Just to the west of the popular Hawksnest Beach, lies a much smaller and far less visited stretch of soft coral sand known as Little Hawksnest.
I revisited this little beach yesterday and realized that it has been some time since I had been there. The tide was high and the surf was up (our St. John winter season is just about upon us) and there wasn’t much beach to speak of with waves washing up almost to the vegetation line.
It isn’t always this way and on more normal days one can find a quiet little beach just to the west of the public beach.
To get to Little Hawksnest, you’ll need to walk to the far western end of the public beach, take the trail through the woods that parallels the shore until you get to the rocky coastline separating the two beaches. A relativity easy scramble will bring you to the beach.
Thinking back (all the way to 1972) I remember attending the wedding of Charlie Deyalsingh (Trinidad Charlie) and Cathy Hartford on this very beach, where among other festivities we had a pig roast.
Remember I said relatively easy scramble, but thinking about it, setting up a pig roast on that beach must have been fairly challenging. I guess we all were a lot tougher in those days.
I try to get over to Trunk Bay in the late afternoons for a nice long swim. It’s especially inviting during these summer months when the water is good and warm, just the way I like it.
The view from the Trunk Bay overlook on the North Shore Road is probably one of the most photographed scenes anywhere.
There’s even an official United States Postal Service stamp featuring that world famous vista.
Trunk Bay is the favorite destination for cruise ship passengers and day-trippers from St. Thomas and tends to be fairly busy, at least by St. John standards,
As the sun sets over St. Thomas, however, the scene changes and the beach is often just about empty.
The late afternoon at Trunk now attracts lovers of all kinds, beach lovers, beauty lovers and young lovers of all ages.
I shot this video of a typical Trunk Bay sunset a few days ago.
The music is by our own St. John culture bearer, I-Tal Anthony from Salt Pond Bay, enjoy!
There’s that saying, a picture is worth a thousand words. So, here’s some photos taken yesterday, which was another incredibly clear day. St. Croix and the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra were again visible as was the mountain, El Yunque, on Puerto Rico itself. And the sunset was spectacular.
Yesterday, Habiba and I revisited the Brown Bay Trail.
We began at the trailhead out on East End, where a National Park Service sign marks the entrance to the trail. Parking for three or four vehicles is available here.
A short distance from the road, the trail forks with a trail to the left leading to the Virgin Islands National Park firing range and the Brown Bay Trail running straight ahead and up the hill.
About a hundred yards up the trail we came to something I had never noticed before, the remains of a large concrete cistern supported on the lower side by buttresses. Apparently it was previously hidden in the bush, but it’s extreme proximity to the trail makes me wonder about how much attention I was paying on all those previous hikes.
We followed the narrow trail leading to the cistern and once there we discovered more trails and more ruins. We’ll need to investigate in order to find out a little of the history behind these structures.
The Brown Bay Trail runs up the hill on the southern side of St. John crosses the ridge of hilltops forming the narrow peninsula of East End and then descends to the northern coast.
The southern face of the hillside shows evidence of once supporting animal grazing. This section of trail is by and large hot, dry and scrubby, but here are several places from which there are openings in the bush allowing for good southerly views.
Crossing the ridge and descending the northern hillsides is a welcome change. It’s cooler, shadier and more importantly, we’re now going downhill.
Here we met a donkey that was hesitant to pass us on the narrow trail. Behind him was a hiker with two dogs, that barked threateningly, such that the donkey was even more hesitant about turning around and going the other way. Eventually, we stepped back into the bush far enough so that the donkey could pass us and go on his way leaving us and the dogs behind.
The environment on the north is dry forest and not nearly as disturbed as the southern side. I noticed a lot of West Indian Birch along the trail, which I used to cut for fish pot braces. Guavaberry trees also caught my eye, but most welcome was that genip tree with ripe genips that required some work to gather, but tasted pretty sweet.
The trail descends to the northern coastline and meets a spur to the beach at Brown Bay. Previous visitors have constructed rudimentary benches where one can sit, relax and enjoy the sights, sounds and smells of this rarely visited beach.
Trails behind the beach lead to a salt pond and an area of extensive ruins, well worth exploring.
On St. John, we have a lot of options when it comes to going to the beach. Some have facilities and some don’t. Some attract tourists in taxi-vans and some are rarely visited except by locals. Some can be reached by walking just a few yards from your vehicle and some can only be reached by walking trail.
That is, if you’re coming by land, but what about those that arrive by sea?.
In order to protect the undersea grasslands that have been decimated by anchors over the years, the National Park has instituted rules concerning anchoring at National Park park beaches. Generally speaking, anchoring is prohibited within the boundaries marked off by the white swim swim buoys that can be found at almost all the beaches. Small craft may enter these bays through the channel marked by the red and green buoys to pick up or discharge passengers, but cannot anchor within that area. Boats must either be hauled up onto the beach or moored or anchored outside the protected area, in which case you’ll either have to swim in or catch a ride. (leaving the dinghy operator with no other choice but to swim or stay aboard)
But hauling a boat up on the beach is problematic for all but the smallest dinghies. Most dinghies are simply too heavy to pull up to a safe distance on the beach where waves and tides will not threaten to take the craft back out to sea, minus captain and crew.
It used to be so convenient. If you had a small boat you could anchor in sand near the beach and have easy safe access. But boaters who would lay their anchors in the seagrass beds, ruined it for the rest and now no one can anchor right off the beach.
A little known fact is that there is one National Park beach where you can still anchor close in. And its a beautiful coral sand, north shore, palm tree lined beach to boot. That beach is Little Cinnamon and it’s the only one of its kind on the north shore. Pull right up to beach and set your anchor, but be sure to watch out for patches of reef lying near the shore.
As the self-proclaimed “Official World’s Foremost Authority on St. John Beaches,” it has become my job to uncover those fine nuances that separate one St. John Beach experience with another. As I have always maintained, “It’s a tough job, but someone has to do it. Today we’ll talk about Maho Bay.
In a nutshell, Maho Bay is the beach of choice for families with children and novice swimmers and snorkelers, who want to seek out calm, shallow, waters to enjoy our tropical wonderland without the anxiety of choppy seas and quick drop offs into deep water.
How to Get There
Maho Bay is located about 1.25 miles past Cinnamon Bay or 5.2 miles past Mongoose Junction going east on Route 20.
Maho Bay is the most geographically protected of all the north shore beaches., surrounded on the windward side by high steep hillsides. This keeps Maho Bay calm even when the trades pipe up and other north shore experience choppy conditions.
Maho is not completely immune to winter ground swells that come out of the north and west, but it is certainly less affected than most of the other beaches.
The downside of this geographical protection is that mosquitoes and sand flies are more active where there is no breeze. The wetlands behind the beach also contribute to a higher than usual mosquito population. Therefore, during times of mosquito activity, after a rainy spell for example, it would be advised to bring along some mosquito repellant along with your usual beach gear.
The entry into the sea from the beach at Maho is gradual. There are no steep drop offs into deep water and you can walk out quite comfortably to find a water depth that suits you.
Maho Beach sand is hard packed and not quite as sensual as the soft white coral sands found on other beaches on the north. This hard-packed sand extends into the sea where there are patches of areas with scattered small rocks making it not quite as comfortable for those, like me, with ultra sensitive feet. Of course, you can choose you can just as well choose a spot on the beach without small rocks and problem solved.
Interestingly, Maho Bay, now a relatively narrow beach, was once one of the widest beaches in St. John. The “horse kids” of St. John took advantage of this characteristic, as well as the great length of the beach, to have horse races on the sand. The narrowing of the beach came as a result of the removal of sand by the government to construct Cruz Bay roads and the Julius Sprauve School. This was done at a time when the dynamics of sand production and sand loss were not yet understood.
Maho Bay was named after the Hibiscus tilaceus or beach maho, a tree commonly found on the St. John shoreline and throughout the tropics. The beach Maho has a distinctive heart-shaped leaf and produces attractive yellow flowers that later turn purple. The small green fruit of the maho is not edible, but a bush tea can be made from the leaf.
Maho is the only beach on St. John’s north shore that you can drive right up to. It’s the very informality of this beautiful and often-photographed beach that makes it so special. It’s right there by the side of the road, no parking lots or signs, just the beach. Stately groves of coconut palms line both sides of the road. Just pull over under a maho tree and there you are!
Maho Bay has some nice shoreline vegetation. On the south there are some coconut palms and bodering the rest of the beach are Beach Mahos, of course, Sea Grapes and some scattered Mangroves and genips. Good for finding shade and hanging hammocks.
I have changed my mind about snorkeling at Maho and would list it as one of St. John’s best snorkel destinations, especially for novice snorkelers.
You can snorkel along the rocks on the north end of the beach to the large boulders on the point between Maho and the next beach Little Maho, where you can expect to encounter lots of reef fish, interesting rock formations and some nice corals.
Snorkeling over the sea grass, can also be very rewarding. Your experience will, however depend on luck, time of day and time of year. Give it a chance and you may find, sea turtles, rays, even spotted eagle rays at times and occasionally conch and star fish.
All about St John in the beautiful US Virgin Islands (USVI) American Paradise