Years ago, I was one of the journalists whose beat was the Caribbean for Travel-Age East Magazine in New York. I went to many islands –St. Lucia, Martinique, Cozumel, Guadeloupe, St Thomas, St John, Panama, San Blas, Isla Margarita off the tip of Venezuela, and those are the ones that stand out in memory. After awhile, they all seemed somewhat alike: their beaches were glorious, and on those beaches were hotels and resorts, either completed or being built.
That said, I thought I would never again see any pristine Caribbean beach without a resort built nearby, until this trip to Low Bay, on the western side of Barbuda. Barbuda is located 27 miles north of Antigua, in the middle of the Leeward Islands. It can be accessed only by a 20-minute helicopter ride from the Antigua airport, or by a three-hour boat ride across Codrington Bay, aka The Lagoon.
The island is cut in half by this Lagoon; the main part is on the eastern side, and a long thin strip of land and sand is on the western side. The main inhabitants of both areas are Frigate Birds, many thousands in a nesting sanctuary. They live with the human inhabitants of the island, about 1000.
On both sides of the island, there is news destined to change the face and identity of this pink sand paradise for years to come.
The first news is the restoration of the multi-million dollar resort, the KClub, on the southern tip of Barbuda. In the 1980’s and 1990’s, Princess Diana and her entourage were yearly guests, and the KClub’s pink sand beach is named after her. Princess Diana stayed here at least four times, and twice with the two Princes, although children under twelve were usually not allowed. It is said it was the only place she could find peace, as security and discretion, were exceptionally tight.
But, in 2004, the resort was abandoned, but never forgotten. Once owned by the renowned fashion designer Mariuccia Mandelli, who created the Krizia brand (thus the name KClub) it has not been in use for the past 12 years. We walked that KClub beach while there, and noted, with a kind of wistfulness, what this place must have been. There still are forty white beach cottages that line the still-perfect pink sand beach, still many coconut palms swaying in the wind.
This was the first abandoned, once multi-million dollar luxury resort that I had ever seen, or at least se in a small part. Again, sad, with a thought remembered from a Wendell Berry poem, that often, consequence has a dark, impenetrable side. But there is a sliver of light here also. Late last year, actor Robert De Niro and billionaire James Packer, were part of a group that signed an agreement with the government of Antigua and Barbuda to invest $250 million in the KClub. The money, according to the outline agreement, would be used to renovate the club into a five star eco-boutique hotel, a marina with jetties for yachts, licenses for a casino and air service and a new airport for executive jets. The construction is slated to begin in the next 12 months. So hope springs anew on this side of the island, as it does on the western side of the Lagoon.
It was this side, on the beach at Low Bay, that Island Magazine named as the best in the Caribbean. And even here, on the 12-mile strip of beach land, there is change.
Enter Jim Whitteron.
Fifteen months ago, Jim, the veteran, well-respected Caribbean resort developer with projects on St. Barths, St. John (USVI) and Providenciales, walked from the helicopter and helipad at the Lighthouse Bay Resort onto the Low Bay pink sand beach. He looked five miles up the beach, nothing there, and five miles down, still nothing there, and asked, “What’s wrong?”
He had expected at least one or two high-end homes, or beach cottages, or small boutiques, or something, to be on that pink sand beach. But all he saw was the perfect, soft sand with clear, turquoise water that changed from one azure translucence to another, into fifteen, then fifty shades of blue, as the white clouds passed over the Caribbean. The experience was, as he said, “Dazzling and shocking at the same time.”
Jim learned there was basically nothing wrong; it was just that no one had yet to build a home, primary or vacation, on that 12-mile strip of beach land. Its only dwelling was the Lighthouse Bay Resort. The only way to arrive on this area of Barbuda was by helicopter or boat, making this island dimension all the more of an isolated treasure.
But the Lighthouse Bay Resort is in process of becoming less isolated. On Jim’s advice, the resort has a new dimension with the addition Barbuda Bay, a twenty-two ocean front lot development. Even though these large lots have recently come on the market at between $2M and $14M each, interest in these lots, and the different residences that will be built, has been substantial. The opportunity to own and live on a private island sanctuary, accessible only by helicopter or boat, is a dream come true for many.
With those stories still in process, Barbuda has begun to evolve in a positive direction, away from gentle obscurity to a more lively Zeitgeist. The Lighthouse Bay Resort with the Barbuda Bay oceanfront residences are, in their own way, as relevant as the renovation of the K-Club. In both cases, the land will be used for positive purposes; awareness of the island will have significance for the K-Club, as the mature luxury resort DNA will be revitalized. For the new Barbuda Bay beachfront estates, its new DNA will create a new dimension to island and Resort.
New guests at the K Club and new owners of the twenty two elite Barbuda Bay residences will have solitude and sanctuary, all with unimpeded views of fifty shades of blue ocean and sky, reflecting, changing, inspiring daily, for years to come.