Shark Bay is one of the newest national parks in the British Virgin Islands and probably the least well-known. Declared in 1999, the 18.4 acre park on a headland just east of Brewer’s Bay, Tortola, is one of my favourite places to hike in the BVI.
Shark Bay proper is a small, rocky, windswept bay immediately east of Brewer’s Bay but the national park which bears its name also refers to the ridge of land which rises above the pounding waves. Even though the park is quite small, it encompasses two distinct landscapes: a shady forest scattered with moss-covered boulders and a narrow, dry, windswept finger of land which juts out into the sea. In just a few rewarding hours hikers can explore both.
The official entrance to Shark Bay National Park is located past an upscale residential neighbourhood above Brewer’s Bay. A short walk along a narrow estate road brings you to the park entrance and the trailhead. From this point it is a short walk, 10 minutes at most, to a crossroads where you may choose to head east to the ‘Caves’ or west to the headland. There is no reason why reasonably fit hikers cannot do both.
The hike to the headland is the longer of the two, but it is still quite short. There are no marked distances but I estimate it is most certainly less than a mile—walkers who do not dawdle to admire the wild frangipani, colourful butterflies, turks head cactus and views will make it in no more than 15 minutes. The trail follows the crown of the ridge offering views both over the sea and inland towards Brewer’s Bay. There is a wooden observation deck near the top of the ridge which encourages respite and contemplation of the views that surround you.
After the dry, sun-exposed headline hike the moist, shady landscape around the caves is a nice change. The Shark Bay Caves, also called the Bat Caves, are not caves but rooms created by huge boulders which dot this particular hillside. The boulders, which look of similar ilk to those found at the Baths on Virgin Gorda, have settled in such a way as to create shelter which one imagines has been used by humans and animals for thousands of years. A short scramble along the trail takes you to the largest of these shelters, a ‘room’ large enough to hold a dozen people, seated. It is cool and protected and an ideal spot for a rest. Below the cave is the pounding surf of Shark Bay itself.
When I visited the park I saw no bats, but could well imagine that this would be a perfect home for these nocturnal creatures.
Shark Bay is a rewarding place to hike, offering a variety of landscapes in a relatively small area. The trails are rocky, though, and while short and not outrageously steep they do still require fitness to climb up, around and over rocks. Sturdy hiking shoes, or at least a decent pair of sneakers, are necessary. Plan about 1.5 hours to explore the park.
View a photo slideshow of Shark Bay here.
To find Shark Bay National Park take the road heading east out of Brewer’s Bay (as if you are going to Mount Healthy). Leave your car along the side of the road at the first switchback you come to, and hike in along the estate road until you find the trailhead. There are no signs on the road. You may prefer to park at the Brewer’s Bay Community Center and hike the short hill up to the switchback. For more information contact the National Parks Trust in Road Town at +1 284 494 3904.