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Beyond The Baths

A day on Virgin Gorda

by Jessica Jeffrey

There are many ways to get to Virgin Gorda. If you're traveling from Tortola, you can take either the North Sound Express, which runs from Beef Island, or hop onto one of Speedy's ferries that leaves from Road Town. Both ferries make stops in Spanish Town, the epicenter of Virgin Gorda. The North Sound Express also runs to Virgin Gorda's North Sound and the Bitter End Yacht Club. Once you have arrived in Virgin Gorda, your best bet is to rent a car, this way you can travel the island at your own pace and encounter areas beyond the typical taxi trips.

A row of Kayaks sits on the water's edge at Leverick Bay.
Above: A row of Kayaks sits on the water's edge at Leverick Bay. Photos by Jim Kelley.

With your travel arrangements in gear, you can set out exploring on your own. First stop is Spring Bay, located just east of the Baths. Here you will find the same giant boulders that make the Baths famous, minus the crowds. The beach is a short walk from the parking lot and is a designated National Park area. Spring Bay, while less popular than the Baths, is still a happening beach spot. You can park your belongings by the picnic tables and take in the snorkeling, or you can travel a bit to the north and discover Little Trunk Bay, which looks like it came straight out of a movie set. Snorkeling is best at Spring Bay, especially in the tiny coves that are protected from the rough waves. One particular enclosure nicknamed the "crawl," was once used by fisherman to trap turtles and sea creatures, before they were retrieved from the water. Today, there is no fishing here, and marine life is thriving, so be sure to take advantage of it. If you do choose to head over to Little Trunk Bay, you will find much rougher waters that are not conducive to snorkeling. In fact the crashing waves can even make it a bit difficult for swimming. The boulders also tend to block any breeze, so it can be a little hot sun bathing, even in the cooler winter months. Little Trunk Bay's out of the way location makes it a perfect place for tranquility. If you've been dying to take a picture in front of a giant boulder, then take the opportunity here. Massive boulders trim the sides of Little Trunk Bay and there may not be a soul in sight.

From Spring Bay, drive into the heart of Spanish Town, which served as the BVI's capital until 1714. Today you will find a few shops at the Yacht Harbor complex, an open air-shopping plaza. The Bath and Turtle restaurant located in the center of the complex is an excellent spot to stop for a bite to eat. You'll find a small cluster of tables, where Caribbean delights are served throughout the day. It's fun to peek into the various shops in the complex. You can pick-up souvenirs and beach gear, or make a picnic lunch with provisions from Bucks' supermarket. The Yacht Harbor shopping area is relatively small, but there are plans to expand it. It's definitely worth a trip and is a reprieve from the hot sun.

Next head over to the Coppermine on Virgin Gorda's southeastern tip. The Coppermine was once the site of the Virgin Islands bustling 19th century copper industry. According to local legend, Christopher Columbus was struck by the large amount of jewelry worn by the Amerindians. Columbus believed the jewels to be gold, but it was more likely copper. Cornish Miners first exploited the copper and likely built the structures that you see today.

Virgin Gorda's Coppermine

Above: Virgin Gorda's Coppermine

The Coppermine is about a ten-minute drive from Spanish Town. The ruin's remains are perched on a cliff overlooking the Sir Francis Drake Channel. The most prominent structures include the original stack, engine house and powder house. Keep your eyes to the ground and you might see a small piece of copper sparkling in the afternoon sun. If you haven't eaten lunch yet, the Mine Shaft Café is located on the road to the Coppermine. This casual eatery serves up quality food and 360 degree vistas. If you feel up to it, indulge in their specialty drink called the "Cave In." They won't disclose what it's made out of, but let's just say you probably will want someone else to drive for the rest of the trip.

After a good dose of history, make your way out of the Valley and over the hill. If you're still in the mood to stop at another beach, you'll want to check out Savannah Bay, located just outside of Spanish Town. This half-mile strip of white sand is postcard picture perfect. It can be a bit busy right by the entrance of the beach, but if you walk to the right, you can find a section all to yourself. The turquoise water and white sand make this beach one of the best in the BVI. There are plenty of shady nooks to lie down in, and if you enjoy snorkeling, reefs abound. Relaxation is key at Savannah Bay and don't expect to be entertained by fellow beach goers, you could bethe only one there.

For more physical activity, check out Gorda Peak, Virgin Gorda's highest point and at 1370 feet, the second highest mountain in the BVI. Located on the same road as Savannah Bay, Gorda Peak is more than just a pretty hike. Here you will find one of the last remaining dry forests in the Caribbean, along with an abundance of flora and fauna. Six types or orchids sprinkle the sides of the trail, and if you listen closely you may hear a chirp from the Virgin Island "bo peep" frog. The Virgin Gorda Gecko, the smallest lizard in the world, also calls Gorda Peak home. This tiny lizard might be hard to spy, but you will certainly see many types of frogs, lizards and birds. While the vegetation is intriguing, nothing can compare with the panoramic sights from the top. Be sure to climb to the top of the wooden tower for vast views of the territory. On a clear day you can see Anegada and all the way to St. Croix, but even on a cloudy day you will still catch a glimpse of Virgin Gorda's North Sound and the surrounding islands.

The entrance to Gorda Peak National Park

Above: The entrance to Gorda Peak National Park. Photos by Jim Kelley.

Once you have taken in these fabulous views and descended from the mountain, you'll want to round out your day in Virgin Gorda's North Sound. Make your way to the local village of Gun Creek, which serves as the launching spot into the area. A new ferry terminal sits at the dock's entrance. From here the sound is your oyster. Hop onto one of the frequent water taxis to explore the area. Water enthusiasts will want to visit, the Bitter End Yacht Club, known for its water sports department and yachtie atmosphere.

If you're in the mood for an elegant meal, then take the water taxi to Biras Creek, an upscale resort that overlooks the sound. For something a bit more low-key, check out Saba Rock and enjoy a drink at the smallest inhabited spot in the territory. You can also visit Prickly Pear Island, a National Park area with a bustling beach bar and hiking trails. There's plenty to see and do in North Sound, whether you choose to partake in water sports or enjoy the sites from afar.

An alternative to North Sound, is to take the road past the turnoff to Gun Greek and head for Leverick Bay. The Leverick Bay resort, which was built in the late 80s, is located here, along with well over a dozen rental villas. The waterfront Jumbies Bar is an opportune spot for a refreshing tropical libation following a day of sightseeing. There is also the Leverick Bay restaurant, a water sports outfit, , a dive shop, and several gift shops including a Pusser's Company Store.

If all this seems like a little bit too much to do in one day, don't despair you can certainly alter this itinerary and visit some of the places on your next trip to the island. Whichever spots you choose to visit, you'll have bypassed the Baths and toured the sites that truly make Virgin Gorda tops when it comes to a day trip.