RELAXING, TENNIS & SNORKELING AT ITS BEST
LITTLE DIX BAY, VIRGIN GORDA
The sparkling jewel of Great Britain is not found in the crown on Queen Elizabeth's head but on the island of Virgin Gorda in the Caribbean. Here, thousands of years ago, volcanoes forged themselves into beautiful hills, mountains and valleys. Fine white sands cover its many secluded beaches and the boulders that cover the hillsides are mesmerizing.
The northern half of the island is mountainous, with a peak of 1,370 feet, while the southern half is flat with the giant boulders appearing at almost every turn. It is believed that the boulders resulted from molten rock which cooled forming the hard crystalline granite layer in the existing volcanic rock. As the volcanic rock eroded, the giant blocks were exposed to the air and over millennium have weathered to the smooth boulders. Their placement in and along the water has come to be one of Virgin Gorda's best known attractions, "The Baths."
Located on the northeast of Virgin Gorda, just off the Sir Francis Drake Channel in the British Virgin Islands is the island's garden of paradise, the Rockresort, Little Dix Bay. Just ninety miles east of Puerto Rico and twenty six miles northeast of St. Thomas, Virgin Gorda is accessible by connecting air service and water taxi ferry from San Juan and St. Thomas. The resort itself is set around a crescent-shaped bay protected by a coral reef.
We are here because we love to play tennis and snorkel. Little Dix Bay has seven "laykolt-cushion-plus" tennis courts, two of which are lit for night play. The tennis program at Little Dix Bay is under the direction of Peter Burwash International, and a resident pro is available year round. Twice weekly, a round-robin tournament is held, and every Monday there is a beginnerís clinic. In the summer months stroke-of-the-day clinics are held and both private and semi-private lessons are available at all times. Use of the courts, racquets, balls and ball machine are complimentary for all guests, as well as participation in the round-robin and beginnerís clinic.
Although we also scuba-dive, we find there is sometimes more to see and enjoy snorkeling, and we can do it for longer periods of time. For families traveling who love the water, good beach snorkeling areas are sometimes hard to locate. Virgin Gorda is a paradise for beach snorkelers. The waters are shallow, clear, calm and abundantly full of exciting life below.
As guests at Little Dix Bay we are truly pampered. We feel like royalty from the time we arrive. We check in at the airport and then are driven directly to our room, without any waiting to register once at the resort. In fact, there is no lobby at all, just a desk on the Pavilion where you can get mail.
All the employees exude warmth and welcome and a genuine pride in maintaining the highest service standards. There is no pressure to do anything but relax and eat though many activities are included in the room rate, such as tennis, sunfish sailing, water skiing, snorkeling, beach floats, movies, and live music six nights a week.
The main activity for most guests is snorkeling, tennis and relaxing, and Little Dix is the perfect setting for all three activities. The waters in Little Dix Bay, directly in front of our hexagonal-theme guest room set up on stilts, are clear and calm. The reef begins to the east end of the beach about 30 yards offshore and continues around in a half-crescent to 150 yards out. With the calmness of the waters it is an easy, comfortable swim.
We find beautiful brain, star, staghorn and elkhorn corals as well as sea fans, sea rods and a large assortment of Caribbean reef fish. We see damselfish, who are accustomed to being fed by snorkelers. As we swim by about twenty come right to us for a hand-out.
There are juvenile and full sized blueheads, trunkfish, parrots, goatfish, four-eyed butterflyfish, wrasses, grunts, squirrelfish, a grouper at a cleaning station and even a small moray eel poking his head out from a crevice in the coral.
The fun at Little Dix Bay is to take a picnic lunch, board one of the resort's Boston Whaler water taxis and visit one of seven magnificent Virgin Gorda beaches or neighboring islands. Though from Little Dix we approach the beaches from the water, all are somewhat accessible from the road.
Each area offers something a little bit different. Of course, "The Baths" is unique. Visiting "The Baths" is an ethereal experience. There is a beach of pale sand, crystalline waters and giant boulders which meet to form cavernal bathing pools. The sun filters through the dimly lit interior just enough to paint beautiful colors on the boulders. It is the perfect place for sunbathing, swimming and snorkeling.
Huge boulders are also the main attraction at "Spring Bay," "Devil's Bay," and "Valley Trunk." The water is as clear as a mountain spring and the sight to the snorkeler is awesome.
The boulders drop from the surface to the bottom of the ocean floor. In close to shore it can be only a few feet deep while further out the depth can go to thirty feet. From below the boulders look like cathedrals, the expanse is breathtaking. Colorful live coral grow, clinging to the sides of the boulders while gullies between the boulders house parrotfish and wrasses. One boulder forms a flat ledge and beneath it, protected from view from above, are masses of french grunts and squirrelfish. We also see a large barracuda that is trolling along the outer perimeter and the only queen angelfish we will find on this trip.
Swimming in and around the boulders are goatfish, banded butterflyfish, blueheads, a spanish hogfish, blue chromis, lots of red-lipped blennies and some fairy basslets. An exciting find is a tiny scorpion fish sitting under a small piece of coral just a few feet off the beach. It looks like a piece of fluff but with its pectoral fins spread wide, there is a sight of beautiful red and yellow "wings" propelling him to shelter.
A trip to the beaches east of Little Dix Bay provides a very different snorkeling experience. First, the beaches tend to be deserted. Perhaps the coral reef keeps more of the boaters away and though the beaches can be reached by land, they are probably less accessible than those to the western end.
These beaches, "Mountain Trunk," "Mahoe," "Long Bay," and "Savannah Bay" are the beaches that dreams are made of. Snowy white, clean sand extending for hundreds of yards with nary another soul in sight. Water clear, clean and calm gives the feeling of being in a very large, private swimming pool.
Even here, each beach has its own "signature" underwater. "Savannah Bay" is a garden of sea rods, some small brain corals and several stands of elkhorn coral with sergeant majors, parrots, trunkfish, trumpetfish and juvenile tropicals of all kinds.
The reef at "Long Bay" is very shallow and close to shore. It is the perfect place to hover on the surface and watch the activities of the small fish as they cavort in and around the patch reefs.
"Mahoe Bay" has four houses directly on the beach that are available for rental. The snorkeling is a short walk from shore and begins in knee deep waters with many small patch reefs. There are gardens of sea rods and an unusual number of beautiful corky sea fingers flowing back and forth with the slight surge. Millions of silversides part as we swim through and for the first time we see several palometa fish swim by. The small reef patches have an ample number of juvenile fish to delight any viewer.
At "Mountain Trunk," our favorite at this end of the island, the patch reefs begin in the shallow water at the east end of the beach directly in front of a pile of boulders that rest on the powdery sand. Farther out are huge stands of magnificent corals. All kinds of star corals, brain coral, sea whips, feather dusters, hundreds of very large swaying sea fans, sea rods, elkhorn coral and staghorn coral are present. It is a veritable underwater garden.
There is a school of hundreds of bluefish, small parrots, two gray angelfish, and red hinds. We also see a group of ten or twelve four-eyed butterflyfish swimming along together, not a usual sight as they are mostly seen in pairs. Other tropicals are present but not in large numbers. The overwhelming beauty of this site is undoubtably the magnificent, large sized and variety of corals as well as the majesty of the swaying sea fans.
A caution to our snorkelers, be sure to stay covered up while in the water. The sun is very strong and we find our selves, face down, fish watching for much longer periods than we plan. In addition to the usual sun creams we find it advisable to wear t-shirts or the new stylish "skins" that can be found at most dive shops, to protect our backs. Don't forget to put some sun-lotion on the scalp as well. Thinning hair can allow for sunburn on the head.
Snorkeling can be a fairly inexpensive way to see this beautiful world of Jacques Cousteau. A mask, fins and snorkel costs anywhere from $30 to $200 and if you want to try it before you buy your equipment, most resorts will lend or rent the gear that you will need.
The most important factor is to get a mask that fits correctly. Test it by putting it to your face and breathing in through your nose. Then let go of the mask with your hands. If the mask stays firmly on your face, without the head strap, it fits.
There are lots of different kinds of snorkels but the one thing to remember is that it must allow enough air through the open end. Test it by putting your thumb into the top of the barrel. If it fits comfortably, the snorkel will serve you well.
Any kind of fin will work as long as it fits your foot comfortably and does not cramp the toes. If you expect to be in the water paddling around for long periods of time, it is sometimes advisable to wear a light pair of socks with the fin so they will not rub.
Though snorkeling can captivate the family for many hours, there still may be someone, mother, father or older child who is anxious to see these sights from below rather than from the surface of the water. In Virgin Gorda, SCUBA diving is another favorite activity. At most resorts the SCUBA boat picks up right at their dock and dive sites such as the wreck of "The Rhone" are on the regular schedule.
Other sports & recreational facilities include a Fitness Center with a variety of free weights and cardiovascular training equipment including treadmills, Stairmasters, Life Cycles and Cybex weight machines. The water sports include: sailing, kayaking, water-skiing, boat rentals, deep sea fishing, diving and snorkeling.
With no charge for one child under 16 staying in parentsí room and room rates inclusive of a variety of complimentary activities and services, Little Dix Bay offers value for families traveling together. Parents and children can enjoy complimentary water taxis to nearby beaches, Sunfish sailing and lessons, kayaking, snorkeling gear and lessons, windsurfing, water-skiing, as well as use of the tennis courts and racquets, beginner clinics and weekly round robins. Families are also welcome at the managerís cocktail reception, feature movie presentations, afternoon tea, and guided snorkeling tours and garden walks.
In addition to Little Dix Bay, Biras Creek and the Bitter End, the deluxe resort areas of the island, there are hotels and guesthouses in Virgin Gorda to suit every taste and budget.
After an exhausting day sunning, sailing and snorkeling we find it is time to "relax" and enjoy the evening meal. At Little Dix, this meal is a romantic's paradise. Four interconnected, Polynesian-style pyramids tilted so their mouths open to the sun, sea and stars. This is the setting for a candlelight gourmet dinner.
That mouth-watering meal over, we pull ourselves up from the table to sit on the Pavilion's terrace where we are serenaded by a delightful Caribbean band and stare at a sky that we have never seen before. The stars shine so brightly that we feel we can reach out our arms and just pluck one from its perch. The heavens are so filled with millions and millions of little twinkling lights that we feel we are sitting in a planetarium. Occasionally, a shooting star flashes by and we make a wish....to return to this Virgin Gorda paradise.