What makes Pine Cay in the Turks & Caicos such a Special Destination?

Monday, December 9th, 2013

Pine Cay
Barefoot Perfect

By Susan Clark McBride
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Pine Cay was part of my husband John’s dowry and we’ve been spending time there for 35 years. For our children, Sam and Meredith, going to “the island” is like going to the proverbial cabin in Wisconsin, albeit a little warmer, farther down the road, and anchored with activities based on sand and sea.

There are no cars, a single restaurant and bar, and one small gift shop with shirts, flip flops and a few other sand dollar logoed selections. So unless you crave traffic and congestion, are compelled to wonder and decide where to wine and dine each day, or simply must satisfy your inner shopaholic, consider Pine Cay in the Turks and Caicos Islands.

Located southeast of the Bahamian archipelago, the Turks and Caicos are part of the British Commonwealth and comprise a string of islands, islets and cays in the Atlantic Ocean on the border of the Caribbean Sea. Some believe Christopher Columbus made landfall in the Turks and Caicos Islands on his second trip to the New World. Perhaps the fresh water lakes on Pine Cay filled his water barrels. Perhaps the cannons discovered underwater at the north end of the isle stood tall at the British fort during the 1400s to prevent pirates from invading. Whatever its history, Pine Cay is 800 acres of barefoot perfect. So kick off your shoes and join us.

Apart from a settlement of Taino Indians, likely dating to the 11th century, Pine Cay had no permanent population until the 1970s, when a small group of adventurers, including my in-laws, discovered a place featuring coral gardens teeming with marine life perfect for diving and fishing, and so built their houses and the Meridian Club. Today, a limited group of individuals from around the world own the properties and oversee management of the Club, an environmentally sensitive resort ideally suited for those seeking an unspoiled, upscale, unpretentious retreat.

Guests at the Meridian Club, which serves as the social center and features a gourmet restaurant and lounge, max out the 12 guestrooms and separate “Sand Dollar Cottage” with 26 occupants. Of the 36 homes that dot the island, several are available to rent. All totaled, at the height of holiday season, often a reunion time for members through the decades, perhaps 200 or so club guests, homeowners and Meridian Club staff (who quickly become as familiar as family) are “on island.” Once you are – what to do? Or . . . better yet, what “to don’t?”

After what’s inevitably a long travel day regardless of where your journey began (it takes awhile to get to paradise), our 40-year tradition is to toss our bags in the house, rush on our swimsuits and run into the ocean. Refreshing and welcoming, the unending crystal clear water and stretch of beach are vivid reminders of why a few choose Pine Cay and why we always come back. The two-mile beach that leads to Sand Dollar Point, the inspiration behind the Meridian Club logo, is untouched but by nature. The pristine, cream-colored sand is so soft your toes barely feel it. Myriad hues of turquoise and azure blue paint the ocean – which often settles into a placid and warm state to serve as a soothing bath, but sometimes features white-capped wave tips to provide a brisk, refreshing splash. Either way, dive in. You’ll always remember and never regret that moment.

Offshore, miles of undisturbed barrier reefs and waters surrounding Pine Cay contain a remarkable variety of marine habitats. High drop-offs and tidal flats are often but yards apart. Coral, grass and mangrove communities make the area particularly interesting for marine biologists and the ocean hosts many yet-unidentified species. Thanks to the diversity of habitats and variety of species, fishing is superb – both deep sea and the elusive bonefish. Spear guns are prohibited and there are relatively few divers, so the marine life thrives and is not “shy.” Snorkelers and divers obey the mantra: “Take only pictures, kill only time, leave only bubbles.” Fish, corals, sponges, and fans in unimaginable numbers are found in water six to 15 feet deep, offering opportunity for outstanding underwater photography. Try the leeward side of the island, where the water is almost always calm.

Surrounding waters, at a pleasant 75° – 80° Fahrenheit, teem with marine life. Underwater visibility often exceeds 100 feet and miles of coral gardens are within a five-minute boat ride from the dock. Pine Cay is a pristine natural habitat with vast open space and seven freshwater ponds. It’s a perfect habitat for the abundant local fauna and flora. It’s also ideal for Caribbean fishing trips.

Settle your business before you “reach” Pine Cay and enjoy the liberation of being unplugged. Internet availability is limited to a small footprint surrounding the Meridian Club’s common area. Mobile phones are prohibited in public, frowned upon in private. If you require daily news, a mini New York Times is printed and placed near the front desk each morning. Read and return so it can be reused and recycled, even if you completed the crossword. No one will mind.

Even during “high season,” the beach rarely has footprints other than yours, the tennis court is often open for the taking, and the sailboats, kayaks and paddle boards are free to enjoy. Prefer to read a book by the pool or under a tiki hut with the sea as a backdrop? There are plenty of places to plop down, crack a cover, and nap between chapters. Remember your sunscreen; you’re close to the equator. Other daily activities involve snorkels and masks, fishing poles, fat-tire bikes, conversations with new friends from around the world, jigsaw puzzles, dominoes, and complete R&R.

A nine-hole beach “golf course” couples handmade mini-golf creativity with 360-degree sand traps and unending view of the ocean. Choose the wedge and putter, maybe a 7 iron and, since you’re barefoot (highly likely, even when dressed up for dinner), watch out for sand burrs. If you do get one, pull it out and carry on.

Wednesday evenings include features at Sand Dollar Cinema, as the airstrip on the island transforms into an outdoor movie theater. Residents and guests arrive in golf carts as soon as it’s dark to watch a “short.” Faulty Towers, Hogan’s Heroes, and Gilligan’s Island are among the favorites played after the sun goes down and before the dinner bell rings (waiters ring the bell to announce lunch and dinner; it’s charming). This will be your only encounter with mass media; there are no televisions at the Club. There are one or two tucked away in the private homes, but no one’s telling . . . and they’re tough to find, as the satellite dishes are camouflaged.

Remember to take time to relax and chat with guests and homeowners on the upstairs deck at the club during cocktail hour. If the sun sets on a day when clouds don’t touch the horizon, you might witness the Green Flash. Decades of trying and I never have, but friends and relatives insist they have. They claim there’s a brilliant splash of green just as the sun dips below the horizon. I’ll never know if it’s real or it’s due to a sip or two of a libation. Either way, the tradition of waiting and watching is delightful.

If you time it right, five or so days after a full moon and about an hour after sunset, you’ll find yourself on a boat sipping rum punch and noshing conch fritters. Get ready. You’re about to witness a phosphorescent mating phenomenon created by glow worms. For about 15 minutes, or about as long as it takes to enjoy your drink, it’s as if stars are falling from the sky, spreading out on the sea. Mystical, whimsical, rarely seen glow worms elicit “oohs” and “aahs” from all those observing the marine firework display from aboard the flat top. The experience also spurs on expected and corny lines about the animal’s momentary state of ecstasy and whether the moment is worthwhile. After all, the male glow worm mates and dies. Think about it.

If you’re still itching for an excursion, charter a boat or plane to Grand Turk and walk through history of the islands and their connection to Christopher Columbus . . . head back to Providenciales, your customs entry point and the bevvy of tourism and business in the Turks and Caicos, to shop and dine . . . or make your way to Little Water Cay and wander down the boardwalks throughout the preserve to catch a glimpse of native iguanas. Keep in mind that you really don’t need to leave the island to see an iguana or two as you stroll, run, or bike on the sandy roads that crisscross the beautiful terrain.

It’s probably best to take a tip from those of us who’ve loved and lived on the island for decades and simply stay put. Instead of thinking of what “to do,” consider what “to don’t.” It doesn’t get any better than Pine Cay. If you do decide to join us, one last tip: Cay is an English term meaning “small island,” and is pronounced “key.” So remember to say it correctly, take off your shoes, and enjoy one of the most extraordinary places in the world. If lack of cars, bars, and shops is what you’re looking for, you’ll fit right in. You’ll also likely come back.