Travel

Find Your Oasis on This Tiny, Volcanic Caribbean Island

Walk at the bottom of the ocean or lounge in mud baths.

Paul Baggaley/Moment/Getty Images
Paul Baggaley/Moment/Getty Images
Paul Baggaley/Moment/Getty Images

Be prepared to look up a lot in St. Lucia at the green peaks above. One of the lushest of Caribbean islands, St. Lucia is home to volcanoes so pointy, it’s as though someone turned giant ice cream waffle cones upside down-though covered in trees rather than sprinkles-and plopped them on a piece of land surrounded by ocean. Known as the Pitons, the Gros and Petit mountainous plugs define the skyline; and they’re a UNESCO World Heritage site.

In addition to your standard white sand beaches, waterfalls, snorkeling sites, and mangroves, you’ll find places where you can walk along the bottom of a seahorse-filled ocean via helmet diving. And you can lather yourself in white or black mud from the island’s mud baths. Buy local wares at the bustling marketplace in the capital of Castries or bite into warm Creole bread by a local baker at a nondescript roadside stand. Whether you’re looking to get lost in a jungle-like paradise or indulge in some fresh lobster next to a side of jerk chicken, here’s what you need to know about visiting St. Lucia.

fokke baarssen/Shutterstock
fokke baarssen/Shutterstock
fokke baarssen/Shutterstock

Hike volcanoes for sweeping views

A trip to St. Lucia would be incomplete without an in-person exploration of the Piton Mountains. Because of the wide width of Gros Piton compared to Petit Piton, it is the most frequently hiked and has several marked trails that vary in difficulty. Reaching the summit of Gros could take you three hours or six, depending on your skill level and selfie habits, so make sure to bring your sunscreen, comfortable shoes, and maybe a fun sun hat.

Only a few minutes from the town of Soufrière (French for “sulfur”), you can conquer an easy, 45-minute hike to the top of the Tet Paul. There you’ll find panoramic views of the Pitons and the nearby islands of St. Vincent and Martinique. Pack a lunch for an excuse to use the cute picnic tables at the top while listening to calls from endemic parrots and warblers.

Solarisys/Shutterstock
Solarisys/Shutterstock
Solarisys/Shutterstock

Soak in mud and under waterfalls

For a luxurious spa-like experience in nature, head to Sulphur Springs, located at the Soufrière Volcano on southwestern side of the island. You can lather your body in the natural white mud and black mud, which the locals believe have healing properties for sun burns, eczema, arthritis, or sore joints. Afterwards, soak in the 110-degree spring to be extra sure any stubborn aches get eased out.

The volcanic geography of the island also gives way to the Toraille Waterfalls, located near the Fond St. Jacques village. You can dip into the plunge pool or have an aquatic back massage at the base of the 50-foot waterfall that pours over the side of the cliff and terminates near a scenic garden.

Afton Almaraz/Stone/Getty Images
Afton Almaraz/Stone/Getty Images
Afton Almaraz/Stone/Getty Images

Head to the ocean to kayak, snorkel, dive-or walk underwater

Best thing about a kayak tour in St. Lucia? You could work your heartrate up for a feel-good excursion, or just listlessly float in the soothing water. The Roseau River is located in the Anse-La-Raye region and flows in the southern part of the island. Starting at Marigot Bay, you can take in the scenery that was used as a film location for the 1967 Dr. Doolittle film and then spend the rest of the day kayaking through the Roseau River and its lagoons, Bayan tree canopies, and mangroves.

To head under the water, try diving and snorkeling at the base of the Pitons. This area has some of the best sites to find a multitude of tropical fish, eels, sea turtles, and colorful coral landscapes. Don’t forget to visit the Anse Cochon beach: the launch spot for exploring two of the island’s shipwrecks. You could drift around the Lesleen M, a cargo ship sunk in 1986 to form an artificial reef, and the Danini Koyomaru, a 244-foot Japanese dredger sunk as an artificial reef in 1996.

If you aren’t a certified diver, but you’ve been looking to experience something a bit more thrilling than snorkeling, then consider helmet diving: you are connected to an oxygen source on the boat while walking underwater. One of the best places to helmet dive on St. Lucia is at Pigeon Island, named a National Park in 1979 and a National Landmark in 1992. You’ll find marine life like seahorses, squid, and-if you have time to explore Pigeon Island’s land mass-you’ll come across an 18th-century British fort as well as Fort Rodney, used by the British to spy on the French during colonization.

ANSE CHASTANET ST.LUCIA
ANSE CHASTANET ST.LUCIA
ANSE CHASTANET ST.LUCIA

Find hot word-of-mouth bread and spicy seafood

On the western coast of St. Lucia, head to the fishing village of Anse La Raye and have dinner at Rhumba Daiquiri Bar & Grill. There you’ll find specialties like freshly caught lobster, BBQ ribs, jerk chicken or pork, and catch of the day. For dining with a view, the Treehouse restaurant in Anse Chastanet overlooks the famous Piton mountains in St. Lucia. Try some of their locally caught mahi mahi fish, as well as vegetables sourced from the property’s farm in the Soufriere Hills.

Located in the village of Nolbert on the northern side of the island, a local elder named Magdalene sells creole bread for only $1. The hot goodies are baked in an oil drum with margarine and are called “Creole bread” because they’re made with baking powder instead of yeast. Ask around, and you just might find the best steaming buns on the island.

ANSE CHASTANET ST.LUCIA
ANSE CHASTANET ST.LUCIA
ANSE CHASTANET ST.LUCIA

Sleep in a jungle treehouse

It’s not just that it’s a chocolate hotel (okay, maybe a little bit). The hoisted up wooden rooms of Boucan Hotel Chocolate make you feel like you’re sleeping in a treehouse with the best view on the island. Beautifully designed rooms offer balconies looking right at the Petit Piton volcano. You’ll be just a couple minutes from beaches, waterfalls, and hot springs. And about that chocolate? The hotel is on a chocolate farm, and the on-site restaurant offers clever cocoa fusions in many dishes.

Anse Chastenet Resort furthers the treehouse feeling by offering wooden shutters that unfold to open air and basically omitting some walls in the rooms. It’s like a balcony and room combined-which means you can look right out to volcano views from your bed. Sit on a colorful chair swing overlooking the jungle from the balcony view of your room or basque in the sunshine via outdoor tables and hammocks.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest, YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat.

Adrienne Jordan is a contributor for Thrillist.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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