Rugged and continually breathtaking, Tobago’s southern shoreline is usually referred to as the windward coast. It’s spanned by the narrow, winding Windward Road, which sticks close to the sea and provides fantastic views of choppy Atlantic waters and tiny spray-shrouded islands. The parade of languid coastal villages here is a complete contrast to the more developed southwest, and though there is the odd guesthouse on or around the main road, this isn’t the most enticing area to stay – tides and strong undercurrents make some of the most attractive-looking beaches unsuitable for swimming, and where they’re not, the often muddied water can be a bit off-putting. Nonetheless, the coastline between Scarborough and the King’s Bay, where the road swings inland on its way to Speyside does make for a fantastically scenic drive, with plenty of roadside bars and diners in which to stop off and have a beer or some lunch and one or two diverting attractions, the most popular of which is a tour and a taste of local chocolate at the gorgeous Tobago Cocoa Estate, followed by a refreshing dip at Argyle Waterfall, one of the prettiest in the island. Beyond Roxborough, the largest settlement on the windward coast, the road swings inland and upwards, swooping spectacularly down to the sea again at Speyside, best known for its fantastic snorkelling and scuba diving, and the only place on the coast with any kind of tourist development.

Argyle Waterfall

East of neat Glamorgan village, the Windward Road passes the Richmond waterworks on the right before returning to the coast at the tiny village of Belle Garden. Another few kilometres further along Carapuse Bay will take you to the entrance road to the much-visited Argyle Waterfall, the island’s highest waterfall, tumbling 54m out of the greenery into a deep pool.

Just past the entrance, you pay the entrance fee at the Roxborough Estate Visitor Service Co-Operative booth; there’s also a café selling soft drinks and snack. To access the falls, you follow the easily passable cocoa-tree-lined path to a grassy car park. Official guides wearing blue, green or yellow Argyle Waterfall shirts will be waiting here to walk with you to the falls (the guide’s services are included in the entrance fee, although a tip is expected), giving a brief history of the Roxborough Estate and pointing out birds and flowers on the way.

The falls themselves are a pleasant fifteen-minute walk from the car park, and you can hear the water long before you reach it. Argyle is one of Tobago’s most accessible cascades, but to see the best parts you’ll have to exert yourself a little and climb up the right-hand side along steep and sometimes bushy paths. There are three main waterfalls; the second is particularly strong – increased flow during the rainy season (June–Nov) creates a constant fine mist that soon soaks you to the skin. The second tier is great for a dip in a natural jacuzzi, as there are plenty of rocky seats on which to perch and get a pounding shoulder massage. If you’re feeling energetic, climb up even further to the deepest swimming pool – and the smallest section of waterfall – where you can dive or swing in Tarzan-style on a vine. If the climb doesn’t appeal, drive right up to the highest swimming spot.

Flagstaff Hill

The Windward Road strikes inland from Speyside’s eastern outskirts on its way from the Atlantic to the Caribbean coast, climbing steeply upwards through the island’s central spike before plummeting down to the opposite shoreline. Tobago’s most easterly portion of tarmac marks the last sign of “civilization”; northeast of here, the land is completely undeveloped, with no electricity or piped water for the hardy handful of small-scale farmers, bush hunters and fishermen who live here. Just before the descent to the Caribbean, there’s a signposted turn-off for Flagstaff Hill, with the paved road sweeping past some very fancy homes. At the crest of the hill, the road opens up to reveal a wide grassy area dotted with benches and overlooked by a lofty communications tower and mobile phone mast. The wind whistles through the metal and the views are absolutely superlative: Tyrel’s Bay, with Little Tobago and Goat Island to one side, and to the other, Man O’ War Bay, Booby Island, Cambleton Battery and, much further out, Sisters Rocks. This excellent vantage point was once used by British and French soldiers, who used mirrors to warn their colleagues stationed at Cambleton Battery below of an approaching ship.

Granby Point

Just beyond Mount St George, you’ll pass Studley Park Quarry on your left, a busy commercial enterprise that’s steadily eating into the surrounding hillsides. Beyond the unassuming village of Studley Park, home to Tobago’s municipal dump, a right-hand turn onto a short gravel track leads to the sea at Granby Point. The track ends at a car park where you’ll find a small children’s playground. A flight of concrete steps leads off the car park and through some rather fly-infested bush to Fort Granby, originally built on Granby Point by the British in around 1765 to protect Georgetown and briefly occupied by the French between 1781 and 1787. Nothing remains of the original fortification; the cannons are long gone, replaced by pretty gazebos, mown lawns and picnic tables. The views of the sea and nearby Smith’s Island are fantastic, and there is good swimming to be had on either of the beaches which flank the point. Barbados Bay to the right is the more populated; the fishermen’s shacks on the sand make it a good spot to hang out, while the more deserted Pinfold Bay on the other side is a better bet if you fancy sunbathing; neither has any facilities, however, and both are only accessible from Granby Point. There’s a small bar in the car park at the base of the steps, serving drinks and basic meals.

King’s Bay

Turning inland east of Roxborough, the Windward Road swings through the hilltop village of Delaford, making one almighty bend at the outskirts to reveal a breathtaking view of the spiky coconut plantation surrounding the beautiful, deep blue King’s Bay below. The beach here is one of the few along the windward coast to provide changing facilities, and offers gentle waters, reefs and fine dark sand; nonetheless, it’s almost always deserted save for the lifeguards. There are also six attractive gazebos on a strip of grass next to the beach which make good spots for picnicking, and a small café selling snacks and drinks. The profusion of Carib Indian artefacts found here (on display at the Tobago Museum) indicate that King’s Bay was once the site of a large settlement; some suggest that the bay is named after Carib cacique (chief) King Peter, though it’s more likely that that honour goes to King Peter’s Bay on the Caribbean coast.

Little Tobago

The most easterly point of the T&T republic, the two-square-kilometre outcrop of Little Tobago has been known as “Bird of Paradise Island” since the beginning of the twentieth century, when it was bought by keen ornithologist Sir William Ingram, who in 1909 transported 24 greater birds of paradise (Paradisaea apoda) from Aru island in New Guinea and installed them in the island, though they slowly died out thanks to hurricanes and hunters. When Sir William died in 1924, his heirs gave Little Tobago back to the government on the condition that it receive protected status. It has remained a bird sanctuary ever since, uninhabited except for one of the Caribbean’s largest sea-bird colonies, which includes impressive flocks of frigate birds, boobies, terns and the spectacular red-billed tropic bird. You’ll also hear the crows and clucks of feral cocks and chickens brought here by the now-departed resident caretaker, who was unable to round up his private flock before leaving the island. Most people visit the island as part of a glass-bottom boat tour, but birdwatchers can also arrange specialist tours with the island’s eco-oriented tour companies. There are no facilities on Little Tobago, so bring water and snacks with you.

All the boats dock at a small beach facing the mainland, from where you get beautiful views of Speyside and Pigeon Peak above, one of Tobago’s highest points at 576m. Just up from the dock, the THA have built a handsome wooden structure slated to hold a museum at some distant point in the future. Beyond here, several trails cut during the island’s brief spell as a cotton plantation thread into interior and up to a gazebo offering gorgeous views of the island’s rocky coastline and the nesting grounds of the red-billed tropic bird.

Roxborough

ROXBOROUGH is the largest town along the windward coast. Its main drag runs parallel to the sea, although – unlike almost everywhere else on the windward parade – there are also a few residential streets stretching inland. The few small shops are interspersed with plenty of dilapidated and abandoned buildings, giving the town a rather run-down appearance. It’s a laidback and peaceful place, although that hasn’t always been the case. In the hard times that followed emancipation, Roxborough was the scene of the infamous and bloody Belmanna Riots, a rebellion that was to have a far-reaching effect on Tobago’s system of governance. Apart from filling up your petrol tank or picking up a takeaway lunch, there’s no real reason to linger; the rubbish-strewn beach is nothing special.

Speyside

The last sizeable village on the windward coast, SPEYSIDE is not as pretty as nearby Charlotteville, with just a thin slip of grey-sand beach, but then most people come here to explore the fantastic offshore reefs rather than to admire the scenery. Despite its emergence as a scuba-diving paradise and the easy accessibility of nearby reefs for some of the best snorkelling on the island, Speyside is a soporific kind of a place with a very end-of-the-road feel. The smattering of hotels seem to only ever have a couple of guests, with most of the activity confined to the dive shops and the tour buses that stop off at lunchtime to disgorge visitors at ever-popular Jemma’s restaurant.

Though Speyside itself isn’t particularly scenic, it’s hard not to be blown away by the amazing view from the lookout point on its western outskirts, just before the Windward Road descends into the village proper. This lofty spot affords a marvellous panorama of the village, the turquoise reef-studded waters of Tyrrel’s Bay and the emerald-green hillocks of Little Tobago and Goat Island, the former a renowned birdwatching spot. There’s good forest hiking to be had along Murchiston Trace, a tiny road that strikes off to the right from the Windward Road just before the Speyside lookout; ask in Speyside for a local guide.

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Andy Turner
10/16/2020
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