Travel

If You're Going to One Caribbean Island, Make It the Home of Hamilton

Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
Sean Pavone/Shutterstock
Sean Pavone/Shutterstock

Disappointingly, admission to the Alexander Hamilton museum was only $5.

“You know this would be a lot cooler if you charged $10,” I told the lady working the front desk at this two-story stone house on the Nevis waterfront. She squinted and looked confused.

“Because Hamilton is on the $10 bill,” I reminded her. She gave me a knowing little smirk.

“I know,” she said. “We just… we don’t really think about it that much.”

With the Broadway hit Hamilton, his native island could easily have turned itself into Hamiltonland, an 18th-century theme town saturated with tacky gift shops selling three-for-$10 “I got Hammed in Nevis” T-shirts. It could go all-in on the quiet notoriety it gets in the musical’s opening lines: “How does a bastard / orphan / son of a whore and a Scotsman / dropped in the middle of a forgotten spot in the Caribbean / by providence, impoverished, in squalor / grow up to be a hero and a scholar?”

Nevisians know they have something special: a forgotten spot, maybe; an overlooked spot, definitely. They live on the most complete little island in the Caribbean, where history, relaxation, and tropical adventure balance within 36 square miles. It’s not the cheapest island to reach, and it’s not the cheapest vacation spot in the world once you arrive. But if you make the journey, you’ll find the best of what it means to visit the Caribbean.

EQRoy/Shutterstock.com
EQRoy/Shutterstock.com
EQRoy/Shutterstock.com

The name “Nevis” (pronounced NEE-vis) is derived from Nuestra Senora de las Nievas, meaning “Our Lady of the Snow.” Spanish explorers gave the island this name for the white cloud that often encircles Nevis Peak, the dormant volcano that’s the main geographic feature of the island.

In the capital, Charlestown, the first thing you notice is how little of its development seems aimed at tourists. Downtown is a historic strip of stone buildings dating from the 17th century, with English colonial facades which have been painstakingly restored and maintained. Inside, they’re filled with pretty much every kind of business except tourist traps. The variety reflects the diversity of the local population: Jamaican groceries, Chinese restaurants, Guyanese markets to name a few. They sit in spaces where the sugar and slaves were once traded — squint a little and you can almost see the horses clopping down the narrow streets now clogged with taxis.

Pale-legged visitors toting cruise ship day-bags dot the sidewalks, here on afternoon excursions from the mega ships parked across The Narrows strait in St. Kitts. But they don’t overrun the place. And by 4pm, they’ll all be on the ferry back.

In a week on the island, not a single local I spoke to said the place had changed much since Hamilton.

“I had some Canadians a few weeks ago who booked a private tour, and all they wanted to see was Hamilton stuff,” my guide at Funky Monkey tours told me as we creeped up the well-paved hillsides on a tour of the island. “But that’s about it. It’s mostly people who’d come here anyway, and just want to see his house.”

Art Boardman/Shutterstock
Art Boardman/Shutterstock
Art Boardman/Shutterstock

The beaches are idyllic and uncrowded

Tell anyone you’re going to Nevis though, and you’ll need to mention Hamilton — and probably St. Kitts — before anyone has a clue where you’re headed. That anonymity only adds to the island’s charm. Since people forget Nevis exists, its world-class beaches have minimal crowds, making them arguably the most relaxing in the Caribbean.

Sitting on the golden sand near the Chrishi Beach Club, you can see the cruise ships docked in St. Kitts, with battalions of tourists disembarking onto Reggae Beach and other hotspots.

“We don’t want those here,” the proprietor of the beach club tells me, pointing across the water. “We have barely 10,000 people here. You put two of those ships in Nevis, and it doubles the population of our island.”

Art Boardman/Shutterstock
Art Boardman/Shutterstock
Art Boardman/Shutterstock

Nevis can accommodate ships with only a few hundred passengers, max. Beaches here aren’t the giant swaths of white sand you might find in nearby Anguilla, but they don’t need to accommodate nearly as many people. Oualie Beach, the first you’ll encounter after a ferry ride from St. Kitts, is an immediate oasis of empty sand and lounge chairs, in contrast to the throngs you had to deal with on the sister island. Nearby at Lovers Beach, a smattering of tourists sit reading on the sand, or gazing at the emerald mountains in the distance. Crucially, there is no almost no man-made noise — if you closed your eyes, you’d think you were alone with the sea and the palm trees swaying in the breeze.

At Nisbet Beach, a lively bar and swimming pool sit aside a handful of hammocks as soft waves lap against the shore. On a weekend in late autumn, most of the hammocks are open, and the only sound you’ll hear is the occasional laughter of the bartender, sharing a joke with whoever has just pulled up for a drink.

Art Boardman/Shutterstock
Art Boardman/Shutterstock
Art Boardman/Shutterstock

Historic plantation homes are now luxury resorts

While much of the Caribbean is awash with luxury resorts and big name hotels, lodgings on Nevis keep a historic feel. Most of the larger hotels are former sugar plantations (at one time Nevis had more than a hundred), where the main house has been converted into a grand lobby and restaurant. The old sugar mill at each site is repurposed, too — at Montpelier it’s a private dining room, while at Golden Rock it takes the form of the honeymoon suite. Nisbet Plantation is the only one set on the beach, but nearly all have private beaches with regular shuttles.

If traditional luxury is more your speed, Nevis has a Four Seasons right on the water.

Art Boardman/Shutterstock
Art Boardman/Shutterstock
Art Boardman/Shutterstock

Eating well, and burning it off by hiking a volcano

If mealtimes are a highlight of your vacations, Nevis will feed you right. Scarf some curry or roti at Bananas with a sweeping view of the island. Or head to Sunshine’s and enjoy a mahi sandwich on the beach. Then give all those calories back to by clambering up dormant volcanoes or hiking to waterfalls in the rainforest.

Nevis is like a better-groomed version of Dominica — rough, rugged terrain, but with nicely paved roads and ropes along hiking trails. The quintessential trek is to the top of Nevis Peak, a challenging and rewarding 3,232-foot ascent that starts next to a penitentiary where you’ll see inmates tending gardens. Reaching the peak takes an hour or two of wending through banana plants and ferns, over boulders and up muddy cliffs. Unlike trails on more rustic islands, this one has convenient ropes to help along the way. A good guide will show you how to use them to make the climb as painless as possible.

Once at the top, you’re rewarded with a sweeping 360-degree view of the islands St. Kitts and Montserrat on a clear day. It’s also the coldest place on the island, and the sweat you work up during the hike will make it frigid. Bring a jacket.

The valleys and hills surrounding the volcano create a dewy, tropical rainforest below. Hikes here take you through the jungle to virginal waterfalls and streams. Some trails meander past four or five falls, and as the sound of one begins to die out the noise of another begins. Even your strenuous hike will feel soothing.

EQRoy/Shutterstock.com
EQRoy/Shutterstock.com
EQRoy/Shutterstock.com

A hospitable, calming Caribbean culture

If you’ve spent time in the Caribbean, you know the laid-back attitude can sometimes manifest itself as “island time,” where our American sense of punctuality just makes you feel uptight. Your sunrise tour ends up starting at 11am. Servers take a minute or 40 to attend to your table. Some people roll with it. Some people let slow water refills ruin their vacation.

In Nevis, it doesn’t matter. It’s tranquilizingly laid-back, yes, but the people here want everyone to enjoy their time on the island. They understand that not all visitors are down with island time — in my five days on Nevis, I got better service than I would back home in Miami. It didn’t matter whether it was in a dive bar like the Double Deuce, beach bars like Sunshine’s or Lime, or fine dining restaurants at the Montpelier and Golden Rock plantations. People were friendly, and everything ran on time. It was all the relaxation of the Caribbean, efficiently.

All these factors add up to the same conclusion: Nevis should be on your mental map for a single-island Caribbean getaway. You’re sure to come away relaxed, but you can also feel the rush of a physical challenge, and maybe even learn something along the way. Or you can just slip into a vacation coma on the beach and OD on fruity drinks. Whatever your vision of the Caribbean, you’ll find it here. Unless you were hoping for an Alexander Hamilton theme park.Sign up here for our daily Thrillist email and subscribe here for our YouTube channel to get your fix of the best in food/drink/fun.

Matt Meltzer is a contributing writer to Thrillist who’s actually never seen Hamilton. Follow him on Instagram @meltrez1.

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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