Rock Sound/Cape Eleuthera

Rock Sound, in South Eleuthera, is a small, shady village, the island's main town and once its most exclusive enclave. The downsizing of a major touristic landmark, the Windermere Club, has, at least for now, halted the flow of famous visitors, who once included everybody from Princess Diana to a parade of CEOs. No reopening of that semi-private club is yet in sight, but at least that means that you can have many of South Eleuthera's best beaches practically to yourself.

Rock Sound opens onto Exuma Sound and is south of Tarpum Bay. The town is at least 200 years old and has many old-fashioned homes with picket fences out front. Once notorious for wreckers who lured ships ashore with false beacons, it used to be known as "Wreck Sound."

After leaving Rock Sound, you can head south, perhaps with a detour for a view of the re-inaugurated, all-new Cotton Bay Club, and continue through the villages of Green Castle and Deep Creek. At this point, take a sharp turn northwest along the only road leading to Cape Eleuthera. Locals call this byway Cape Eleuthera Road, though you won't find any markings other than a sign pointing the way. If you continue to follow this route northwest, you'll reach the end of the island chain, jutting out into Exuma Sound.

Essentials -- Rock Sound has a shopping center and a bank (with an ATM) in addition to its airport, but not a lot else. Many residents who live in South Eleuthera come here to stock up on groceries and supplies.

A doctor and four resident nurses form the staff of Rock Sound Medical Clinic (tel. 242/334-2226). It's open Monday through Friday from 9am to 4pm; outside those hours, the doctor is always available to handle emergencies. If you need the police, call tel. 242/334-2244.

A "Bottomless Hole" in the Ocean -- The Ocean Hole, in a sparsely populated neighborhood about 2km (1 1/4 miles) east of the heart of Rock Sound, is said to be bottomless, though modern depth soundings have defined it as being an astonishing 100 fathoms (about 600 ft.) deep. This saltwater lake, whose waters, through uncharted underground channels, eventually meet the sea, is one of Eleuthera's most ecologically unusual spots. As such, it's closely monitored by geologists, zoologists, and botanists. Many birds and tropical fish can be seen through the greenish filter that seems to hover above the waters here; they seem to like to be photographed -- but only if you feed them first.

Tarpum Bay

For an affordable vacation on high-priced Eleuthera, head here. Tarpum Bay, a tiny settlement with many pastel-washed, gingerbread-trimmed houses, is a favorite of artists, who have established a small colony here, complete with galleries and studios. The charming waterfront village, some 15km (9 1/3 miles) north of Rock Sound, is good for fishing and has a number of simple, inexpensive guesthouses. Gaulding's Cay, north of town, has a lovely beach with great snorkeling.

Windermere Island

Windermere is a very tiny island, connected somewhat haphazardly by ferry to "mainland" Eleuthera. It lies midway between Governor's Harbour and Rock Sound.

Even during its heyday, this enclave of private homes couldn't be more discreet. "We like to keep it quiet around here," a former staffer at the now-closed Windermere Island Club once told us. Regrettably, that wasn't always possible for this once-deluxe and snobbish citadel. When Prince Charles first took a pregnant Princess Diana here in the 1980s, she was photographed by the paparazzi in her swimsuit. Much to the club's horror, the picture gained the place worldwide notoriety.

At press time, the hotel once associated with this cluster of private homes was closed, and many of its once-elegant private homes were occupied only a few weeks per year (if at all) by their mostly absentee owners. Wracked with inner dissent and an increasing state of disrepair, the property has been the subject of many rumors about a rebirth. Stay tuned for more news about Windermere Island's on-again, off-again re-development plans (future editions of this book will keep you updated).

Meanwhile, if the ferryboat is operational by the time you visit, you can visit this island for its sandy, sheltered beaches and outstanding snorkeling opportunities, even though you'll have to bring your own gear. Be warned that in its present isolated, virtually uninhabited state, absolutely none of the beaches has anything even approaching supervision, so swim and cavort at your own risk. A security gate prevents you from rubber-necking the million-dollar vacation homes of the rich and famous who still occupy retreats here.

Palmetto Point

On the east side of Queen's Highway, south of Governor's Harbour, North Palmetto Point is a little village where visitors rarely venture (though you can get a meal here). This laid-back town will suit you if you want peace and quiet off the beaten track.

Ten Bay Beach is one of the best beaches in The Bahamas, with sparkling turquoise water and a wide expanse of soft, white sand. The beach is a 10-minute drive south of Palmetto Point and just north of Savannah Sound. There are no facilities, only idyllic isolation.

Hatchet Bay

Forty kilometers (25 miles) north of Governor's Harbour, Hatchet Bay was once known for a British-owned plantation that had 500 head of dairy cattle and thousands of chickens. Today, that plantation is gone, and this is now one of Eleuthera's sleepiest villages, as you'll see if you veer off Queen's Highway onto one of the town's ghostly main streets, Lazy Shore Road or Ocean Drive.

The Current

The inhabitants of the Current, a settlement in North Eleuthera, are believed to have descended from a tribe of Native Americans. A narrow strait separates the village from Current Island, where most locals make their living from the sea or from plaiting straw goods.

This is a small community that often welcomes visitors. You won't find crowds or artificial attractions here. Everything is focused on the sea, a source of pleasure for the visiting tourists, but a way to sustain life for the residents.

From the Current, you can explore some sights in North Eleuthera, including Preacher's Cave, northeast of North Eleuthera Airport. In this barren and isolated backwater, the Eleutherian Adventurers found shelter during the mid-17th century, when they were shipwrecked with no provisions.

Note that your taxi driver may balk at being asked to drive here; the road is hard on his expensive tires. As such, his round-trip asking price from, say, the ferryboat wharves servicing Harbour Island might be as much as $100.

If you do opt for a detour here, you'll find yourself within one of the most historically important sites in The Bahamas -- the point from which the origins of the country emerged. Set amid scrub and bush, the Preacher's Cave looks something like an amphitheater, with niches carved into its walls for seating for the community's elders, and a central boulder allegedly used as either a pulpit or an altar. The devout Eleutherian Adventurers held religious services inside the cave, which is pierced by natural holes in the roof, allowing light and rainfall to intrude.

For several years after they were stranded on reefs near this site, the settlers developed an elaborate series of religious and cultural codes and bylaws, which in some ways factored into the legal and social codes of The Bahamas. The landscapes around this cave are rich with buried workaday artifacts from that early impromptu community, and much excavation work remains to be done, a project of ongoing interest to the Bahamian government. DNA tests of skeletons unearthed from the cave have drawn distinct links between the Eleutherian Adventurers and the modern-day residents of Spanish Wells.

Another sight of interest to ecologists and marine scientists is Boiling Hole, part of a shallow bank on the island's Atlantic side that seems to boil and churn during changing tides.

Spanish Wells

Called a "quiet corner of The Bahamas," Spanish Wells is a colorful cluster of houses on St. George's Cay, 1km ( 2/3 mile) off the coast of northwest Eleuthera. You'll find sparkling bays, white beaches, sleepy lagoons, excellent diving, and a fine fishing colony here.

You can easily walk or bicycle through the village, looking at the houses, some of which are more than 200 years old. They have New England saltbox styling but bright tropical coloring. You'll also see handmade quilts in many colors, following patterns handed down from generations of English ancestors. Homeowners display these quilts on their front porches or out their windows, and they are for sale. No one locks their doors here, or removes ignition keys from their cars.

Getting There -- To reach the island, you can fly to the North Eleuthera Airport, where taxis will be waiting to deliver you to the ferry dock.

A ferryboat (tel. 242/554-6268) runs between Gene's Bay in North Eleuthera to the main pier at Spanish Wells, departing whenever passengers show up. The cost is $15 per person round-trip. Regardless of the time of day you get there, a ferryboat will be either waiting for passengers or arriving shortly with a load of them.

Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.