Marsh Harbour is the best central point for exploring the nature-created attractions of Great Abaco and Little Abaco.
A fully graded and tarred main highway links all the settlements, with such colorful names as Fire Road, Mango Hill, Red Bays, Snake Cay, Cherokee Sound, and, our favorite, Hole-in-the-Wall, which lies at the "bottom" of Great Abaco.
Driving south for 40km (25 miles) from Marsh Harbour along Great Abaco Highway, you come first to Cherokee Sound, set at the end of a jutting peninsula. The 150 residents are descended from Loyalists who fled the mainland U.S. in 1783 to remain faithful to the British Crown. These people faced an inhospitable environment for 2 centuries and have tried to make a living as best they can. The men dive for lobsters or go out at night "sharking" (the sharks' jaws are sold in Marsh Harbour). They also hunt down tiniki crabs, as well as pigeon and wild boar in the remote pinelands of the Abacos.
The unhurried routine around here is in the process of major change. Entrepreneur Peter de Savary has opened the most exclusive club in The Bahamas. Called the Abaco Club on Winding Bay (tel. 866/605-8681 or 242/367-0077; www.ritzcarltonrealestate.com), it is deluxe living personified, but only for the super rich. The first time you stay, a cabana suite costs between $650 and $800 per night; two- to four-bedroom units range from $1,200 to $3,500 per night. If you return, you'll have to pay a hefty membership fee.
Forty-eight kilometers (30 miles) south of Marsh Harbour, to the immediate east of Cherokee Sound, is Little Harbour, a circle-shaped cay with a white-sand beach running along most of its waterfront. Here you can visit Pete Johnston's Foundry (tel. 242/577-5487), the only bronze foundry in The Bahamas. Settling here in 1951, the Johnston family achieved international fame as artists and sculptors. They use an old "lost-wax" method to cast their bronze sculptures, many of which are sold in prestigious art galleries in the U.S.; you can also buy them here. Margot Johnston creates porcelain figurines of island life such as birds, fish, boats, and even fishermen. The Johnstons welcome visitors to their studio daily from 10 to 11am and 2 to 3pm. You can purchase a remarkable book here, Artist on His Island, detailing the true-life adventures of Randolph and Margot Johnston, who lived a Swiss Family Robinson adventure when they first arrived at Little Harbour with their three sons. Sailing in an old Bahamian schooner, the Langosta, they stayed in one of the local caves until they eventually erected a thatched dwelling for themselves.
After a visit to the foundry, stop in for a drink at laid-back Pete's Pub and Gallery (tel. 242/577-5487; www.petespubandgallery.com), whose decor evokes Gilligan's Island. The pub was constructed in part from the timbers of the Langosta and opens daily at 11am, staying that way "until everyone leaves at night" (it's closed Sept-Oct). The beer is cold, and the art on the walls is for sale. You can also order lunch here daily, costing around $20. Fresh seafood such as mango-glazed grouper or lemon-pepper mahimahi is served along with burgers. A boar roast happens every Saturday from April through July. In the evening, Pete Johnston might sing a medley of sea chanteys, accompanying himself on his guitar.
After leaving Cherokee Sound and Little Harbour, you can return to Great Abaco Highway, heading south once again to reach the little fishing village of Casuarina Point, west of Cherokee Sound, where you'll find a lovely stretch of sand and some jade-colored flats (low-water areas where bonefish are plentiful). If you keep going south, you'll come to Crossing Rocks, another little fishing village 64km (40 miles) south of Marsh Harbour. This hamlet, where locals barely eke out a living, takes its name from the isthmus where Great Abaco Island narrows to its thinnest point. It's noted for its kilometer-long ( 2/3-mile) beach of golden sand.
If you continue traveling south from here, you'll come to a fork in the road. If you take the southern route, you'll be heading toward Abaco National Park, also called Bahamas National Trust Sanctuary (tel. 242/393-1317; www.bnt.bs), and the aptly named Hole-in-the-Wall, a poor little hamlet with few settlers; it marks the end of the line for drives along the Abacos. Protected by the government, the 8,296-hectare (20,500-acre) Abaco National Park, established in 1994, sprawls across Grand Abaco Island's southeastern portion. Some 2,023 hectares (4,999 acres) of it is pine forest, with a lot of wetlands that are home to native bird life, including the endangered Bahama parrot. Hardwood forests, sand dunes, and mangrove flats fill the area. Rangers, under the sponsorship of the Bahamas National Trust, lead occasional tours of the sanctuary and protect the area.
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.