Go west along Bay Street, past Nassau Street and continue to the Road Traffic Centre where you turn left to Fort Charlotte, built in 1787-89 out of limestone. It has a dry moat and battlements. The fort was manned during the Napoleonic Wars but never saw action. The soldiers left some interesting graffiti. Look down on the cricket field, the guns (not original cannon), Arawak Cay and the west end of Paradise Island. Guides will fill you in on the history for a small tip or just wander at leisure. The guides have Ministry of Tourism name badges and are not as pushy as at Fort Fincastle.
Coral Island is on the 16-acre island, Silver Cay, reached by a bridge from the manmade Arawak Cay (made when the harbour was dredged to allow cruise ships in), which is in turn reached by a bridge (where conch sellers congregate). (T3281036. 0900-1800, entry US$16 adults, US$11 children, annual membership US$21 adults, US$15 children, under 4s free. A US$3 bus runs from Cable Beach, a US$3 boat goes from Woodes Rodgers dock daily except Thursday, 1015, 1230, 1530, return 1200, 1500, 1700, or a US$3 bus from Paradise Island). Highlights include descending the observatory tower to view the sea below (lots of fish and masses of lobsters), wandering through the excellent indoor exhibits of reef ecology, watching sting ray and sharks feed and selecting your own oyster with a pearl inside. The only drawback is the small size of the pools housing turtles, rays and sharks. A snorkelling trail has been added, US$12 for hire of mask, snorkel and fins, and mandatory life jacket. It is open 0930-1600, off a small beach overlooking Arawak Cay, where there are plenty of rest rooms and sun beds. Allow half a day for a visit. There is a restaurant, gift shops and also stands with sea biscuits and sand dollars for sale.
Going up Chippingham Road you come to the Nassau Botanic Gardens where there are 18 acres of tropical plants. (Monday-Friday, 0800-1600, Saturday-Sunday 0900-1600, adults US$1, children US$0.50). Also The Ardastra Gardens and Zoo. Trained, parading flamingos march just after 1100, 1400, and 1600, but can be a disappointment. There are also parrots and some other animals, but not really enough to warrant the term zoo. (T323-5806/7232. 0900-1700, last admission 1630, adults US$7.50, children US$3.75).
Going west along the coast, Saunders Beach is bordered by casuarina trees and Brown’s Point looks across to the Crystal Palace (and Radisson Resort) at Cable Beach, which at night is a multi-coloured sight when the dayglo lights are switched on. Leaving Cable Beach you soon come to Delaporte Point (once a slave village) and Sandy Port residential areas. Further on are some local bars (Nesbits is very popular in the evenings) where you can buy drinks and native conch salad before you get to some limestone caves. There is an inscription commemorating the first visit by the British Royal Family in 1841. Just beyond is Conference Corner where Macmillan, Kennedy and Diefenbaker planted trees in 1962. At this point Blake Road leads to the airport while West Bay Street continues past Orange Hill Beach and Gambier Village, another slave village. Travellers Rest, a bar and restaurant, overlooks the sea, and is very pleasant to watch the sunset (excellent daiquiris and minced lobster). Love Beach further on the right is probably one of the best beaches on New Providence. Park on the side of the road and walk down between the apartments, you can not see the beach from the road. Compass Point Beach Club is on this stretch of coast.
Continuing as far west as you can go you reach Lyford Cay, a private residential area for the rich, protected by barriers. Turn left at the roundabout for Clifton, a stretch of rocky coast now being developed for a power station and industry. This road leads to South West Bay where you can turn right to visit the South Ocean hotel and beach front (a good stop for a swim and a drink) before returning east. After two miles there is a signpost to Adelaide Village. This settlement is one of the oldest, founded when illegal slave traders were intercepted by the British Navy in the 19th century and the human cargo was taken to the Bahamas. The traditional houses are brightly painted, the beach is quite good, though the water is shallow, and the bars prepare fresh fish or conch salad. Continue east on Adelaide Road and you come to the Coral Harbour roundabout. To the right, the Bahamas Defence Force has its base. Coral Harbour was designed as a second Lyford Cay, exclusive, with security barriers, but when it was built in the 1960s there was considerable local opposition to it becoming a select ghetto. The development company went bankrupt leaving it incomplete. The shell of the hotel still stands and the area is now an upper middle class subdivision. At the roundabout you can turn off for the airport or join Carmichael Road and you will pass the Bacardi Company, open weekdays until 1600. At the end of Carmichael Road turn left to go along Blue Hill Road and join Independence Drive at the roundabout (with the cock on top). Here on the north side is the new Town Centre Shopping Mall. In this area you will see many examples of the Government’s low-cost housing. Rows of rectangular houses have been painted and adapted by their owners to make each one individual. Notice also that cemeteries are built on hills, where you can dig down six foot and not hit water; elsewhere water is too close to the surface.
Continue east on Independence until you come to traffic lights with another mall. At Marathon Mall turn right on to Prince Charles Drive and follow this to the sea. Turn left and you will be on Eastern Road, which hugs the coast and has many impressive homes overlooking the sea. Blackbeard’s Tower, an old lookout point, is now closed. Fort Montagu (and beach), constructed in 1741, is famous for having been captured briefly by Americans during the Revolution. It is a rather smelly area where conch and fish are sold. If you turn left into Shirley Street and immediately left again into Village Road, you will come to The Retreat (opposite Queen’s College), the headquarters of the Bahamas National Trust and an 11-acre botanical park. (Guided tours- 20 minutes, US$2, Tuesday-Thursday at 1150). Members of the BNT (PO Box N4105) are entitled to discounts at several tourist destinations locally (for example Coral Island, Power Boat Adventures, Ardastra Gardens) and free admission to National Trust properties worldwide. The BNT was set up in 1959. It publishes a newsletter, Currents.
Returning to East Bay Street you will pass the Club Waterloo and the Nassau Yacht Club before reaching the toll bridge which crosses over to Paradise Island. A new bridge was opened at the end of 1998 and traffic now crosses over to Paradise Island on the new bridge, returning to Nassau via the old bridge. Alternatively there is a water taxi, US$2, to the Calypso Dock on Paradise Island. Stop at the Versailles Gardens and Cloisters on the way to the golf course. The gardens with various statues were allowed to fall into disrepair for a while, but were restored in 1994. The cloisters were brought in pieces from France and date back to the 14th century. The gazebo looking across to Nassau is a favourite spot for weddings. The Atlantis Resort with its aquarium and waterscapes is worth a visit; you could spend half a day walking the pathways among turtle habitats, the predator pool and the aquarium (see the huge jewfish), including one with a glass tunnel where sharks swim all round you (all for free). Paradise has some lovely stretches of beach on the north side, including Cabbage Beach and Victoria Beach to the east at the edge of the golf course.
Potters Cay, next to the old Paradise Island toll bridge, has the main fish and produce market. Try freshly made conch salad or scorched conch, very spicy and fresh.
Outside Freeport: The Hydroflora Gardens on East Beach Drive, five minutes’ drive from Ranfurly Circle, contain four acres of tropical plants grown hydroponically. Although the garden is on pure oolite rock, growth of up to five feet a year is achieved by this method. (T3526052. Monday-Saturday 0900-1730, US$1 entry or US$2 guided tour).
The Garden of Groves is a 12-acre botanical garden of flowers, birds (the flamingos have been killed by dogs), pools and waterfalls. The centrepiece is a stone replica of the original church built for the loggers on Pine Ridge, and is a popular place for weddings. A children’s petting zoo has pygmy goats and pot-bellied pigs and a jerk pit and picnic area has been added to give a family appeal. (T3524045 for up to date information.1000-1700 except Wednesday, free. Closed holidays. Times subject to change according to how much voluntary help is available. Gardens located on Magellan Drive, eight miles out of Freeport).
The Rand Nature Centre, East Settlers Way, opposite the Catholic High School, two miles out of town, is a 100-acre forest with a few flamingos, hummingbirds and the rare olive capped warbler. Highly recommended for its explanation of the ecology of a Bahamian forest. Run by the Bahamas National Trust since 1992, work is being done on more educational programmes, more trail development and an improved self-guided tour. A replica of a Lucayan village is under construction. Special birdwatching walks are offered on the first Saturday of each month at 0700, one and a half hours, US$5 unless you are a BNT member, bring binoculars and field guide. (Monday-Friday 0900-1600, guided tours 1000 and 1400, admission US$5 (children US$3), T3525438, PO Box F-3441, Freeport).
West of Freeport: Away from Freeport are the villages of Seagrape, Pine Ridge and Water Cay. Eight Mile Rock (eight miles from Freeport) is the name given to eight miles of rock stretching east and west of Hawksbill Creek. The name refers to the town west of the creek. The Rock, as locals call it, has a strong sense of community not found in Freeport. The coastal road is prettier than the road directly through EMR although if you pass through the town you can see the original wooden clapboard dwellings raised off the ground, some with verandas where the inhabitants sit chillin’ and rapping. Local bar, The Ritz, very friendly, but see below under Bars. Sample Mr Wildgoose’s tequila. Along the coastal road is a boiling hole and the Catholic church in Hepburn Town with walls shaped like praying hands. East of Hawksbill Creek are the settlement areas of Pinders Point, Lewis Yard and Hunters. Off Pinders Point is a boiling hole called the Chimney, which causes a vortex. Below is a large cave system but you need to go with a very experienced cave diver to see it.
West End, 21 miles from Freeport, was supposedly the first settlement on Grand Bahama. It enjoyed prosperity as a haven for rum-runners during the American prohibition era. The coastal road is pleasant with local fishermen hooking conch from their boats on one side and bars, shops and houses in pastel shades on the other. At the most westerly point is new Old Bahama Bay Hotel, built on the site of the Jack Tar Hotel Village, brainchild of Sir Billy Butlin, which was closed in 1990.
East of Freeport: Driving east from Freeport, you can see evidence of the aborted development plans, with many half-built plots, now mostly covered by bush, and roads which lead to nowhere. 15 miles east of Freeport, towards High Rock, is the 42-acre Lucaya National Park, with about 250 plant species, caves, plus a path through a Mangrove swamp, built in March 1985 by volunteers from ‘Operation Raleigh’. Continuing east you get to High Rock (20 miles) (Ezekiel Pinder’s Restaurant has an ocean view – almost) and Pelican Point (10 miles further), excellent deserted beach. The road on to McLean’s Town (see Festivals, below) and East End is poor, but passable. From McLean’s Town you can get a boat across to Sweetings or Deep Water Cay. Neither has vehicular traffic. There is the Traveller’s Rest Bar on Sweetings Cay. Deep Water Cay Club was established in 1958 and now has seven ocean front cottages and two 2-bedroomed houses for rent with packages for fishermen, T800-6884752, 954-3599488, Baha...@aol.com. East End Adventures run four-wheel drive tours to Sweetings Cay and Lightbourne’s Cay via the Lucaya National Park and McLean’s Town, (T3736662, 3526222 (after hours). US$100 per person, US$50 for children under 12, including lunch).
The roads are better in the northern half of the island and it is easy to drive the 26 miles to Treasure Cay, a self-contained resort approached by a long drive through the grounds, past the golf course. There is a nice beach here and lots of watersports available at the marina. The main road continues past Treasure Cay airport and several small communities, where most of the workers for Treasure Cay live, to Coopers Town. 20 miles from Treasure Cay, it has lots of little painted wooden houses and an air of bustling importance. It is the seat of the commissioner for North Abaco and about 900 people live here. The Prime Minister, Hubert Ingraham, lives in the area. In 1993-94 a new health clinic was built, the biggest on the island with doctors, dentists and nurses working there. There is no harbour but along the waterfront are wooden jetties where fishermen clean their catch, leaving piles of conch shells. Offshore on Powell Cay (uninhabited), there are some lovely beaches, good shelling and the Shipwreck Bar and Grill. The paved road carries on another 15 miles to Crown Haven, the end of the island.
South of Marsh Harbour it is 56 miles to Sandy Point, through citrus groves, or you can fork left to Hole in the Wall, the area where parrots breed. On the way you can visit Spencer Bight and the abandoned Wilson City, a company town founded in 1906 by the Bahamas Timber Company but closed in 1916. In its heyday there was a saw mill and dock facilities and it boasted electricity and an ice plant, both rarities at that time. At Little Harbour you find the highest point in Abaco, which is 120 feet. Little Harbour is a small, pretty and protected anchorage, famed for the Johnston family’s artwork in bronze, ceramics and jewellery. Their work is on display in two galleries. (1030-1200, 1400-1500 or by appointment, closed Sunday). Pete Johnston also has Pete’s Pub, where there are moorings and you can eat at the open-air bar on the beach (hot dogs, hamburgers, lobster). There is a nice walk to the old lighthouse and snorkelling is good over the small reef at the east entrance to the harbour. There are caves where the Johnstons lived when they first came to Little Harbour. If you go on Independence Day, 10 July, there is a free for all on the beach, everyone chips in, roast wild pig a feature.
Gregory Town is the main settlement in the north of the island and the home of pineapple rum. A pineapple festival is held in June/July, the date changes annually. Pineapples here take 18 months to grow, making them sweeter than plants grown in six months with the help of commercial chemicals. All the farms are small and there are no large plantations. There is a beach with good surfing. It is 20 minutes drive from the airport. Locally-made stained glass can be seen and bought at the Simba studio gallery and shop.
Governor’s Harbour is one of the oldest settlements in the Bahamas with several interesting colonial period houses. The harbour is picturesque and is linked by a causeway to Cupid’s Cay, the original settlement. A new cruise ship pier was built in 1991 but is unusable as no deep water channel was dredged. On 10 November a Guy Festival celebrates Guy Fawkes Day and parades are held, culminating in an evening bonfire. Tourism is dominated here by Club Med Eleuthera (T3322270, PO Box 80), on the Atlantic beachfront, which also runs a watersports centre on the harbour side.
In the south, Windermere Island, linked to the mainland by a small bridge, was an exclusive resort popular with the British Royal Family. The resort is closed now but opulent holiday homes remain. Tarpum Bay is the home of MacMillan-Hughes’ Art Gallery and Castle. It used to be a big pineapple centre and there are many examples of wooden colonial houses in good repair.
Further south is Rock Sound, the largest settlement on the island with a population of about 1,100. It was first known as New Portsmouth and then Wreck Sound. Rock Sound is surrounded by limey, bush covered hills. It has a large modern shopping centre, three churches and many bars.
A few farming villages exist in the extreme south with more stretches of beach and fishing. One such is Bannerman Town, once known as the Pearl of the South. In the 1930s it was a prosperous sponge fishing centre with 20 or more sponging schooners anchored off the west shore. Today the settlement is like a ghost town with large churches in ruins and few people. Those who have stayed eke out a living by farming goats and pineapples and catching land crabs to send to Nassau. At the most southerly point of the island, Cape Eleuthera and Point Eleuthera are sometimes likened to the opposite points on the tail of a fish. On Cape Eleuthera there is a lighthouse which was repaired by the Raleigh Expedition in 1988. At one time the keeper, Captain Finby, was also the local obeah man. Legend has it that he slept with a ghost called the White Lady, who visited him nightly. Lighthouse Beach is three miles long. At Eleuthera Point there is a good cliff top view of Cat Island and Little San Salvador. Be careful as the edges are badly eroded. From here you can also see nesting stacks of fairy terns, shark and barracuda channels and the spectacular blues, greens, yellows, reds and browns of fringing reefs. A lone tarpon known as Tommy cruises off this beach often in less than four feet of water.
Great Exuma: The main town on Great Exuma is George Town, a pleasant little town built on a strip of land between a round lake and the sea. A narrow channel allows small boats to use the lake as a harbour but yachts moor offshore, often several hundred at a time in the peak winter months. The large and beautiful bay is called Elizabeth Harbour and is yet another contender for the site of Columbus’ harbour that could “hold all the ships in Christendom.” The main building is the Government Administration Building, pseudo colonial, pink and modelled on Nassau’s Government House. Opposite is a large tree under which women plait straw and sell their wares. There are several pretty buildings, St Andrew’s Church (Anglican), blue and white on the top of a little hill and the Peace and Plenty Hotel in an old cotton warehouse which was formerly the site of a slave market. There is a good range of shops and the supermarket is well stocked. The Sandpiper shop has an interesting array of clothes and souvenirs.
To the south of George Town is Rolletown, a small village on a hill overlooking the sea. Many old houses are painted in bright blues, yellows and pinks. There is a small cemetery in which are buried settlers from the 18th century in three family tombs: husband, wife and small child of the Mackay family. The Ferry is a small settlement by the beautiful strait which separates Great and Little Exuma, but there is a bridge there now, not a ferry.
North of George Town there is a thin scatter of expatriate holiday houses and a few shops along the Queen’s Highway. East of the road are several fine beaches, including Hoopers Bay and Tar Bay. The airport turning is north of George Town. Small villages are Moss Town, Mount Thompson, Steventon and Rolleville. Moss Town was once an important sponging centre. Close by you can see The Hermitage, brick tombs dating back to just after the American War of Independence, not to be confused with the Hermitage or Cotton House close to Williams Town on Little Exuma. Mt Thompson was once the farming centre of Exuma and is important for its onion packing house. Some of the cottages in Rolleville, 16 miles northwest of George Town, were originally slave quarters. The town overlooks a harbour and was the base of a group of rebellious slaves who attempted to escape and thereafter refused to work except in the mornings, until emancipation. Unfortunately, quite a large area of North Exuma is disfigured by roads which were laid out as part of a huge speculative land development scheme in the 1960s. Almost all the lots are still empty, but Cocoplum Beach and the coastal scenery are unspoilt. At the north end of the island is a bridge to Barreterre, with more fine scenery and places to eat lunch. At Lee Stocking Island, just offshore, the Caribbean Marine Research Centre is involved in research into the tilapia, a freshwater fish brought from Africa which can grow in saltwater. This can be visited by prior appointment.
Little Exuma: A bridge leads to Little Exuma, which is 12 miles long and one mile wide. An attractive cove is Pretty Molly Bay, next to the abandoned Sand Dollar Hotel. A mermaid story is based on Pretty Molly, a slave girl who sat on the rocks at night and gazed by the light of the moon towards Africa. Near Forbes Hill is the ‘Fort’, built in 1892 and said to be haunted. On Good Friday a nearby tree is said to give off a substance the colour of blood. Williams Town is the most southerly of the settlements on Exuma. Salt used to be made in the lagoon. Perched on the cliff top here is a tall white obelisk which not only guided passing ships safely in the 19th century, but was an advertisement that salt and freshwater could be picked up here. The Cotton House, near Williams Town, is the only plantation owner’s house still standing in the Exumas. It is at the end of a driveway marked by a pair of trees, but is tiny, not grand. Slave quarters can be seen close by.