An eco-Adventure in Anegada
Discover Anegada's beaches and wildlife in a day
Story and photos by Jane Bakewell
The British Virgin Islands offers a little something for every adventure seeker looking for a bit of paradise, whether your version is lying in a hammock suspended between palms massaged by the wind, or the thrill of skippering a sailing yacht with a myriad of closely clustered islands waiting to be explored. However, for the eco-adventurer with a desire to really get off the beaten track, Anegada is the island that beckons.
The only all-coral atoll in the B.V.I. chain, Anegada stretches out long (13 miles) and low (28 feet at its highest point). With a population of 200 plus full time residents, it is situated 18 miles northwest of Tortola. Anegada's low profile remains elusive on the horizon and many a ship has met its fate over the years on the surrounding Horseshoe Reef that protects this island from the casual intruder.
Ah, but for the day adventurer, there are many delights that await and the island can be easily explored between the rising of the sun to the setting thereof. Smith's Ferry from the Road Town jetty in Tortola is one of the easiest ways to experience a day trip. (Private air charters from the Beef Island airport are also available). Smith's offers service Monday, Wednesday and Fridays departing Road Town at 7 am and returning from Anegada at 5 pm. The pleasant ride that generally takes an hour goes quickly, even with a brief stop in Virgin Gorda if there are passengers to be picked up.
Once the shimmer on the horizon becomes a reality, the most visible Anegada landmarks are the trees, tall and swaying - a combination of transplanted pines and groves of palms. The ferry arrives at the far side of Setting Point, a natural harbour where most of the sailors tie up to mooring balls or drop anchor and dinghy into the Anegada Reef Hotel. Since you departed at 7am - a rude awakening for most holiday travelers - a bit of breakfast may be in order. A short walk off the ferry dock jetty and on the left is the entrance to the Anegada Reef Hotel. Breakfast is served outside or under a covered dining pavilion and includes a fresh fruit bowl and eggs any style. If you want to continue down the harbour beachfront a little bit further, Neptune's Treasure also serves up a hearty breakfast including French toast and pancakes or a veggie omelet.
Once the "gullet is filled" as the pirates of old would say, it's time for a trip to Loblolly Bay on the north shore for a swim and snorkel. You can purchase a round trip ticket at the Anegada Reef Hotel for a shuttle bus (about 15 minutes each way), however if you are feeling adventurous, rent a scooter or car for some eco-exploring. A car can be rented at the Anegada Reef Hotel or if you call D.W. Jeep Rentals in advance, the hearty laugh and big smile of owner, Dean Wheatley can meet you right at the ferry. If you are feeling scooter capable, Li' Bit Express has a line of road-worthy motorbikes for you to choose from.
With one roundabout on the whole island - which you'll meet in the first 100 yards, the decision is: "Do I head east or west?" For our purposes, you'll "hang a louie" (that's a left) and head west following the sandy road that in portions feels like your tires are going over an old fashioned washboard. In between the teeth-rattling bumps, you'll catch glimpses of the ocean between the tree-lined sandy paths that lead to Setting Point's well-known restaurants, all with long docks stretching out on stilts for lobster cleaning and preparation. For a fascinating look at some of Anegada's treasure trove of sunken ship remains, just before the road takes a turn to the right, stop in the Pomato Point Restaurant and Museum. Here you can relax with a refreshing drink and look at Wilfred Creque's collection of nautical artifacts of yesteryear, including silver spoons, pottery pieces and old bottles.
Back on the road and following the curve to the right, the terrain is low scrub, wild orchids, cactus, century plants and sea grape trees. The next destination with a name begging for explanation is Cow Wreck Beach, which is marked by a hand painted sign with a cow skull on the left. You may even see some of the wild cows (with horns) ambling along the roadside. Now is the time to let go of the fact that you don't have a GPS system in your car and must rely on intuitive pulls to go this way or that. If a side road dead ends, just retrace your path. Pulling into Cow Wreck Beach, the turquoise waters beckon for a midday immersion and this is a perfect spot to try some conch fritters and a cool drink at the charming beachside grille run by Bell Creque and family. This will be a spot you want to linger at another time, but today there's more to explore.
Heading back east on the same road and past that one roundabout, you will come to a low concrete bridge across from Nutmeg Point. Here, there is a view of the salt ponds. This is a good time to park your vehicle to the side and pull out a camera with the telephoto lens and keep your eyes peeled for the flamingoes, which tend to congregate on the far side of "Flamingo Pond." Even with just the naked eye, one can see a coral pink cluster against the background of the mangroves. Almost extinct at one time, the once dwindling flock has now multiplied to close to 50 birds through the effort of the National Parks Trust, and has attracted other migrating flamingoes to the salt ponds. Other exotic species of birds can be seen as well in the island's mud flats and mangrove habitats, including ospreys, terns and blue herons.
From here drive on to Loblolly Bay and the wonderful half moon snorkel reef not far from shore. Before donning mask and snorkel, put in your order for lunch at the Big Bamboo Restaurant. Owners Aubrey and Diane Levons serve up Anegada lobster fresh out of the water and baked in the half shell; it's hard to beat. If you want a smaller more intimate setting for lunch, Flash of Beauty is just a bit further down the shore.
Snorkeling is just off the shore of Loblolly Bay, and it is not uncommon in this pristine coral setting to see green sea turtles and schools of blue tang, soldier fish, and if lucky, an occasional giant parrotfish. However, on rough days in the winter, this reef can be challenging, so it's always good to buddy-snorkel. The rule on any reef is look and enjoy, but do not touch. Diving excursions that take you to the caves and walls that drop from the outer side of the reef need to be arranged in advance with We Be Divin' at the Anegada Reef Hotel. Anegada beaches are known for their seemingly endless bends and turns of white sand that one can walk for miles with the surety you will see few others.
The fine seafood lunch and snorkel (or beach walk) may entice you to swing on some of the hammocks suspended under the seagrape trees, but alas you must push on. Following the road back at the "Y" go around the island of flowers and shrubs and head towards the Settlement. After entering the town, look for a "Lego-looking" structure on the left (it is actually the police station). Just to the left of it you'll see signs for the Head Start Facility, home of the rare Anegada Rock Iguana. Another project of the National Parks Trust, this facility is geared towards protecting rock iguanas from predation by feral cats. National Parks staff collect their eggs in the wild and keep them corralled until hatched. The hatchlings are then placed into the Head Start Facility until they are old enough to be released on their own. The facility is open to the public and currently has a cage with close to 40 new hatchlings. The cages are behind a gate that should be kept shut at all times.
Next continue on the road into the Settlement and follow the signs to Dotsie's Bakery. Here you'll find local baked treats such as guavabery and pineapple tarts as well as coconut bread. After stocking up on some pastries for the ride home, head back towards the ferry, but be prepared to stop off for a few other shopping stops. Pottery has been a tradition on Anegada for years and the preeminent potter is Pat Faulkner of Pat's Pottery, whose shop is found clearly marked on the road back. Whimsical pieces with sand crabs and palm trees adorn Pat's plates, cups and bowls. Two of her proteges have also opened up shops right next door to each other, VNJ's Gifts and Henny's Gift shop.
Landing back at the ferry dock around 4pm will give you plenty of time to look over the eclectic selection of clothing and gift items featured at Sue's Purple Turtle Boutique. Another choice spot for jewellery and gifts is the Anegada Reef Hotel Gift Shop, where Vivian can help you find just the right Anegada memento. Sailing away on the late afternoon ferry with the sun fading into a pink glow behind the horizon, your day on Anegada amongst flamingoes, rock iguanas, colourful fish and those Texas-looking cows with horns will seem less like an adventure and more like a dream.