Tuesday, June 14, is finally the day. We travel to St. Eustatius, one of the Windward gems in the eastern Caribbean locally called Statia. After an extensive exploration of the very charming French and the more touristy Dutch part of Sint Maarten, a small propeller plane from Winair is ready to take us to Statia a.k.a The Golden Rock in twenty minutes. The views are magnificent and the trip to the barely visited island flies by.
Golden Rock Resort
At the new EUX airport, we are welcomed by Jan Hein of the recently opened Golden Rock Resort. His vehicle takes us down a dusty dirt road to the east side of the island. Among the bare bushes, goats jump around while in the distance the contours of the dormant volcano The Quill are outlined. The island is dry, at this time of year the normally green island is so barren that hardly anything grows. A not very teeming sight that changes as soon as we arrive at the base of the Quill and the car turns onto the resort road. We drive through a sea of flowering shrubs across a vast terrain. Clearly this is the initiative of a flower man. Peter Barnhoorn, the Dutch owner of the Golden Rock Resort, bought the fruitless patch of land and turned it into a lush hide-away and perfect base from which to explore the island from luxury. Barnhoorn: “We are dedicated to helping shape St. Eustatius and boosting the destination’s tourism, while maintaining the authentic idyllic island experience. And yes, fresh flowers are part of our DNA…. They embody who we are and convey an important message of beauty, nature and regeneration.”
In the lee of Saint Kitts and Nevis
A tour of the site gives us insight into the large scale of Peter’s plans, and we are made part of the sustainable approach of the Golden Rock project. Not only does it boost the employment on the island; conservation is also high on the agenda. Rainwater is collected and purified, seawater is filtered into drinking water and an impressive park of solar panels has been constructed to store the excess energy generated and share it with the rest of the island through a transformer station. On the 16 Ha. large grounds are already 32 luxurious, modernly furnished suites, two swimming pools, a gym, a miniature golf course, a tennis court, a playground and an atmospheric restaurant realized. In addition, there are villas with double suites, chalets, a saltwater lagoon and what is to be the largest beach club in the Caribbean still under construction. By November, after the hurricane season that lasts from June to October, it should all be finished. Although the chances of being hit by a hurricane in the lee of Saint Kitts and Nevis are considered minimal, all kinds of emergency arrangements have been made to at least make the buildings hurricane proof within 48 hours.
In addition to a sumptuous lunch from the small kitchenette at Ocean View Terrace, we get a tour of Oranjestad from Antia of The St. Patrick’s Day. Eustatius Historical Foundation. Antia takes us back in time to the tumultuous years of yore. Although put on the map by Columbus in the late 15th century, it was the Dutch who first took possession of the rocky island with a total area of only 21 km². It was uninhabitable because of a lack of fresh water sources; a problem that was solved by the construction of underground cisterns or “cisterns.
The Golden Rock
On November 16, 1776, it was St. Eustatius who first supported the Americans in their fight for freedom against the United Kingdom, saluting them with a roaring cannon shot. This was the start of a coming and going of ships, initially for the supply of weapons and later as a transit port and stopping point. Capital Oranjestad, divided into an upper and a lower city, became a profitable and busy free port of the West India Company where the most luxurious goods were traded and stored tax-free, a gold mine to which it owes its name “The Golden Rock. Fort Orange in the upper town and ruins of warehouses and pubs in the lower town are reminders of these golden times. Oranjestad was also a transit port of African slaves, slaves who were also used to work on Statia’s sugar cane, tobacco and indigo plantations. The Old Slave Road still bears witness to the route that slaves had to walk up from Orange Bay before being traded in the market square.
As the 18th century drew to a close, St. Eustatius gradually lost its importance as a trading center and most merchants and plantation owners left their homes and warehouses. The population declined from 30,000 in the glory years to 3,100 today. Today, the Dutch suburb has more goats than people, a serious problem because the surplus of goats threatens nature.
Phenomenal dive sites and challenging trails
Whereas Statia was a bustling place in the 17th and 18th centuries, today the island is an oasis of calm. Veined with the most beautiful hiking trails and framed by coastal waters littered with shipwrecks, it is primarily a draw for day-trippers and divers from around the world. There is a botanical garden and three national parks, one of which is marine.
Miriam C. Schmidt Botanical Garden is a botanical garden on the lower southern slopes of the Quill, filled with birds, lizards, and insects; a natural paradise that is currently quite challenged by hurricane damage, drought, and stray animals. The garden viewpoint is the perfect place to watch migrating whales pass through in January and into March and to enjoy the view of St. Lucia. Kitts.
The Quill/Boven National Park
At the base of the Quill, there are eight trails over which you can climb past thorny forests to the fairytale forest at the edge of the crater. A hike into the crater leads through tropical jungle over rocks and irregular paths and although challenging is more than worth the effort. Also take a trip to Mazinga Peak, the highest point on St. Eustatius, and take in the phenomenal panoramic views.
The Upper Area covers the northern hills of Statia. Although it is only three kilometers away from the Quill, the nature there is completely different. You will find open grassland and rocks covered with cacti and acacia bushes. Several trails wind through valleys and along ridges, trails that lead to secluded coves and lookouts.
St. Eustatius National Marine Park
Statia’s national marine park surrounds the entire island and covers a 27.3 km² underwater world filled with pristine coral reefs, 18th-century shipwrecks and abundant marine life of sharks, rays and sea turtles. A must see is the Chien Tong, an old fishing boat sunk to create an artificial reef. It is known as the “turtle hotel” and is inhabited by hawksbill and green turtles.
Zeelandia Beach takes its name from the first Dutch settlers, from – yes – the province of Zeeland. Because of the dangerous currents of the Atlantic Ocean, swimming is prohibited here, but the beach is great for walking. The cliffs in this area support a small breeding population of red-billed tropicbirds, a migratory seabird that spends its entire life at sea and only comes ashore to breed and nest. Other seabirds seen in this area include brown pelicans, brown boobies, magnificent frigatebirds, Caribbean martens, ospreys and migratory shorebirds. It is well worth visiting this area to look for migrants such as the American spotted plover, short-billed dowitcher, least sandpiper and American oystercatcher at the right time of year. In addition, Zeelandia is a main breeding ground for several species of endangered turtles. Leatherback turtles nest there between March and June, while green and hawksbill turtles roam here between May and October.
The slaves who were traded in Oranjestad were paid with ‘blue beads’, the well-known Amsterdam-made blue beads that the VOC used to trade. On July 1, 1863 – later than in the surrounding islands – slavery was also abolished here, and it is said that the serfs threw these blue beads into the sea. Artifacts of significance that still pop up sporadically on and around the island and are said to find you rather than the other way around. When you are lucky enough to find such a mythical bead, you will return again and again to the special island called Statia. Something I firmly intend even without the blue bead, if only for the exuberant parties at the future largest beach club in the Carib. Where the world can’t find you…