Having recently returned from a three-night visit to the beautiful island of Bermuda, the one thing that struck me was that it’s closer to get there from South Africa than one would imagine. And it’s not part of the Caribbean; it’s in the North Atlantic.
If you’re in Johannesburg, it’s two flights away if you fly to New York City. Because of the times of the flights, you’d need to stay in New York City before flying to the island. I would recommend a day flight, because the first glimpse of Bermuda from the sky is magical.
My trip to the island centred on the 35th America’s Cup, a boat race that holds the record for being the oldest international sporting event, dating back to 1851. I went as a guest of team Land Rover BAR, which is four times Olympic gold medallist Sir Ben Ainslie’s racing team.
As a new team participating in the 2017 America’s Cup, the British motoring manufacturer decided to build its first catamaran, the R1. Named Rita, it is regarded as the most technologically advanced and fastest racing boat of its kind. It took more than 35 000 hours to construct.
The result saw the catamaran “fly” across the water at speeds of just under 100km an hour. A whopping 16 gigabyte of data was fed back to the team. The combination of a new team and the cat’s high-tech resulted in a place in the semifinals.
Between being a spectator at the races over a few days, I got to unwind and relax at the Cambridge Beaches Resort and Spa. It has four private beaches and is the only resort on the island that is child-free. The property is large — hence golf carts to move luggage.
Breakfast and dinner are served at Tamarisk, which has amazing views over an infinity pool and private beach. The dinner menu changes every evening and includes the option of a private candlelit dinner under the stars. Guests can use the spa at no extra cost, but specific treatments require bookings and are billed separately.
If you stay in Sandy’s Parish, the 40-minute drive from the airport is the best way to see everything because you’ll cover one end of the island to the other. You’ll have time to take it all in because the island’s speed limit along its narrow single- lane roads is 35km an hour.
The island is tiny, covering a total of 53.2km2 and is made up of nine parishes. LF Wade International Airport is in St George’s Parish at the top end of the island, and the city of Hamilton is in the middle in Pembroke Parish — not to be confused with the separate Hamilton Parish. You could easily see the whole island in three days.
The mix of pale and brightly coloured buildings is striking. I barely saw any locals on the drive to Cambridge Beaches, mostly because of the long-awaited rains, much like in South Africa. Most of the houses on the island have white roofs that collect rainwater, which is then filtered into a tank beneath the property.
The quickest way to get around the island is by ferry; it’s cheaper and nothing beats the scenic ride across water. It shouldn’t be too difficult to figure out because there are only four routes (pink, green, blue, orange). Locals get around on scooters, mainly because Bermuda has a one car per household law.
The climate is subtropical, with mild winters and hot days from June to October. It is humid in summer, with early June temperatures reaching 28°C and some rainfall. If you’re heading to the beach or spending time mainly outdoors, a cap, sunglasses and sunblock is essential.
Bermuda, surrounded by a turquoise ocean, is a British territory, but feels more American. The Bermuda dollar is fixed to the United States dollar but it’s better not to use the local currency because it’s useless anywhere else in the world and can’t be converted outside the island.
Where to stay
If you feel like splurging, the Fairmont Southampton Princess Hotel is a popular upmarket choice. It’s on the south shore and has stretches of Bermuda’s famous pink sand beaches. The resort and spa is on a lush golf course and there are 10 restaurants, including some of the best the island has to offer.
There are B&Bs, inns and holiday rentals too, but Bermuda does have a high standard so some of their “cheaper” accommodation may not be what South Africans consider cheap. The south side of the island near Sandy’s Parish may be a good place to stay because it is home to nine beaches, a resort that has, well, nine beaches to choose from.
What to eat
Bermudian cuisine includes black-eyed peas with rice and fried fish. A Sunday breakfast found everywhere is codfish and potato served with butter and onion sauce, banana, boiled egg and avocado. The restaurants attached to hotels are of high quality, and Cambridge Beaches has unique dishes such as crayfish fritters. The Fairmont-owned Waterlot Inn is regarded as Bermuda’s finest steakhouse but it also serves outstanding seafood and desserts.
If you want excellent sushi, head into Hamilton and find Beluga Bar inside Washington Mall. Expect Oriental sushi with some Western flavours, and if you fancy eating lobster sushi, you’re in luck. If you’re adventurous, ask chef Sammy to surprise you. Interestingly, the only international food franchise on the island is a KFC; everything else is local.
What to do
When it comes to chilling on the pink sand beaches, you will be spoilt for choice between the world-famous Horseshoe Bay, Elbow Beach, Long Bay, Somerset Beach and others. Some of these spots are popular for picnics and birthday parties, such as Astwood Park, which is also a lookout point.
If you’re into water activities, choose between a catamaran cruise with snorkelling or swim with the dolphins. There are countless cruises to go on, including one with a glass bottom. Historic sites include the Royal Naval Dockyard, Fort St Catherine and various museums. Parks and churches are aplenty on this tiny island.
What to buy
In general, Bermuda is slightly more expensive than the US, and locals tend to do their shopping stateside. Rather stick to buying items you won’t get anywhere else, such as cultural and handmade items.
On Wednesday evenings, check out Harbour Nights in Hamilton. Roads are closed off and vendors sell pottery, blown glass and paintings.
If you want to buy a pair of original Bermuda shorts, the English Sports Shop in Hamilton is the place to go. It is on Front Street, the main shopping area in Hamilton where cruise ships dock. It’s worth exploring the vicinity on foot.