A Trail Guide for Sailors (And Landlubbers Too)
The BVI’s enduring appeal is sailing. It usually entails a week’s cruise around the islands, often on a fine yacht with a professional crew, or “sail yourself” on a bareboat. From personal experience a typical day might involve departing from the previous night’s anchorage after a leisurely breakfast, a couple of hours of sailing and then a lunchtime stop with perhaps a snorkel on one of the BVI’s beautiful coral reefs. After lunch and another hour or two of exhilarating sailing, the day ends at anchor in a snug cove or off an idyllic beach. The BVI has literally hundreds of choices; it’s why it’s called the “sailing capital of the world.” But what the BVI has to offer that is not always appreciated is an abundance of trails that lend themselves to invigorating hikes or meandering walks. These walks not only offer healthy exercise but may also expose you to island history, nature’s flora and fauna and spectacular views.
Great Views and a Dip at Norman Island
I have many favorite hiking spots, which I often explore with charter yacht guests who share my love for exploration and breathtaking vistas. The best time to enjoy a hike is early morning when the temperature is still cool. Be sure to apply sun screen, wear a protective hat and proper walking shoes or sneakers. Each walker should have a bottle of water and insect repellant may be useful if it has recently rained. Research your chosen walk and anticipate the difficulty level and time needed to complete the adventure. Don’t forget your camera to capture great memories.
Just after sunrise on a fine and breezy morning I motored our dinghy to the empty dock at Pirates’ Bight. Six visitors who had chartered a catamaran were keen to explore the island. We began our hike behind the restaurant where the trail is clearly visible and began the ascent. The verdant foliage is profuse after a wet rainy season; we passed tamarind trees, an unusual turpentine tree with its peeling bark and several frangipanis. About half way up the climb to the top a gap in the vegetation allowed us a magnificent view of the Bight with the yachts at anchor and St John clearly visible in the distance. The plan for our modest walk was to make our way to Norman’s prettiest cove, Benures Bay, on the island’s north shore. So when we reached the junction we turned left, past an old helipad and continued on. The views on the windward side of the island are more rough and rugged with breaking surf crashing onto the island, but no less spectacular for all this. The BVI has no large indigenous animals but small lizards, geckoes and occasionally a pre-historic, dragon-like rock iguana may be spotted. We finally descended to the bay and four of the group took a refreshing dip in the clear, calm water. There’s wonderful snorkeling in Benures Bay but that was not on our itinerary. The walk back took about half an hour and we were sailing onto our next destination by 9.30. What a way to start the day!
Enjoy a Challenge at Peter Island
Peter Island is privately owned but welcomes sailors and visitors. There are many fine trails on Peter Island and most are well kept and easy to navigate. From Dead Man’s Bay pull your dinghy well up the sandy beach in the south-east corner, walk to the fork behind the beach, turn right and start the ascent. After a hundred yards or so you’ll come across a bench overlooking Dead Man’s Bay (a great photo op, especially in the early morning light). Turn left and begin a steep climb up the one lane road. Peter Island’s trails are most celebrated for their spectacular views. This challenging trail takes you up and over the hill and (gasp!) what a view! The panorama takes in Norman Island, the shimmering water between the islands and St John in the distance. The trail continues along the southern ridge of the island, past the Hawks Nest villa and on to the two wind turbines, which provide most of the power for the resort. On the return, you could take the steep winding trail down to appropriately named White Bay, but remember, you have to walk back so gauge your energy level.
There are several other easier trails. If you are anchored or moored in Great Harbor take your dinghy to the eastern most sandy beach. From there take the short trail past the old fishing camp and on to the resort. Walk the well-maintained roadway up to the saddle and then walk adjacent to the beach, past bougainvillea and oleander bushes. When you get to the eastern end of Dead Man’s Bay you can choose between the short trail up the hill leaving the Spa on your right and follow it all the way to a snug little sandy beach called Honeymoon. A great spot for a peaceful swim; you’re likely to be the only ones there. If you turn right at the Spa you can take the trail along the water’s edge; a paradise for beach combers where you’ll find all kinds of weathered sea glass. On an outing I took with my family along this route several years ago, we found broken beer bottle shards, smooth and well eroded; these became “emeralds from pirate treasure.”
The Baths’ Iconic Trail
A glimpse at the BVI’s trails would not be complete without a mention of the Bath’s iconic trail; the BVI’s most popular attraction. Nowadays the popularity of the area is such that dinghies are prohibited from the beach so you have to dinghy to the dedicated tie line and swim ashore. You’ll need a dry bag for cameras, sun screen etc. In the winter months, the north swell may preclude visitors due to dangerous conditions; a red flag on the beach will warn you of this, a yellow flag means “safe.” Once on the beach walk to the right where a sign points to the entrance of the trail. You will be entranced by the house-sized boulders, precariously balanced and eroded into natural sculptures. You will exit the first part of the trail at the enchanting Devil’s Bay beach, a great spot for a cooling dip. Then walk to the southern end of the beach where the trail continues to Stoney Beach and then up past more interesting rock formations (Skull Rock) and eventually to “The Top of The Baths.” Here you can have a refreshing drink or lunch and browse some interesting shops. A short walk directly down a path will take you back to your starting place.
“Trail Central” at North Sound
The North Sound of Virgin Gorda, is often my next stop. I have now arrived at “Trail Central.” In the vicinity of the Bitter End Yacht Club and Biras Creek there are at least six spectacular trails. On one trip, there were seven of us on the Sundowner and we had chosen Guy’s Trail for the early morning hike. Guy is that guy who started Yacht Shots BVI and you will likely see him in his dinghy balancing precariously, camera in hand, zooming around your boat somewhere in the Sir Francis Drake Channel. For years, he operated out of the Bitter End and his hobby was exploring and hiking – hence Guy’s Trail. We tied the dinghy up close to the reception center and I asked the friendly lady at the desk for the map of the trail. We, turned left and walked along the shore to the outside exercise park, turned right and up the hill – hey presto! The sign was there. This steep trail requires climbing over moderate boulders as it zig zags its way to the top. We passed frangipani bushes, rather devoid of their sweet-scented flowers at this time of year but we were lucky to see the voracious and colorful frangipani caterpillars devouring the leaves. In a few short weeks, the caterpillar metamorphoses into a huge moth, the Grey Sphinx Moth, whilst the now bare frangipani will begin its new cycle of life growing fresh leaves. At the top were various cacti including the Turk’s Head and the Pipe Organ. This was a good place for a rest; cameras came out and memories were captured. The trail continued down and ended up by the Bitter End’s villas and finally the pool.
The group enjoyed the hike so much that the following morning several of our stalwart crew opted for another adventure, Alvin’s Heights. This particular hike starts near Biras Creek and is probably one of the most spectacular in the BVI with panoramic views over North Sound, Eustacia Sound, Necker Island and all the way to Anegada.
There can be no doubt that invigorating hikes along the many trails in the BVI will add tremendously to a Virgin Island vacation and will complement your long list of happy holiday memories.
Note: All the trails described above can be accessed by land based visitors. Norman Island and Peter Island can be visited by ferry. The Baths can be reached by ferry to Spanish Town and taxi to the Top of The Baths. The North Sound Express ferry departs from Trellis Bay and takes you to the Bitter End Yacht Club.
A new book, Trails and Tales by Ron Beard describes 26 trails with informative commentary, maps of the trails and amusing anecdotes. Check BVIhiking.com to pick up a copy.