Hiking is more than just a long walk, as you’ll discover from our Hiking in Heaven Part 1 blog on Plitvice Lakes.
I once saw a hiker in the Arches National Park in Utah wearing a T-shirt that said ‘hiking is the best therapy’, and ever since I’ve adopted that motto as the reason why I go walkabout.
There is pleasure in the pathless woods but give me a trail any day. I want to do them all. The Appalachian Trail, The Bibbulmun Track, The French Way… all the wonderfully named paths through mountain and forest and desert and jungle that can take days or weeks or even months to complete.
So imagine my excitement when I found one of the world’s best hiking trails cutting through the jungle right on the doorstep of the house I was housesitting with Carmen in the Caribbean.
The Waitukubuli National Trail is one of the world’s newest, and dare I say most difficult, walking trails and goes from one end of the Caribbean island of Dominica to the other.
It takes in humid rain forest, thick jungle, leg busting mountains, majestic sea cliffs and plunging canyons – it’s a showcase of Dominica’s cultural and natural heritage.
Carmen and I were lucky enough to hike some of the trail, which is split into 14 different sections, each with varying degrees of difficulty and length.
You can do it in one go if you feel limber enough but most people (including us) do it as a series of day hikes.
All in all we managed to complete four segments – far fewer than we would have liked – but we plan to return one day and hike the 10 remaining on our list.
To give you a taste for the adventure here’s what we saw and did on our hikes:
Waitukubuli National Trail – Segment 6
The first part of the trail we completed was Segment 6 which takes you from the coastal settlement of Castle Bruce to an area called Hatton Garden. In between these two bookends is the Carib territory, a reservation for Dominica’s indigenous people known as The Kalinago.
The thin walking trail snakes up and down a series of ocean facing hills covered in dense woodland and scrub and the pounding Atlantic ocean surges onto submerged rocks and reefs. Hummingbirds dart in between flowers and cows munch lazily in the long grass.
When you reach the Kalingao village it’s like stepping back hundreds of years in time to when people lived a simple yet surprisingly sophisticated life in the jungle – using everything around them to support their existence.
If you want a good warm up on the trail then Segment 6 is ideal – not too hard, not too long (15km) and very, very beautiful.
Waitukubuli National Trail – Segments 13 and 14
During our stay on Dominica we made fast friends with a group of Aussies, Brits, Yanks and Frenchies who were volunteering on the island. In their spare time a few of them had managed to hike every single section of the Waitukubuli and had the leg muscles and war stories to prove it!
We were dead keen to do a few more sections of the trail before we left and luckily a very bright young American named Katie invited us to tackle two sections with her on our final weekend on the island.
She had hiked every segment but two – 13 and 14 – which wind along the Atlantic side of the island from Penville to Capuchin and then from Capuchin to Cabrits National Park.
To get to the trail head we drove all the way from our house in Pond Casse in the centre of the island to the north west tip of the island where the peaceful anchorage of Portsmouth sits astride the Atlantic and Caribbean. From there we hopped in a taxi that took us inland again and dropped us off at the start of Segment 13 – a journey to start a journey!
Segment 13 winds its way along a narrow track through dense jungle that opens up suddenly to soaring vistas of steep valleys and majestic ocean views. The track itself is a little overgrown in places but we managed to bash our way through.
The trail leads down to the coast and becomes Segment 14 quite seamlessly. This section was a bit of let down I must say, a fair few of its kilometers are just regular roads and a huge section involves crossing a very rocky beach which seemed to go forever. Apparently they are improving the route to help you climb over the rocks more easily, enabling you to avoid the road. Who knows when it’ll be ready by though.
Waitukubuli National Trail – Segment 5
I missed out on this Segment 5 of the Waitukubuli because I was a bit crook.
But Carmen went with her Mum and Dad who had flown out to Dominica all the way from Australia to spend Christmas and New Year’s Eve with us. It was the very last day of their visit so they decided to spend it walking the trail.
Segment 5 runs from Pont Casse to Castle Bruce but the Allan’s only had time to do half. But what a half it was!
They started walking at the trailhead near the Ponde Casse roundabout and passed scores of waterfalls and rivers on the muddy path. Around halfway along a fork appears where you can descend down to a perfect natural spectacle called Emerald Pool.
Dominica is known and The Nature Island and it’s easy to see why when you visit Emerald Pool. The waterfall and its crystal clear natural pool beg you to take off your kit and dive and in. The rushing of the water, the green of the jungle and the call of wild birds add up to one of the prettiest spots you’ll ever see.
The Waitukubuli Trail takes you to hundreds of places just like Emerald Pool. Whenever I think about Dominica (very often!) I dream about the pleasure of walking those wild trails and the astounding beauty that can be yours just by putting one foot in front of the other.
Downside to the Waitukubuli National Trail
The downside of the Waitukubuli trail is its maintenance. Dominica is a jungle island with lots of heavy weather so any trail or road there is often in poor condition or being worked on.
The big idea of the Waitukubuli trail is for local communities to maintain it – but they don’t get anything for it in return, so there’s no surprise there’s not much work being done. Who knows where the cash is going. If the trail is to survive then Dominica needs to get in gear and more hikers need to use it to create awareness.
What you need to know:
Costs – It costs US$12 for a day pass to hike the trail, or US$40 for a 15 day pass to hike the whole trail. You can purchase the passes at an array of locations which are listed on the Waitukubuli website.
When to go – Avoid the rainy season which runs from June to November. Otherwise Dominica is paradise for the rest of the year.
How to get there – Taxis are a cheap and easy way to get to the trailheads of the segments which can be in remote areas. If you hire a car, park it where you want your hike to end and get a taxi to take you to the start.