East of Blanchisseuse, the North Coast Road gives way to undeveloped coastline. The next piece of tarmac is some 30km to the east at Matelot; in between, you’ll find some impressive hiking along a beautiful bench trail – the local name for the old donkey tracks cut in the late nineteenth century to transport goods and service the then thriving cocoa estates. Well-trodden, the trail dips and climbs through the remnants of abandoned estates and secondary forest, with the sea swinging spectacularly in and out of view. Despite periodic government proposals to construct a road along this stretch of the coast, the area remains a sanctuary for bird and animal life. Many of the beaches are prime laying spots for the giant leatherback turtle during the March–August season, and the birdwatching is superb; together with fine fishing for pampano, tarpin, jackfish and ancho, the area offers rich pickings for nature lovers.
Though few attempt it, you can hike the bench trail all the way from Blanchisseuse to Matelot, but only the fittest can hope to complete the journey in a day. Most make the trip in two stages, camping on a beach along the way. Though it is easy to follow, it’s not a good idea to walk the trail alone past Paria Bay; there have been reports of drug-smuggler landings at deserted bays. Saturdays, Sundays and public holidays are prime times for local hiking groups to take to the bush. Make sure you start your hike with a full bottle of water, and you can fill up from streams along the way.