Norfolk Island is a small island in the Pacific Ocean located between Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia, 1,412 kilometres (877 mi) directly east of mainland Evans Head, and about 600 kilometres (370 mi) from Lord Howe Island. The island is part of the Commonwealth of Australia, but it enjoys a large degree of self-governance. Together with two neighbouring islands, it forms one of Australia's external territories. Originally colonised by East Polynesians, Norfolk Island was colonised by Britain as part of its settlement in Australia in 1788.
It then served as a convict penal settlement until 1794, when it was abandoned until 1856, when permanent residence on the island for civilians began and it was settled from Pitcairn. In 1901, the island became a part of the Commonwealth of Australia which it has remained until this day. The evergreen Norfolk Island pine is a symbol of the island and thus pictured on its flag (see illustration). Native to the island, the pine is a key export industry for Norfolk Island, being a popular ornamental tree on mainland Australia, where two related species grow, and also in Europe.
Norfolk Island is located in the South Pacific Ocean, east of the Australian mainland. Norfolk Island is the main island of the island group the territory encompasses and is located. It has an area of 34.6 km² (13.3 mi²), with no large-scale internal bodies of water and 32 km of coastline. The island's highest point is Mount Bates (319 m above sea level), located in the northwest quadrant of the island. The majority of the terrain is suitable for farming and other agricultural uses. Phillip Island, the second largest island of the territory seven kilometres south of the main island.
Norfolk Island has 174 native plants; 51 of them are endemic. At least 18 of the endemic species are rare or threatened. The Norfolk Island Palm (Rhopalostylis baueri) and the Smooth Tree-fern (Cyathea brownii), the tallest tree-fern in the World, are common in the Norfolk Island National Park but rare elsewhere on the island. Before European colonization, most of Norfolk Island was covered with subtropical rain forest, the canopy of which was made of Araucaria heterophylla (Norfolk Island Pine) in exposed areas, and the palm Rhopalostylis baueri and tree ferns Cyathea brownii and C. australis in moister protected areas. The understory was thick with lianas and ferns covered the forest floor. Only one small tract (5 km²) of rainforest remains, which was declared as the Norfolk Island National Park in 1986.
This forest has been infested with several introduced plants. The cliffs and steep slopes of Mount Pitt supported a community of shrubs, herbaceous plants, and climbers. A few tracts of clifftop and seashore vegetation have been preserved. The rest of the island has been cleared for pasture and housing. Grazing and introduced weeds currently threaten the native flora, displacing it in some areas. In fact, there are more weed species than native species on Norfolk Island.
As a relatively small and isolated oceanic island, Norfolk has few land birds but a high degree of endemicity among them. Many of the endemic species and subspecies have become extinct as a result of massive clearance of the island’s native vegetation of subtropical rainforest for agriculture, hunting and persecution as agricultural pests. The birds have also suffered from the introduction of mammals such as rats, cats, pigs and goats, as well as from introduced competitors such as Common Blackbirds and Crimson Rosellas.
Extinctions include that of the endemic Norfolk Kākā and Norfolk Ground Dove along with endemic subspecies of pigeon, starling, triller, thrush and boobook owl, though the latter’s genes persist in a hybrid population descended from the last female. Other endemic birds are the White-chested White-eye, which may be extinct, the Norfolk Parakeet, the Norfolk Gerygone, the Slender-billed White-eye and endemic subspecies of the Pacific Robin and Golden Whistler.