Neil Burnie 2014-04-21 23:07:15
Each year, as February approaches there are some individuals who start to get very excited about the arrival of some international tourists. But these are not your average get-offthe- plane-and-head-for-the-hotels-and-beaches tourists. They’re a bit bigger and a bit noisier, and some of them make quite a splash out on Sally Tucker’s and Challenger Banks. The mighty humpbacks are coming! Peak whale watching time for visitors is usually the latter end of March and the first two weeks of April, but you can see a whale for many months before or after these few weeks — if you’re lucky enough. I have had the unrivalled pleasure of actually swimming with these gentle giants; to have a 40-tonne animal come and make eye contact is a humbling experience. It is key to let the animals approach you, and not to chase or harass them in any way. They will sometimes be put off by the sound of the outboard engines and bubbles from the exhaust. It is best to drift with dead motors and wait for the whales to come to you — and it doesn’t hurt to drum the side of the boat with your hands. It’s been said that they seem to prefer reggae played through the sound system of some fishing boats. Contact the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum & Zoo (bamz.org) or the Island Tour Centre (islandtourcentre.com) for details on whale watching trips. But don’t expect to get wet; liability rules prevent entering the water from the majority of commercial boats. NATURE ON DISPLAY Beyond the hiking trails and self-guided nature tours, you can have a closer look at Bermuda’s environmental makeup through various institutions and venues. Just at the east entrance to Hamilton, you can experience the wonders of the sea at the Bermuda Underwater Exploration Institute (BUEI). This world-class interactive museum focuses on marine ecosystems, with sophisticated multimedia demonstrations that bring visitors closer to the depths. Climb into their simulated Nautilus-X2 — a state-of-the-art submersible — or venture into the shark cage if you dare. Here you can experience the wonders of the ocean without getting wet! Visit one of the largest shell collections in the world and discover rare and precious artefacts in the Treasure Room and Teddy Tucker Shipwreck Gallery. Fun for all ages, every nook of the museum is designed to teach and enrich. You can also learn about local wildlife at the Bermuda Aquarium, Museum & Zoo (BAMZ) located at 40 North Shore Road in Flatts Village. Founded in 1926, it is one of the oldest continuously operating aquariums in the western hemisphere. Focusing on the special nature of island species and on the ecology of Bermuda, BAMZ’s exhibits include indigenous fish, local reptiles, pink flamingos, ring-tailed lemurs, Galapagos tortoises and a giant replica of a living coral reef, to name a few. In Hamilton, you may want to take a rest or a leisurely stroll through Queen Elizabeth Park, formerly Par-la-Ville Park, a refreshing oasis within the capital’s business district. In addition to the plentiful flora and gorgeous landscaping that undulates across multiple staircases, you’ll see large rubber trees at the entrance, which were brought from Guyana and planted in 1857. Mark Twain is said to have marvelled at these enormous trees upon his first visit. For more communing with nature, visit the Botanical Gardens in Paget Parish. At this largest of all public gardens in Bermuda you can view hundreds of flowers, trees and shrubs amongst a number of horticultural exhibits. Also on the grounds is Camden, the official residence of the premier, which itself boasts a lovely rose garden. However, the ideal destination for rose lovers in Bermuda is Waterville, an estate that dates back to 1725. It was once the home of the Trimingham family, who established department stores in Bermuda beginning in 1842. Today, it is the headquarters of the Bermuda National Trust, a nonprofit that preserves natural, architectural and historic sites. Guided tours of the home and gardens are often combined with walking tours of nearby Paget Marsh, offering visitors a complete and thorough look at the evolution of life in Bermuda. Farther east, in Devonshire Parish off the South Road, is Palm Grove, a private estate whose gardens are open to the public. So named for the large variety of palms there, the centrepiece of the garden is a lily pond with a grassy bas-relief map of Bermuda. In St. George’s you’ll find a number of small gardens, parks and cemeteries. Don’t miss Somers’ Garden. This tranquil spot in the middle of town contains various plant species, but it is more famous for being the final (albeit partial) resting place of Admiral Sir George Somers. According to legend, he loved Bermuda so much that he requested to be buried there. But when he died in 1610, his nephew only fulfilled part of Somers’ request; he buried Somers’ heart in Somers’ Garden but took the rest of the body back to England in a barrel of rum for burial. Near St. George’s in Ferry Reach, make sure to stop at the Bermuda Institute of Ocean Sciences (BIOS). This working research station, founded in 1903, has a state-of-the-art exploration vessel and is world-renowned for its ongoing oceanographic studies. You can tour the laboratories and campus on Wednesdays at 10 a.m. and also check out the vessel when it is docked to learn about the current research being conducted on Bermuda’s undersea ecosystems. STEP BACK IN TIME Whilst Bermuda’s natural attractions provide glimpses into life on the island, the exploration of Bermuda’s heritage isn’t complete without visiting the homes, buildings and forts that have witnessed the growth of this British Overseas Territory. A large portion of these sites are found in the historical Town of St. George. Near where the original settlers of Bermuda arrived, St. George’s was the territory’s capital until 1815. One of the oldest buildings in Bermuda is the State House. Built in 1620 as the House of Assembly, this building has been rented to a Masonic lodge since 1816 for the annual price of one peppercorn. In Broad Alley, you’ll find the Old Rectory, a cottage built in 1699 that exemplifies the architecture of the day but which is better known for the harpsichord-playing ghost who haunts it. The rectory, however, may be viewed only from the outside; so chances are that you will not see or hear the phantom. Near the Old Rectory is the north entrance to St. Peter’s Church, Their Majesties Chappell, a regal title conferred by Queen Elizabeth II in honour of the Church’s 400th anniversary in 2012. The church is open to the public on weekdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Visitors are welcome to attend service on Sunday mornings at 11 a.m. Of particular note is the unique 17th-century silver communion set on display in the vestry. It was given to the Church in 1697 by King William III. Up the hill on Church Folly Lane is the Unfinished Church, a massive Gothic structure once intended to replace St. Peter’s Church, which was considered beyond repair. Construction began in 1874 but was halted on various occasions because of financial difficulties and dissent within the clergy. Finally, in the 1920s a hurricane damaged the structure enough for the city to abandon the project altogether. Remaining funds were used to restore St. Peter’s instead. Until recently, one could enter the unfinished structure, but it was closed indefinitely in 2010 because it posed imminent risk to its visitors. It is still viewable from the outside, however, and should not be missed. East of the Unfinished Church is Fort St. Catherine & Museum, towering over the beach where Bermuda’s first settlers washed ashore in 1609. This 19th-century fortification houses a museum with military exhibits and a weapons collection. Visitors can also see historical exhibits at the World Heritage Centre in Penno’s Wharf. With an orientation gallery and the Gateway to Bermuda exhibit, amongst other exhibits, it also offers visitors a walk-through of Bermuda’s early history, from the Age of Discovery to the U.S. Civil War. In Smith’s Parish, you’ll find Verdmont, a beautiful example of Georgian architecture still in pristine condition. Built around 1710, virtually no structural changes had been made, and so it remained in its original condition until recently without electricity or plumbing. Famous for its antique furnishings, the house is chock full of lavish artefacts made from the once-abundant Bermuda cedar, as well as fine period pieces from the 18th and 19th centuries. In the City of Hamilton, make sure to visit the Bermuda Historical Society Museum for a dose of Bermudian history. Located on Queen Street, this museum complements the exhibits in St. George’s with artefacts from the life of Admiral sir George Somers. Whilst on Queen Street, pop in at the Perot Post Office, headquarters of 19th-century Postmaster William B. Perot, who produced the first Bermudian postage stamp. Only 11 of these “Perot Provisional” stamps are known to exist currently, and each is worth more than $100,000. As you make your way through Hamilton, you’ll see Sessions House, an 1819 Georgian building with a striking clock tower and façade. The House of Assembly and Supreme Court currently meet there, but you can tour this active landmark. On Church Street, you may also visit City Hall and Arts Centre — one of the most refined buildings in the city. The all-white building with a clock tower is home to the Bermuda National Gallery, which provides temporary and permanent art exhibits to all visitors free of charge. On the floor above you will find the Bermuda Society of Arts, where local art displayed in frequently changing exhibitions can be purchased. In nearby Paget Parish, you can see more art at The Masterworks Museum of Bermuda Art. Housed in a 19th-century building, this former arrowroot factory turned state-of-the-art gallery is home
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