Little Island, Big Fun

On Harbour Island, it’s not the size that matters

By: Devin Galaudet

As cool Atlantic Ocean mist hit my face, I sat on a $4 water taxi leaving North Eleuthera, in the Bahamas, excited at what I might find ahead. At only three miles long and half a mile wide, Harbour Island (also known as Briland) looks barely more than a generous dot on most maps. I knew the island offers more than meets the eye, however, including a 300-year-old history that includes a stint as the Bahamas’ first capital city and some of the oldest structures in the Bahamas, a thriving tourism industry and one of the loveliest beaches in the Caribbean.

I noticed a few lazily bobbing boats anchored just off the beach as I stepped off the dock and onto the island. Walking down Bay Street, the main drag, I came across many brightly painted New England-style houses, neatly piled conch shells (the national delicacy) and a surprising number of churches while walking through the winding streets of Harbour Island’s main settlement, Dunmore Town. Although the island is walkable, many rent golf carts to get around the island quicker.

Harbour Island offers exactly what a remote island paradise should: a sleepy disposition, plenty of good food, meandering streets, visions of friendly neighbors chatting while clean laundry dries in balmy breezes and timid flocks of wild chickens roam the area, giving “free range” a whole new meaning.

It took only 15 minutes to make it to the other side of the island and its legendary beaches. They are beautiful and pink. The pink sand is formed by an expansive red coral reef located just off the northern coast of the island that has mixed with powder white sand, creating a soft pink hue for three miles off the eastern coast. It is the pink-sand beaches that are considered some of the most beautiful in the Caribbean and what keeps romantic strollers coming back to these pristine shorelines.

It is worth noting that the red coral that surrounds much of North Eleuthera is more ominously known as Devil’s Backbone, which has shipwrecked hundreds of boats in the region. In fact, Robert Sayle’s ship carrying many of the future residents of Harbour Island and nearby Spanish Wells crashed here in 1648.

Surprisingly, for such a tiny island, there is no shortage of accommodations, dining and historical sites, and there is even a tourist office. There are a few popular resorts in the area all offering fantastic views and access to pink sand beaches as well as agent commissions at 10 percent.

Last fall, Dunmore Beach Club completed a $250,000 renovation. The resort offers separate cabin-style accommodations with tennis courts, snorkeling and reef-exploring options and can arrange deep sea, bone and bottom fishing.

The new four-bedroom house called “sitting pretty” is great for weddings and goes for $1,500 a night during high season (November to May) and $1,050 during low season. Expect excellent gourmet meals for dinner. Dunmore Beach Club is well suited for couples looking for a quiet place to relax as there are no phones in the rooms.

Built in 1968, the Coral Sands offers 37 units covering six categories of rooms, most with white and tan colonial-style decor and matching furniture. Common areas include high-speed Wi-Fi connection and a billiard room. They are currently building a new two-bedroom beachfront room, which showcases huge glass doors that open directly onto the pink sand.

Perhaps the funkiest place to stay on Harbour Island is the Pink Sands hotel. The Pink Sands combines a flurry of Moroccan-, Indian- and Balinese-themed accents throughout its property using lots of vibrant shades of pinks, greens and purples. Pink Sands offers 25 cottages and a popular blue beach bar, aptly named, “Blue Bar.”

While there are several fine-dining options on the island, including those at each of the previously mentioned hotels, a trip to Harbour Island would not be complete without a stop by Angela’s Starfish Restaurant for her famous conch fritters and down-home hospitality. It is traditional Bahamian food and ambiance, perfect for a casual lunch or dinner.

Nearby Eleuthera requires a taxi or car rental for exploration, but water taxis conveniently depart from Harbour Island every 10 minutes. While investigating Eleuthera, one landmark deserves consideration. Unassuming Glass Window Bridge, just north of Gregory Town, offers Eleuthera at its narrowest point and amazing views contrasting the temperamental deep blue of the Atlantic Ocean and the placid turquoise water of the Caribbean Sea.

I was impressed Harbour Island makes for an incredible destination and I’m not alone. Travel + Leisure’s reader poll recently named Harbour Island as the “Best Island in the Caribbean for 2005.”

Clients visiting Harbour Island will enjoy a laidback getaway, while agents will have a surprisingly wide range of possibilities to choose from on the best little dot in the Atlantic.

The Details:

Although remote, Harbour Island is easy to get to with an hour-long flight from either Miami or Fort Lauderdale, Fla., by Continental Connections or USAir Express. Agents should confirm flights are going to North Eleuthera. Yes, it’s a tiny island with three airports, something that is not unusual for the Bahamas. From Eleuthera, a five-minute cab ride and a short water taxi is all that stands in the way of paradise.

Pink Sands

Dunmore Beach Club

Coral Sands Hotel

Eleuthera Tourist Offices, Governor’s Harbour
The Eleuthera Informer

Harbour Island

The Islands of the Bahamas Tourism Office