Here’s a (little) bit of geology, tips for exploring, and lots of images with named(!) formations for those who want to come prepared. There are also some tips on low light/cave photography and a word (or two) about not disturbing the wild life.
The structure that created the Bahamian islands was deposited over millions of years. Calcium carbonate nodules concreted in a shallow ocean and settled on the bottom of the sea. Over time, these underwater dunes lithified under their own weight. As sea level fluctuated, during the ice ages, these growing carbonate banks regularly popped up above sea level. Chemical weathering (due to atmospheric carbon dioxide) created the swiss-cheese geomorphology typical of karst terrain.
A number of holes, caverns, and caves can be explored on Eleuthera. Most are smaller, such as Preachers cave, the Blue Hole, and Cathedral Cave. Hatchet Bay Cave is the largest one. Here, groundwater has seeped in and created some spectacular stalactites, columns, and draperies.
How to get there
Hatchet Bay Cave can be found by driving south, about two miles past Gregory Town, to the area with all the silos. The road will dip down and you can already see the sign (if it’s standing upright) to the cave on the right side near the bottom of the dip. Turn right and drive a few hundred feet on the dirt road. When it forks, turn right and park. You’ve reached the east entrance of the cave. A sign will point to the stairs that lead down into the first chamber. If you turn left at the fork, you’ll get to an area that is in walking distance to the west entrance/exit of the cave. You could enter via the Jacobs ladder from there but I recommend starting at the eastern (closest to Queens Hwy) end of the cave, especially, if you don’t want to go all the way and/or don’t want to fight your way through the jungle to get back afterwards.
Some recommendations for what to bring/wear:
- Good shoes (I recommend closed-toed shoes, but sandals are not a deal breaker, either. Flip flops, however, will make it unnecessarily difficult. This is not a managed cave. There are slippery steps, rough terrain, ladders, small water holes, and lot’s of loose rocks from tiny to massive. At the end, a Jacobs ladder ascends up into the jungle. From there, a path winds back to the parking lot. Not difficult but not for the faint of heart, either.)
- Head lamp or at least a flashlight (Strings on the ground lead the way. It would be quite difficult to get lost in the cave but stranger things have happened. I recommend stopping when viewing the speleothems or the graffiti. I’ve walked into a ditch or water hole plenty of times when I was engrossed in the scenery. Some rocks are pretty sharp and they hurt. Ouch!)
- Water (Depending on how much time one plans to spend in the cave, water is a good idea. I definitely recommend bringing water for afterwards but I prefer to be hands-free in the cave. It’s nice to have a couple of hands available to hold on to ladders, rocks, etc. Most visitors are done and out after 20 or 30 minutes. At that point, they got over it early and turned around or they’ve actually reached the end.)
- Light clothing (The climate inside the cave is pretty constant throughout. The temperature is on the warm side but fairly comfortable as long as you’re not too dressed up. Don’t bring a jacket, you won’t need it. I wear shorts, a T-shirt, and sneakers or Keens.)
- Camera (If you want to take pictures, I recommend bringing a tripod and extra lighting. Here’s the thing, there are bats in the caves. If you start using your camera flash you’ll disturb them and cave visitors generally don’t react well to startled, erratically flying bats.)
Here’s a tour of the cave:
Level 1 – Chamber 1
Level 2 – Ladder 1
Frozen Waterfall and the Organ.
Left: Dan in front of the Wedding Cake. Right: Walking pas the veil of Witches Hair.
Left: Erica’s Cupcake. Right: Little Castle on the Hill.
Left: The Spear. Right: Graffiti under and around the Dripping Heart.
Cave photography tips:
Bring a light (travel) tripod and lots of time. You’ll need time to keep packing up your gear so you can have your hands free to navigate the various levels and obstacles. You’ll be glad to not have your hands full when you’re climbing over rocks or jumping across a little water hole. You’ll need your tripod to do some long-exposure photography. I use the following settings:
– ISO 800
– 1/15 sec (best put on auto, though)
– focus on the brightest spot lit by your flash-light
About the bats:
You may not see or hear them. That means they may be roosting or hibernating. If they get woken, it’ll weaken them and they might not make it through the season. Bats are critical for the ecosystem, they are major pollinators. If that doesn’t convince you, let me add that they also eat bugs. Lots of bugs.