We left for Eleuthera on the ferry from Potter’s Cay, a gritty market dock on Nassau featuring sun-bleached conch shacks, shipping containers and a distinctly rough but authentic vibe. The ferry only takes about 2.5 hours, which is more than worth it not just to avoid airport hassles (and tiny prop planes) but for the view of stunning Eleuthera rising up from the ocean.
The ferry docks on an island at the Northern tip of Eleuthera, at a small harbour town called Spanish Wells. Surrounded by blindingly emerald-green waters, Spanish Wells is made up rows of pastel-coloured clapboard houses and picket fences that look as if they’ve been transported directly from a New England fishing village. It’s like Maine on prozac. Stephen King would have a hard time setting one of his brooding novels here.
We stayed in a tiny rental cottage in Palmetto point with its very own beach, picnic table and fire pit, which we used one night to make foil-wrapped one-eyed-jack that we bought straight off the pier in one of the neighbouring fishing towns.
The best thing to do on island is to rent a car, turn up the music and drive. Eleuthera is a long, narrow strip of land that stretches 110 miles. The only highway – the Queen’s Highway – will take you past casuarina pines and coco plum bushes with flashes of brilliantly turquoise sea-views in between. Palmetto lies pretty much right in the middle so one day we would drive North, and the other South, stopping at whatever spectacular view we happened to come across. At the very southern tip of the island, down a long, dusty, dirt track, is Lighthouse Beach. Though I’ve lived in the Caribbean for the last five years, this is without doubt the most spectacular beach I’ve ever seen. The sand is pristinely white and powdery, and the water is studded by endless miles of reef, creating a kaleidoscope of brilliant blues. The best view of both the beach and reef is from a rocky limestone promontory, at the end of a short trail to a beautiful, disused lighthouse. It’s hard to imagine that a place so beautiful could be so sleepy, but we saw about a handful of tourists the entire time we were there. This is all soon set to change though, as the Bahamian government has just finalized a deal with Disney cruise lines to add Lighthouse Beach to their list of destinations. Disney will be ‘developing’ 700 acres of land.
The ‘capital’ of Eleuthera is Gregory Town, a tiny settlement with a few sleepy restaurants, a couple of bars, and a grocery store, where imported goods are so expensive that the onions are individually priced at about a dollar. About a five minute walk from the grocery store is one of the prettiest public libraries I’ve ever seen – a pastel pink-and-white colonial building surrounded by swaying palm-trees and dreamily peaceful views out to the sparkling ocean. The most action Gregory Town sees is at the popular Friday fish-frys, and every evening at dusk when the sharks come out to hunt in the shallows.
On the Northern tip of Eleuthera it’s a short ferry trip to the perennially popular Harbour Island. The two neighbouring islands could not be more different. While Eleuthera is dusty, sleepy, and fairly ramshackle, harbour Island is a buzzing, pristine tourist hub. Tourists in golf-carts zip past postcard-perfect, pastel-coloured Caribbean cottages, making their way to the eye-wateringly expensive restaurants and cafes on pretty Dunmore Street. Harbour Island is famous for its pink beach, but I can say without hesitation that it does not hold a tiny birthday-cake candle to any of the beaches on Eleuthera. What’s more it’s a lot more crowded.
The drive from Gregory Town to the Harbour Island ferry dock will take you past Eleuthera’s most famous photo-op spot, the Glass Window Bridge. From the bridge you can at once see the angry dark blues of the churning Atlantic on one side and the calm and turquoise waters of the Caribbean on the other. One day when we were swimming at some beautiful, unnamed beach where the bath-still water was perfectly silent, we noticed a dull roaring sound coming from somewhere in the distance, and we realised that it was the crashing of the waves coming from the other side of the narrow island. We walked over (about 15 mins to Surfer’s beach) to views of enormous waves, rugged coastline, and sand dunes. Apart from some sea-sprayed surfers, we hardly saw a tourist all day in one of the most beautiful locations we’d ever seen.