British Virgin Islands - Nature and Scientific Wonders
By all accounts, the natural beauty of the British Virgin Islands is by far their greatest treasure. The BVI National Parks Trust was established in 1961, and today there are some 28 National Parks that are home to 16 native species of orchids in addition to a vast array of bird, plant and marine life.
The BVI's largest island is home to Sage Mountain National Park. This 92-acre reserve, managed by the National Park Trust, includes the 1,780-foot Mt. Sage and a forest with 15- to 20-foot tall fern trees, bulletwood trees, West Indian and Broadleaf Mahogany and White Cedars (the BVI's national tree). Hikers on the park's trails will pass the scattered remains of old houses and a variety of orchids, and might spot several species of birds, including the Antillean crested hummingbird, the pearly-eyed thrasher, and the Caribbean Martin. The J. R. O'Neal Botanic Gardens, is a four-acre park maintained by National Parks Trust and the BVI Botanical Society. The Botanic Gardens contain ruins of the old Agricultural Station, along with a turtle colony and a variety of palms and orchids. Mt. Healthy National Park contains a short hiking trail amid the ruins of the Anderson Plantation, which ran from 1798 to 1834, as well as the ruins of an 18th century windmill, the only one of its kind on island. The National Trust also manages Shark Point, an 18-acre park with woodlands and cacti east of Brewers Bay.
The southern tip of Virgin Gorda is home to The Baths, a labyrinth of giant boulders amid grottos of clear blue water that, with its eons-old rock formations, is a maze of caverns bathed alternately in light and shadow. A 15-minute hike from here leads to the 58-acre Devil's Bay National Park, where beach access invites snorkeling and swimming. The island is also home to Gorda Peak National Park, 265 acres of land that was donated by Laurence Rockefeller in 1974. The park includes the 1,370-foot Gorda Peak, great views, hiking trails and rare plants including the billbush, a leafless shrub that can't be found anywhere else in the Virgin Islands. Prickly Pear National Park comprises 243 acres that stretch from the Sand Box Bar to the North Beach and include four salt ponds, white and black mangrove and a trail for hiking. South of the Yacht Harbour, Little Fort National Park was once the site of a Spanish fortress, of which some masonry walls remain along with the ruins of the Powder House. West of Virgin Gorda in a group of islands called The Dogs is the West Dog National Park. West Dog is a volcanic island that provides 24 acres of refuge for laughing gulls, bridled terns and other birds. Divers and snorkelers will enjoy views of the rich sea life here, as well.
Jost Van Dyke
Diamond Cay National Park, off Long Bay, is a 1.25-acre nesting site for boobies, terns and pelicans. Off Long Bay. The park includes Sandy Cay, where endangered leatherback turtles nest.
Rhone Marine Park spans 800 acres of land and water from Lee Bay on Salt Islands to Dead Chest Island (where Blackbeard allegedly abandoned his crew with nothing but a bottle of rum). It's the only national marine park in the BVI. Its main attraction is the famous Wreck of the Rhone. The Rhone was a two-masted, 310-ft British Royal Mail steamer that broke into two when it slammed into Black Rock Point during the hurricane of 1867. The two parts are still largely visible and intact, making this one of the most famous dive sites in the Caribbean. The marine park also includes Blond Rock (a 12-ft natural underwater amphitheater of sorts) and Painted Walls (submerged rocks with colorful algae and coral on their surfaces).