Umpteenth visit to island reveals new attractions and activities

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CHRISTIANSTED, St. Croix -- The challenge in visiting a destination that already feels like home is to unearth previously undiscovered gems. I did just that on St. Croix in December.

In fact, I ran out of time with items still on my checklist to be seen, sampled and savored. So I'll go back.

St. Croix's list of island attractions is long and varied.

Undiscovered St. Croix.From Point Udall in the east to Frederiksted on the west coast, the 23-mile-long island (largest of the U.S. Virgins) offers travelers many choices on land, on and below the sea and in the air.

This time, I opted for a two-hour kayak tour of Salt River National Park on St. Croix's north coast.

My adventure began at Columbus Cove, site of the explorer's landing in 1493, during his second voyage to the New World. Apparently, Columbus opted to stay aboard his ship while he sent his men ashore to check out the scene. No fool he. A fight ensued between his crew and Carib Indians, marking the first skirmish between European and New World natives.

My peaceful outing was run by Caribbean Adventure Tours, owned by Andy Wartenberg, assisted by first mate Nancy Finegood. We boarded our one-person kayaks, and I quickly caught the rhythm.

Kayaking is, as Wartenberg said, " a peaceful way to spend time on the water, except when you're up against a head wind."

We caught a head wind, and I used arm muscles I hadn't used since lifting my daughter from her stroller 20 years ago.

We cut close to mangroves rooted in the shoreline. We rested paddles and drifted. We sighted birds and heard songs. It was therapeutic.

Triton Beach, deserted save for the warped and bleached remnants of a wooden fishing boat, yielded unusual rocks and red starfish.

Wartenberg opened his business in 1997 because he "saw a need for people to go out in small groups to see what others miss while on tour buses." He doesn't just offer kayak trips, either.

One of his hiking programs starts at Scenic Drive on the northwest coast, winds down to the tidepools at Annaly Bay for brunch, treks along a coastal ridgeline and concludes with a champagne toast.

Another rugged outing begins at Point Udall and meanders down to Jack's and Isaac's Bay for brunch, swimming and viewing the nesting sites of endangered sea turtles. The beaches here are accessible only by foot or boat.

The three-hour hikes and kayak tour are $45 per person. A four-hour photography tour (limited to three people) is $35, and a four-hour customized Taste of St. Croix package is $55. Commission is 10%.

Other new experiences for me on St. Croix follow:

  • I visited the Lawaetz Family Museum near Frederiksted, a 19th century estate house on the grounds of Little La Grange, itself a museum.
  • The word "visit" is a stretch. The museum was closed, but I did peer through a window at heirlooms and furnishings. When the caretaker suddenly appeared, I beat a hasty retreat, but I'll return.

  • I actually listened to the narrative delivered by William F. Cissel, park superintendent at Fort Christiansvaern in Christiansted. The fort was built in 1749 and now is a National Historic Site.
  • As Cissel said, his mission is to "preserve the historic buildings and grounds and interpret the Danish way of life from 1734 [when the Danes colonized St. Croix] to 1917 [when the U.S. bought the island from Denmark]."

    That's a tall order. What impressed me more were the iron cannons stationed menacingly on the fort's ramparts.

    Cissel said a well-trained soldier "could load and fire a cannon in 60 seconds." I'm glad I wasn't in the military.

  • I devoured several of Agnes Stapleton's homemade johnnycakes at Estate Whim Plantation Museum near Frederiksted.
  • Of course, I also toured the great house, ogled the period furniture and admired the grounds -- but kept returning to that kitchen.

    About then, I ran out of time on this trip, but I'm planning my next.

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