The diversity of beautiful St. Croix, U.S. Virgin Islands; gardens, beaches, diving
ST. CROIX, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS - A short 20 minute flight. A world away.
You leave the busy, bustling waterfront of Charlotte Amalie on St. Thomas on a 17-passenger (or so) seaplane and quickly rise up over the blue Caribbean. Twenty minutes later you've slid to a gentle stop on the water outside the seaplane port in Christiansted, the biggest "city" on this most diverse of the three main islands in the U.S.V.I. chain.
St. Croix has a fairly dry, hilly eastern end with long beaches and a few golf courses. It's quite lovely and looks a bit like Barbados or the less mountainous sections of St. Lucia. The western end isn't technically a rainforest as it doesn't get enough precipitation, but it's quite moist and the mountains rise more than a 1,000 feet up over the sea, attracting plenty of wet stuff.
We had tours of the luscious St. George Villa botanical garden (see photo), where old plantation buildings now mix with herb gardens, fabulous displays of bougainvillea and cactus and plenty of oddities from around the world; giant kapok trees with huge, billowing trunks, sausage trees with giant fruit that look like World Series hot dogs and something called a noni tree, which produces a fruit so foul smelling (think three-day old bleu cheese after a power outage in downtown Toronto in summer) it's sometimes called "starvation fruit."
We also had a look at the lovely, old-time plantation buildings at the Whim Plantation Museum. There's beautiful period furniture dating back to the 1600's and also an old windmill and other buildings from the time when almost all of St. Croix was covered with sugar cane.
The island relies heavily on tourism these days, and it's going to get even more dependent on Canadians and Americans soon as one of the biggest employers on the island, the Hovensa oil refinery, announced earlier this year that's it's shutting its doors.
The town of Frederiksted is a small, colourful affair on the far western side of the island. There's a beautiful and stately promenade that goes along the waterfront and some fun shops on the main street. We had good sandwiches and salad and excellent coffee at Polly's on the Pier, then drove up to another old estate called Mt. Washington. It sits high on a hill in the rainforest area and also is a working farm. There are more ruins of old sugar mills to be seen, plus there's a labyrinth and a working garden with avocados the size of a volleyball. Simply amazing.
We stayed Saturday night at the Renaissance Carambola beach resort (see photo at right), which is nestled in a lush valley near the rainforest and feels a bit like the area near the Pitons in St. Lucia or Hana on Maui or the north shore of Kauai with its steep mountains clad in deep green trees and vines. The staff at Carambola were some of the nicest folks I've ever met on the road and the pool is lovely. The beach is a pretty one but not terribly long and it's a bit rocky for swimming.
There's also a Robert Trent Jones Sr. golf course on property that looks stunning.
I'll have more to say tomorrow on Christiansted and the utterly fabulous Buck Island snorkeling/diving scene...