Even at golf cart speed it only takes an afternoon to learn your way around Harbour Island, just east of Eluthera in the Bahamas. It is, after all, only 3.5 miles long and less than a mile wide. You quickly make friendly relationships with pretty much everyone you meet, especially with the straw weaver lady who would make something special just for you and remember your name, or with Jeana who will smilingly rent you a brand new red golf cart as you step onto the town dock. But to really plumb the depths of the sweet, slow lifestyle and guileless welcoming nature of the people who live and work there might take a long time.The people of the island are cheery and engaging. They tend to the land, each other, and visitors with the same quiet joy as they do the tides, the sunset, and the catch of the day.
Of the 11 hotels on the island, we stayed at two different ones. The first, Pink Sands is on the morning side of the island. We really owe thanks to the person who decorated around there. The luscious colors, fanciful and sophisticated blend of art and culture, the architecture and landscaping, which collectively leads to the wide, long, perfect beach is undeniable eye-candy, wrapped in dozens of shades of pink right to the azure sea.
We haven’t even gotten to the restaurant dinner menu, or the garden breakfasts! Both of these are distinctive blends of local fresh ingredients created for a very savvy palate. I am not sure if the beautiful hens with small herds of chicks in tow were pets or destined for the menu, but they hopped around the edges of the gardens at breakfast each morning making soft sounds of gratitude for the bits of toast that we tossed them.
The other place we stayed is called Runaway Hill. It seems barely possible to fit your golf cart up the small entrance with its discrete sign at the gate, and the long gently winding drive, as it weaves through the elegant trees towards the beach, is reminiscent of old-fashioned island houses. Runaway Hill is a true B&B in that the guests all seem to become friends, sharing cocktails before dinner at a bar where you make your own drinks and keep your own tab.
Breakfast is served on a covered porch overlooking the impossibly blue ocean. The charming house sits high on the hill with a stunning view down the pink beach. Half-way down the hill on the way to the beach is a small swimming pool surrounded by a large terrace with many beach chairs and umbrellas for afternoon reading. This is home away from home! Roger and Carol have repeat visitors because of their hospitality, creativity, and the great time they deliver along with excellent food and charming rooms.
During the day we walked or traveled by golf cart all over the island. Everywhere you turn there are charming cottages painted in bright Easter egg colors, with tiny gardens and painted fences. We found something called Girls’ Bank, which caught our attention when a fisherman walked slowly in knee deep water towing his boat like a pet pony across the shoal to beach it for the night.
We found tiny restaurants dotted about Dunmore town, with the spicy fresh aroma of dinner joining the evening breeze. We discovered a bakery called Arthur’s which appears to stand-in for a local Welcome Center and also makes excellent pineapple muffins. There are two marinas, but Valentine’s is the one to visit if you want to go diving.
I loved the Post Office, surely a social epicenter on the island. The Sir George Robert Library looks charming under two huge trees on South Street where it houses photos and island history as well as an impressive collection of reading material. The medical center is behind the library, and while we didn’t visit there we discovered that a local character called Uncle Ralph supports it in part by allowing visitors to photograph his eclectic hand-painted signs and then toss change into a cup, which he donates to the cause.
There are Catholic, Methodist, and Anglican churches as well as the Church of God. Leaning under a tree was a fire truck that would make any insurance agent cringe, but we never did find one of those agencies. There is a Royal Bank of Canada which had fax and email services, and a School For All Ages that seemed to climb up the hill as kids poured out of open doors to play in the sunlight. There are two real estate offices that we saw, a Piggly Wiggly, three gift shops, and a surprisingly sophisticated art gallery in a bright pink building with no discernable right angles.
There are a few booths along the bay side where we find woven straw, shells and combinations of these “tings” for sale. The hand-made gifts are sweet but we went there shopping a little each day as much for the conversations as for the presents for those at home. I bought two huge pink and gold conch shells and thus met Sarah, the senior merchant of Bay Street. Later I was told that Sarah is pushing 90. While she can be on the terse side and her hours are a tad irregular these days, she still opens her booth every day and has as far back as anyone can remember.
Shopping in the late afternoon became a grand excuse to walk across the street when the booths close at 5:00 to the Harbour Lounge and watch the sun set over Eleuthera in the company of a fine frozen fruit rum drink.
The nightlife of Harbour Island is spare and mostly centered around sunsets, music and rum. We heard about the frequent evenings of live music at Seagrapes, and rather wild parties at Vic-Hum. Gusty’s is reputed to be a local spot that finds visitors to be good entertainment, and returns in kind. We were of a mind to enjoy the quiet so nightlife for us was chatting with guests from other cottages, walking on the beach in the moonlight, or playing pool on the coral colored table while listening to the exotic music in the club room at Pink Sands.
Perhaps it is that Harbour Island takes just one more transition to reach than Eleuthera, or perhaps it is simply that visitors and locals alike have decided to live in slow elegant simplicity, but if you make your way there you will find that the casual friendliness, excellent food and folk art beauty of this tiny island gives you a warm glow that will last longer than your tan.