Nestled on the outskirts of the city of Freeport on the island of Grand Bahama is Lucayan National Park, a 40-acre expanse of mangrove swamps, nature trails and the longest surveyed underwater cave system in the world. Here in the land of the “walking trees” nature is at work building new land and providing a rich and thriving habitat for plants, fish, crustaceans and birds.
A trip into the mangrove swamp begins at the mouth of Gold Rock Creek where it meets the Atlantic Ocean. From here two-man kayaks, provided by Grand Bahama Nature Tours Ltd., are launched and paddlers begin a leisurely two-mile, 90-minute paddle through breathtaking mangroves as the guides point out plants and wildlife.
Red mangroves line both sides of the sometimes narrow channel. Fish dart through the water beneath the kayaks while birds can be seen flitting from branch to branch above the clear water. In many places oyster beds are visible and paddlers may spy the occasional crab scurrying along the bottom. The trip itself is easy, however sometimes the passage becomes narrow enough to simply pull yourself along by grasping the mangrove roots.
At various times the guide will have all of the kayaks pull up alongside one another and drift while he shares stories about the mangroves and the original people of the island, the Lucayans. If paddlers remembered to bring a camera the guide will happily take pictures of couples floating in their kayaks with the mangroves as their backdrop.
Explore Gold Rock Beach, Nature Trails and Ben’s Cave
At the two-mile mark paddlers arrive at the landing where they then board a small wooden ferry that is hand-pulled across Gold Rock Creek to a nature trail. The trail winds its way to famous Gold Rock Beach and the location where portions of the film Pirates of the Caribbean were filmed. A picnic lunch is provided by the tour company, and afterward, visitors can spend about an hour on the famous beach before their guides once again direct them along another nature path and boardwalk over the mangrove swamp.
After leaving beach and mangroves the group is lead across the street where they descend into Ben’s Cave. More of a cavern than an actual cave, Ben’s Cave contains the entrance to a vast underwater network of caves and was once visited and explored by famous ocean explorer, Jacques Cousteau. This cave is also home to a rare member of a new class of crustacean, Speleonectes lucayansis, resembling a swimming centipede.
Time permitting, the group may get to visit the Lucayan Burial Cave before wrapping up the tour and heading back into the town of Freeport.
Planning a Trip to the Lucayan National Park
Average cost of this six-hour adventure runs about $79 as of publication and is well worth the price. The guides are helpful, entertaining, and knowledgeable and will happily answer all questions. The equipment is in good condition and the kayaks are stable enough that even beginning paddlers should feel comfortable. There are no dangerous animals to contend with and even if visitors are unable to swim, in the words of one very wise guide, “If you fall out of the kayak, don’t panic. Just stand up!”
Getting to Grand Bahama Island is as easy as booking a flight or a cruise. For those not booking as part of a shore excursion from a cruise ship, be sure to check with the outfitter in advance in order to secure a space. Once booked just relax and enjoy this first rate tour.
Grand Bahama Nature Tours, (242) 373-2485