Animals & nature

Boasting a pristine natural environment, recognised by its UNESCO World Heritage-listing, 75% of Lord Howe Island is a preserved marine park and sub-tropical rainforest, home to unique species of wildlife, with an abundance of opportunities to connect with nature.  The island is home to several endangered species and has an excellent biodiversity management plan including 'quarantine' steps for visitors and freight handlers to avoid bringing in alien seeds and pests.  Capella Lodge takes a back seat in the management of the island but does work closely with the local Board and is following good practice in the way its own grounds and operations are managed to limit impacts on the wider ecosystem e.g. in how it plants its own grounds, choosing biodegradable cleaning products, treating waste water to a standard where it can safely be reused and providing guests with reusable items to reduce littering.

PETA assessment of cruelty-free credentials of cleaning products and toiletries to come.

  • Revegetating their grounds with native species such as Goat Wood and Bulli Bush which helps create habitats for the island's fauna
  • Despite being only 11 kms long and just 2 kms at its widest point, two-thirds of Lord Howe Island is covered in natural forest, with plenty of Banyan trees and Kentia palms.  Capella works with the island board to help protect the UNESCO World Heritage site
  • Most of the activities undertaken on the island are aimed at appreciating the flora and fauna of Lord Howe, from hiking and bird-watching on purpose-built trails to snorkelling and diving and glass-bottom boat cruises.  Local naturalist guides help give insight and ensure guests are considerate of wildlife

Environment & buildings

A small resident population (around 350 people) and a limit on the number of tourists (just 400 at any one time) ensures the island’s natural environment remains pristine – visiting Lord Howe is like returning to the simple holiday towns of your childhood.  Capella Lodge's efforts to source water and energy from Mother Nature and carefully manage their waste are helping keep the island as a paradise for future generations.

  • Capella Lodge is pretty green - you can take a low flow shower in filtered rainwater heated by the sun using biodegradable toiletries and be confident that the water flows down the plughole to be treated and recycled on site for irrigation
  • The sub-tropical location makes AC redundant and there is evidence of investment in energy, waste and water systems and careful management of operations
  • The island is gloriously under-developed – the ‘CBD’ (Central Business District) is one main street consisting of a few shops, a café/restaurant, a post office, and community centre with a monthly market at the lcoal school.  Visitor numbers are restricted to 400 at any one time to preserve Lord Howe Island's precious natural environment.
  • This means clean beaches and clean air but given this is an ecotourism destination there is still some local green infrastructure (a vertical composter for green waste and glass collection and crushing) with a full range of services provided from the mainland
  • The island has developed excellent strategies for biodiversity and waste - hopefully energy is next

  • The island's main generator is not very green and adds noise to the area around its location on main street(!). The island’s Board recognises this and is currently exploring alternatives, such as wind power.  Capella is also looking at becoming more energy independent through solar power (which is subsidised in Oz) and this will boost their eco score once up and running
  • A lot of waste is still transported off the island to the mainland for processing
  • Although the Lodge is clearly doing a good job, it doesn't have any formal green certification - the certification process can help hotels give their performance and management a boost through a structured review/reality check

Reviewed by Lara Dunston and Tim Starley-Grainger


Luxury


Overall luxury rating*


This is one of Australia’s finest luxury properties, but it's not about over-the-top opulence. Instead, what you get here is exclusivity, privacy, attention to detail and discretion.

The scene

Capella may be expensive but its laidback, egalitarian ethos attracts a wide range of guests, from big company CEOs and small business entrepreneurs to elderly retirees and young honeymooners.

  • If you’re sociable, you can meet a wide variety of guests, all of them well mannered and friendly when I stayed.
  • If you’re not sociable, it’s easy enough to keep to yourself and do your own thing – guests are not the kind who’ll be offended and will respect your need for privacy.
  • The isolation of the island and the resort and discretion of staff and fellow guests ensures that those desiring privacy can enjoy it without drama or fuss.

  • Guests come from all sorts of backgrounds and widely differing interests so whether you get along with the guests at the next table really depends on how amenable you are.
  • The vibe is low-key – this is not a resort for party people, but then neither is Lord Howe Island.

The style

The sensitively designed architecture of the property seamlessly blends with the surrounding environment while the laidback summer holiday vibe of the décor is perfectly suited to the island lifestyle.

  • The chic, laidback style of the two-storey loft suites, with their beach-shack décor, abundance of natural light, and space.
  • The attention to detail in rooms, from the plentiful reading material about Lord Howe Island to the mini bars, jam-packed with Australian produce.
  • The balconies in the loft suite rooms with plenty of room for lying down with a good book or sitting and sipping a glass of vino as the sun sets.

  • Décor is low-key in a ‘holiday style’ that is quintessentially Australian, that might not suit those looking for opulent luxury.

The facilities

Capella offers very little in the way of facilities – just bikes and electric vehicles – but it more than makes up for the lack of facilities with a beautiful ‘backyard’ packed with opportunities for hiking and swimming.

  • The property’s ‘backyard’ is a beautiful, verdant, compact island that is easy to explore on bike and foot.
  • One of the most beautiful walking trails and the island’s most demanding hike are accessible just down the hill.
  • Within minutes from Capella, there is a swimming and snorkelling beach close by.
  • There is a golf course on the other side of the hill although this isn’t very environmentally friendly.

  • There are very few facilities here at Capella.
  • The ‘swimming pool’ is tiny, little more than a small plunge pool, and in a very public place, in full view of guests relaxing in the bar and restaurant.
  • There is no dedicated sun deck for sunbathing – the space for sun-bathing is also the bar area.
  • The ‘spa’ is little more than a massage room, not a proper spa, which will disappoint travellers used to Asian spas with their various dedicated spaces for rituals, from pre-treatment tea, consultations and steams to treatments and post-treatment relaxation rituals.

We love

  • The attention to detail in rooms, from the plentiful reading material about Lord Howe Island to the mini bars, jam-packed with Australian produce.
  • The hands-on managers, who quickly become friends and warmth and friendliness of staff who are there to cater for your every whim but in a manner that is meaningful and sincere rather than sycophantic.
  • Evening cocktails where delicious canapés and a cocktail of the day is served while guests enjoy sunset from the wooden deck overlooking majestic Mount Gower.
  • The culinary surprise that is the nightly three-course meal in the restaurant (which changes daily) and the scrumptious Australian wines well-matched with the food.

You might not love

  • The warmth and friendliness of staff, which, while being uniquely Australian, can bother Europeans used to a more distant relationship with service staff.
  • As with Capella's sister hotel, Southern Ocean Lodge, keys aren’t encouraged here, meaning rooms aren’t secure, although safes are available in the wardrobes. However, except for items in the safe, if anything goes missing from your room (we've been told this has never happened), you'd struggle to make an insurance claim as keeping the room locked is usually a pre-requisite for coverage.
  • The limited set menus for each meal – you really have to put your trust in the chefs.
  • The lack of facilities – no Olympic-sized swimming pools, not even a lap pool here, and definitely no gym or proper spa.

Reviewed by Lara Dunston http://grantourismotravels.com/


Capella Lodge

Lagoon Road, Lord Howe Island 2898, New South Wales

Australia
+61 02 9918 4355

Standard room rates from AUS$1,300

Eco

Luxury*

"This 50-square-mile crescent in the Pacific has the southernmost coral reef in the world and a wealth of wilderness walks that include everything from primeval banyan forests to endangered ground-dwelling birds" Conde Nast Traveler