Amid pure shores, rum cocktails and hope-they're-friendly sharks, you'll find a slice of New England in the Abacos. Find plenty of things to do in Bahamas Green Turtle Cay: a quirky spot surrounded by paradise. Read more about the Caribbean.
The ancient Babylonians invented a way of measuring time by capturing shadows on stone, a method we call sun dials. Green Turtle Cay measures fun by capturing shadows on the stone of New Plymouth, shadows that bounce through palm trees onto soft pink walls, giggling from the shoulders of two oversized adults in a speeding miniature golf cart.
More Bonnie and Clyde than Thelma and Louise, just without the romance, robbery and death part, we rolled into town: one journalist from the Travel Trade Gazette, one writer-come-blogger come please-don’t-use the word “influencer.” That would be me.
This post contains affiliate links, which means that if you book through them, I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. I travelled as part of a work project with The Bahamas Tourist Office, UK. However, what I chose to write about is mine, all mine! Bwahaha etc
Our Bond-like adventure began in the great casinos of Baha Mar on Nassau, New Providence, and soon became more and more Johnny English with a series of small ineptitudes and the large intrusion of reality.
After three cracking days on the "mainland" (more about that later,) our group had split into pairs to cover a handful of the 700 or so islands that make up the Bahamas chain.
A 35 minute flight from Nassau to Marsh Harbour and we were in the Abacos. A 40 minute drive and 30 minute open-ferry later and we were on the white sands of Green Turtle Cay.
Green Turtle Cay measures 3 1/2 miles by half a mile and almost everyone uses golf carts or ferries. The geography curls in and out like a diplodocus, a coy one, slowly stretching out each limb as though waking from a nap.
At Bluff House, Molly greets us at reception, a manager who moved here years ago to fall in love, raise a family and oversee this small, sweet boutique hotel.
OK, that's not the official version, but it's more or less what happened.
Bluff House, like the rest of the Abacos, is a mix. Spacious suites that overlook the ocean, decked in cool white, with fans, dark furniture and turquoise cushions among shell-encrusted boxes. And fully equipped homes, with kitchen, dining and living areas.
Not surprisingly for the Caribbean, the pace of life is slow, for all its American fast-food chains. The Bahamas achieved independence from Britain in 1973, their territory tickling the tips from east of the Florida Keys, past Cuba down to Haiti.
But the proximity to Florida results in a distinctly American feel with obligatory gratuities, take-away cups the size of a telescope and the use of the words vacation and rentals.
Speaking over cracked conch at the Tranquil Turtle Beach Bar, I mention this observation to Molly.
“Just wait until tonight," she replies. "I’ll be interested to hear what you think.”
Sunset sees us hit the golf cart, spinning through the villas and cottages of the resort before finally breaking free and hitting the open road.
And it is a surprisingly open road at this point, with ample room for cars and, shall we say, a conspicuous absence of street lights and standard signposts.
Trusty deputy-north-star Google Maps is struggling and it takes a good five minutes for us to work out how to turn the lights on.
But this is the stuff travel adventures are made of, right? It's just that Bond makes it look so much better...
And then we’re off, the salty spray mingling sweetness and sweat, the hint of coconut and rum that sing-songs through the air.
The ferry earlier had helped us get our bearings. Small and open-backed, the ferries transport tourists, for sure, but more often they're for Green Turtle Cay commuters and off-island cargo.
Barrels of drinking water, boxes of salsa, tins of cooking oil. In the middle of the day, we ferried alone but by evening and morning, it’s sardine-like seating with supplies to the island.
On dry land, we fly past hand-made signposts that signal the itinerary for the next few days: the Green Turtle Club for dining and Brendal's Dive Shop for the Adventure Reef Snorkel.
But the focus for tonight is the dignified destination of New Plymouth, and the more dubious signature cocktail of the Goombay smash at Miss Emily’s Blue Bee Bar.
By some miracle, and a heart-warming intervention by locals on a hilltop, we arrive.
And then I understand.
For New Plymouth is not really like England at all.
It is like New England. Only newer.
Newer white picket fences with Caribbean colours: conch pink, lavender and lilac and a sky-high, hoping cornflower blue.
For it turns out that, this became the home of the New Englanders on the losing side of the American War of Independence.
Those loyal to the crown largely dispersed, some returning to England, others (quite sensibly) seeking somewhere warmer.
And so this is the new New Plymouth.
A second start at a brave new world.
But the real sense of place and history comes from the streets and sinews of New Plymouth itself.
Because above all else, it's not stuck in a loyalist past.
Outside the powder -blue portico of Miss Emily's Blue Bee Bar, it's time for a new invention: the Goombay Smash.
Miss Emily, sadly, passed away but her creation lives on, although apparently only this place knows the original. The secret mix involves rum, dirty rum, coconut rum and apricot rum. Oh, and a splash or two of pineapple juice.
Not surprisingly, it packs a punch.
And being the good, conscientious people that we are, mindful of the return journey, we decline to finish them all. While the preacher sweats and sings in the basketball court opposite, the sun slinks away, its work done for another day.
Which raises another question. Where are those lights on the golf buggy? And how do we get back to Bluff House?
Swap the goombay smash for a vodka martini and we'd be just like James Bond.
Take a day's vacation from your troubles and cares with a trip from Brendal's dive shop. Zip along between the blue of the sky and the water and then swim in clear, clear shores.
There's an optional chance to swim with turtles - and even sharks.
And then have the freshest of beach lunches, rustled up for you right there on the shore.
For a calmer sunset adventure, locals recommend the Green Turtle Club for all the things it can do with a lobster. Tacos, cracked lobster bites, lobster potato skins... I opted for the lobster and artichoke ravioli with basil pesto cream and cherry tomatoes.
Brace yourself for the island's signature cocktail. Mixing all kinds of rum, apricot brandy and pineapple juice, you'll feel relaxed but be in no position to drive. They also serve food ;-)
Laid out to reflect the Union Jack, it's a curious look at a particular point in time.
Soft sand and clear water, this is a place for nature lovers rather than partygoers.
Head back to the mainland via Treasure Cay and a drive to Marsh Harbour to take ferries to see the following:
As you might expect, boats are a big deal in a place with 700 islands. A day trip to the Man-o-War island reveals the shipbuilding yards, gift shops and pretty-as-a-picture pastel streets.
Along with boats, lighthouses play a prominent role in this maritime destination. The lighthouse at Elbow Cay is one of the last operational kerosene-fuelled lighthouses in the world.
Built in 1862, it has survived war, independence and the adjustments to new navigational equipment, thanks to the work of tireless volunteers.
You can climb to the top for a view of the marina. Take the ferry from Marsh Harbour to Hope Town, but ask for the lighthouse stop specifically, otherwise you'll head into Hope Town. With its work from Victorian England, the fixtures and fittings do seem very British.
From Nassau on New Providence Island check (the main island in the Bahamas,) take a 35 minute domestic flight to Marsh Harbour in the Abacos. It's a 40 minute drive from the airport to Treasure Cay and then a short ferry hop across to Green Turtle Cay.
The ferry makes several stops: at Bluff House, for example, and direct to New Plymouth marina so be sure to make sure you know where you are before you disembark ;-)
From Bluff House, it's around 40 minutes or so to New Plymouth by golf buggy. But be prepared to get lost!
We stayed at Bluff House, an unpretentious hotel and villa marina resort with spectacular view of the sea and the odd, welcome hammock. There is a pool but the beach is the main draw.
The beachside bar, The Tranquil Turtle serves classic Bahamian fare like cracked conch and conch fritters, as well as a low-key breakfast after 8.
The Ballyhoo Bar and Grill offers views across the marina and arranges live music and dancing. It's a family-friendly place with a small shop and its own signature drink: the Tranquil Turtle. Like the Goombay Smash, it's strong and based on rum!
You need to arrange to hire a golf cart separately, but the staff at Bluff house can help with that.
Hi, I'm Abi, a doctor turned writer who's worked with Lonely Planet, the BBC, UNESCO and more. Let's travel more and think more. Find out more.
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