J can’t stand April and had been threatening to book a vacation somewhere warm for years. Finally, in 2018 the threats turned real and she found us a place in Bermuda. We had covered the area from Hamilton to St George on a previous trip with the kids, so this time we headed for the western end of the island. It was our intent to avoid other tourists, find solitude and snorkel as much as possible. Being remote, we knew transportation might be an issue. There are no car rentals on Bermuda; the 3 main forms of public transportation are taxis, mopeds and buses. Taxis are expensive, mopeds could not handle all our snorkeling gear and the bus system got good reviews, so that’s where we threw our fate.
Sunday afternoon we searched all the stores at the Royal Naval Dockyard for prescription snorkel masks. There was no such thing for sale anywhere so we took the bus back home and laid on the beach for a couple of hours, pondering our options. Finally, we decided to walk to H2O Sports to rent masks, snorkels and fins (we had our own wetsuits). They were in the process of opening for the summer and hardly anyone was about. Eventually a young man arrived to help us out – he was friendly and advised us that Church Bay and Daniel’s Head were among the best places to snorkel. They did not have prescription masks for rent, which we had expected to be readily available, based on our experience in Hawaii.
Monday, we hopped on the bus for Church Bay and our first snorkel adventure. The beach was gorgeous and with only a couple of other people there, it felt like our own private beach. The rental equipment was terrible though, a far cry from other equipment we had rented. The masks leaked and fogged up and the snorkels were hardly better.
On Tuesday we decided to walk over to Daniel’s Head to snorkel, stopping on the way at the H2o Sports store to try and get J a better snorkel. The guidebook did not list Daniels Head as a snorkeling destination but the rental guy assured us that if we walked on the sand around the fence, we would be fine. We had no idea what he was talking about, but we headed up Daniel’s Head Road, staying along the water, when we suddenly encountered a massive resort of abandoned buildings, surrounded by a chain link fence. Following the shore around this ghost town we arrived at Daniels Head. It was a tiny secluded cove and private enough to be swimsuit optional. The snorkeling was decent in spite of our poor equipment. The sunken wreck Vixen was visible just off Daniels Island, but not within swimming range.
Daniel’s Head Resort
We decided to go home around the other side of the ghost town, instead of the way we came in. At some point, without purposeful intent, we found ourselves inside the fence and decided to explore the place. There were many tented cabins, some built on stilts near the water, others on piers over the water with glass floors. The cabins were in various states of disrepair, some had rusted appliances, on most the canvas tent material was torn and flapping in the breeze. Eventually we came across two large buildings which looked like a lodge for gatherings and staff quarters. It was truly bizarre. We found a road which looked like it led out of the place and soon found ourselves on the wrong side of the chain link fence we had encountered on the way in. We climbed over it and saw a sign that said it was soon to be Daniels Head Resort.
Some quick internet research disclosed that it used to be called 9 Beaches, but had been closed for years due to some type of litigation. What we thought to be the lodge and staff quarters were the empty barracks and rec hall of the Canadian Army. This was their base during World War II and the entire area was known as the Canadian Forces Station. According to various internet sources the resort reopened in October of 2018.
Saturday night we walked south to Somerset; most of the stores and restaurants were closed except for the Somerset County Squire. The food was straight from Sysco or something similar and the drink menu listed cider and stouts in one category. Not recommended.
Monday night we headed up to the Dockyard to see if we could find better food than in Somerset. The place was once again deserted and most of the stores and restaurants in the Clocktower Mall were closed. We finally found an Italian place that was open, and we were its only customers but the food was good.
On Thursday night we walked across Watford Bridge and ate dinner at Woodys. It was packed with locals – we were the only tourists there. The music was excellent, the crowd was lively and the food very good.
Royal Naval Dockyard
Sunday morning, we took the bus to the Royal Naval Dockyard, which is located at the most northerly point of the western tip of the island. The entire area was deserted. We wandered up to the fort and walked along the walls, past all the cannons, looking down at the water for potential snorkeling spots. Spent a few hours at the National Museum which was excellent. Then at 12:30 a cruise ship docked and all hell broke loose. The information center was overwhelmed with people trying to buy bus tickets, so we ran back to the Frog and Onion Pub for lunch before all the restaurants got full. The food was decent.
We had lunch in Hamilton, bought some groceries and walked to the Botanical Gardens. The art museum there was small and basically useless, don’t waste your time or money. The gardens were in terrible shape, with missing plants and bad signage. The Japanese garden was a tragedy – the sand was filled with weeds; the bridge and lantern were both broken. Yet this is a highly recommended place in the guidebooks. Either they are very out of date or we were just too early in the season.
We stayed just north of Somerset and just south of Watford Bridge. The official name of the place is Watford Studios, but we had our own separate cottage across the road, on a little spit of land jutting out into the ocean. It is without doubt one of the coolest places we ever stayed. The kitchen was very well equipped and the owner was very attentive to our needs. Highly recommended.
Monday around 3:00 PM, exhausted from snorkeling, we headed up to the bus stop. In a few minutes a bus arrived, the driver slowed down, opened the door and said he was headed to the maintenance area, but another bus would be along shortly. Half an hour later another bus came, but it was full and didn’t stop. Around 4:00 PM a third bus came by, nearly empty, but it didn’t even slow down. Finally, a guy in a white van stopped and offered to drive us to Somerset for $5.00 each. It was way more expensive than a bus ride, but after an hour of waiting we jumped at his offer.
That night at the Royal Naval Dockyard, we waited another eternity for a bus back home. We realized the scarcity of buses wasn’t our imagination when a local, waiting at the bus station with us, called home to report that she would be late because there were no buses.
On Wednesday we took the bus to the Botanical Gardens. We told the driver our destination as we got on, as seems to be the system, but the driver forgot and took us into Hamilton. After a few sad hours in the Botanical Gardens we headed for the bus stop to go home. According the official bus map, the 1 bus ran past the Botanical Garden and there was a stop directly in front of. We waited for half an hour and no bus came. We finally walked up the hill to the intersection of Middle Road and South Road where the 7 and 8 buses converge, hoping to increase our probability of getting a ride. Eventually we got on the most crowded bus yet. It stopped every 5 minutes and always more people got on than got off. It took over an hour to drive the few short miles back to cabin.
For all its accolades in the guide books, the bus system seemed pretty bad to us and I recommend renting mopeds.