Virgin Gorda

Over a century ago, Virgin Gorda was the centre of population and commerce. It is now better known as the site of the geological curiosity called The Baths, where enormous smooth boulders form a natural swimming pool and underwater caves. The island is 7 miles long and the north half is mountainous, with a peak 1,370 ft high, while the south half is relatively flat.

Around Virgin Gorda

There is a 3,000-ft airstrip near the main settlement,
Spanish Town
. The Virgin Gorda Yacht Harbour is here and besides the marina facilities with full yachting chandlery, there is a good supermarket, dive centre, bar/restaurant, a craft shop selling stamps, souvenir and clothes shops and phones, post box and taxis. There are some 20 secluded beaches, the most frequented being
Devil's Bay
,
Spring Bay
, and
Trunk Bay
on the west coast. Between Devil's Bay and Spring Bay in the southwest are
The Baths
. The snorkelling here is good, especially going left from the beach. Unfortunately the popularity of The Baths with tour companies and cruise ships can lead to overcrowding. There are many day trips from Tortola and when a cruise ship is in port you cannot move on the beach. Just off the southwest tip of the island is
Fallen
Jerusalem National Park
, an islet named for its spectacular tumble-down rock formation. On the southeast tip is
Copper Mine Point
, where the Spaniards allegedly mined copper, gold and silver some 400 years ago; the remains of a mine begun by Cornish miners in 1838 can be seen with the typical Engine House and other ruins, and you can find stones such as malachite and crystals embedded in quartz.

North of the island is
North Sound
, formed to the south and east by Virgin Gorda, to the north by Prickly Pear Island, and to the west by Mosquito Island.
Bitter End
and
Biras Creek
are good anchorages and both have a hotel and restaurant.
Biras Creek
charges for moorings; yachtsmen may use Deep Bay beach but others are reserved for hotel guests.
Bitter End
charges include water taxi to shore in the evenings. There is no road to either resort, you have to get a hotel launch from Gun Creek or the North Sound Express from Beef Island to
Bitter End Resort & Yacht Club
. Saba Rock is just off
Bitter End
; with food at the
Saba Rock Resort
.

Prickly Pear Island

Prickly Pear Island forms the northeast edge of North Sound. It has a lovely beach at Vixen Point with a small beach bar and a watersports centre. This is a great spot for volley ball, with a net permanently on the beach. Moorings near the
Sand Box
beach bar, with showers and ice. The only legal jet-ski rental operation in the BVI is here. The island gets crowded when cruise ships come in.

Necker Island

This 74-acre, private island (www.necker.com) northeast of Virgin Gorda is owned by Sir Richard Branson, who wanted a Virgin island to add to his Virgin enterprise. It is available for rent, either in its entirety or, during certain weeks, you can rent just a room and share with others. The house and two cottages, all in Balinese style, sleep 26, fully staffed and cost an arm and a leg. The
Bali Cliff
open-sided bedroom and bathroom was made in Indonesia and re-assembled on the island. There is also a Balinese beach pool and dining pavilion. Lovely beaches, protected by a coral reef, tennis and watersports provided, private. Powerboats take 40 minutes from Beef Island, expect to get soaked, or go by helicopter or boat from Virgin Gorda.

Mosquito Island

Mosquito Island is privately owned and enjoys beautiful views over North Sound to Virgin Gorda and Prickly Pear Island. This 125-acre island is just northwest of Leverick Bay and a mile from Necker Island. There is a lovely beach at South Bay, sandy with boulders, and there are other quiet, sandy coves.

Cooper Island

In the chain of islands running southwest from Virgin Gorda is Cooper Island, which has a beach and harbour at Manchioneel Bay with palm trees and coral reefs. The island is only 1½ miles long and ½ mile wide, there are no roads, cars, TVs or nightlife. It is a place to relax and escape the rest of the world. The supply boat leaves Road Town Monday, Wednesday and Saturday. There is a dive shop on the island and the beach club is used for surface intervals or to pick up divers from yachts anchored in the bay.

Salt Island

Very few people visit this lovely island, there are no ferries and access is only by private boat. There are two salt ponds from which salt was gathered and a bag sent to the British monarch every year as rent for the island, the remainder sold to visitors and local restaurants. The last remaining inhabitant and salt worker died in 2003. There is a reef-protected lagoon on the east shore. The main reason people come here is for a rest stop between dives. The British mail ship
Rhone
, a 310-ft steamer, sank off Salt Island in a hurricane in 1867 and the site was used in the film
The Deep
. Those who perished were buried on Salt Island. The wreck is still almost intact in 20-80 ft of water and is very impressive. The dive is usually divided between the bow section and the stern section; in the former you can swim through the hull at a depth of about 70 ft, be prepared for darkness. In calm weather it is possible to snorkel part of it.

Dead Chest

A tiny island in Salt Island Passage, between Salt Island and Peter Island, this is reputedly where the pirate Blackbeard abandoned sailors: “15 men on a Dead Man's Chest - Yo Ho Ho and a bottle of rum!”.

Peter Island

This 1,000-acre island has a tiny population and offers isolated, palm-fringed beaches, good anchorage and picnic spots. There are 10 daily ferry departures from Tortola, a private guest launch from Tortola or St Thomas, and helicopter from St Thomas or San Juan. The marina by the dive shop has a commissary selling basic foods, snacks and ice creams, and there are shower facilities for visiting sailors.

Norman Island

The island is reputed to be the 'Treasure Island' of Robert Louis Stevenson fame. The floating bar/restaurant
William Thornton II
, www.williamthornton.com, is anchored in the Bight of Norman to the north of the island. The first
William Thornton
, a converted 1910 Baltic Trader sank in 1995. There is also the
Billy Bones
beach bar, open for lunch and dinner, but otherwise the island is uninhabited. A launch service, the
Wet Willy
, operates from Nanny Cay Marina. On its rocky west coast are caves where treasure is said to have been discovered many years ago. These can be reached by small boats and there are several day trips on offer. There is excellent snorkelling around the caves and the reef in front slopes downward to a depth of 40 ft.
The Indians
off the northwest of Norman Island are pinnacles of rock sticking out of the sea with their neighbour, the gently rounded
Pelican Island
. Together they offer the diver and snorkeller a labyrinth of underwater reefs and caves.

Jost Van Dyke

Lying to the west of Tortola, the island was named after a Dutch pirate. Dr William Thornton, who designed the US Capitol in Washington DC, was born here. It is mountainous, with beaches at White Bay and Great Harbour Bay on the south coast. Great Harbour looks like the fantasy tropical island, a long horseshoe-shaped, white sandy beach, fringed with palm trees and dotted with beach bar/restaurants. Jost Van Dyke is a point of entry and has a Customs House at the end of the dock at Great Harbour. Electricity and a paved road arrived in 1991. There are moorings in Little Harbour where a marina is being built and anchorages at Great Harbour, Sandy Cay and Green Cay. It is surrounded by smaller islands, one of which is
Little Jost Van Dyke
, the birthplace in 1744 of Dr John Coakley Lettsom, the founder of the British Medical Society.

Sandy Cay
, a small uninhabited islet just east of Jost Van Dyke, is owned by Laurance Rockefeller. It is covered with scrub but there is a pleasant trail set out around the whole island, which makes a good walk. Bright white beaches surround the island and provide excellent swimming. Offshore is a coral reef.

Anegada

Unique among this group of islands because of its coral and limestone formation, the highest point is only 28 ft above sea level. There are still a few large iguanas, which are indigenous to the island. The Anegada rock iguana is part of a national parks' trust breeding programme after numbers declined to only 100, largely because juveniles fell prey to wild cats. Contact Rondel Smith, the national parks trust warden on Anegada (also a taxi driver), who can take you to see their burrows in the wild and the hatchlings in pens outside the Administration Building in the Settlement. Young adult rock iguanas will be released into the wild when they are big enough, but there are about 50 youngsters in captivity. Flamingos also used to be numerous on the island but were decimated by hunters. Twenty flamingos were released in 1992 in the ponds and four wild ones joined them two years later. In 1995 they bred five chicks, something of a record with flamingos reintroduced into the wild and now there are over 40 birds. They are best seen from the little bridge over The Creek on the road from the
Anegada Reef Hotel
to the airport turn-off. Hawksbill and green turtles nest all along the north shore; the Government has drawn up a conservation policy and the waters around the island are protected. The waters abound with fish and lobster, and the extensive reefs are popular with snorkellers and scuba divers who also explore wrecks of ships which foundered in years past. Some were said to hold treasure, but to date only a few doubloons have been discovered. Anegada has excellent fishing and is one of the top bone-fishing spots in the world. From the wharf on the south shore, all the way round to the west end, across the entire north shore (about 11 miles) is perfect, uninterrupted, white sandy beach. Any fences on the beach are to keep out cattle, not people.
Loblolly Bay
is popular with day trippers, partly because it has a beach bar at either end
The Big Bamboo
at the west end is busier and more accessible than
Flash of Beauty
at the east end, the only places where there is shade, partly because of the reef just offshore where snorkellers can explore caverns and ledges and see coral, nurse sharks, rays, turtles, barracuda and shoals of colourful fish. The beach is generally deserted. Bring water and sun screen.

The Settlement is a collection of wooden homes and some newer houses, a smart new government building, a few bars, little shops, a bakery, jeep hire and church.

This is edited copy from Footprint Handbooks. For comprehensive details (incl address, tel no, directions, opening times and prices) please refer to book or individual chapter PDF
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