Wa­ter wheels

Hop aboard for a new craze in the Caribbean

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - DESTINATION AFLOAT - NICK BOU­LOS

“Th­ese views don’t come for free,” says in­struc­tor An­son. “So speed it up or we’re do­ing an­other lap of the bay.” He is ped­alling at speed, leav­ing a trail of foamy bub­bles in his wake. Pant­ing, I fail to muster much of a re­sponse, but set off in pur­suit. Cy­cling on wa­ter is ev­ery bit as hard as it sounds.

Two things soothe my dis­com­fort. There’s the splen­did sur­round­ings (slap bang be­tween the Pi­tons, the iconic twin peaks of the Caribbean is­land of St Lu­cia) and this novel mode of trans­port. I am road-test­ing — or rather wa­ter-test­ing — a new Schiller “wa­ter bike”. It’s an in­no­va­tive con­trap­tion, a hy­brid of a bi­cy­cle and a cata­ma­ran, in­vented a few years ago by a Cal­i­for­nian chap named Ju­dah Schiller who swiftly set about show­cas­ing his new toy by “cy­cling” across San Fran­cisco Bay in 2013. The bikes made waves, as it were, and the craze has since ex­tended south­east to the Caribbean.

It ar­rived in St Lu­cia early this year and Sugar Beach, a Viceroy Re­sort prop­erty su­perbly lo­cated be­tween the is­land’s UNESCO World Her­itage-listed peaks, is the first prop­erty to of­fer the un­usual ex­pe­ri­ence. Guests can opt for in­de­pen­dent ex­plo­ration, a nice leisurely jaunt around the bay or, like me, be put through their paces dur­ing a guided on-wa­ter spin class. “This is dif­fer­ent from any spin class you’ve done be­fore,” su­per-fit An­son re­marks as we haul our bikes down the beach and into the tepid shal­lows of Anse des Pi­tons, the 5km ex­panse of wa­ter that sep­a­rates the Pi­tons. From the nearby wooden pier, cu­ri­ous glances are cast in our di­rec­tion by kayak­ers, scuba divers and stand-up pad­dle-board­ers.

Aboard my stain­less-steel steed, I slide my bare feet into the straps and push off gen­tly. To my sur­prise, it re­sponds just like a nor­mal bike. Even the slight­est turn of the han­dle­bars sends me in a dif­fer­ent di­rec­tion as the sub­merged pro­pel­ler, pow­ered by the ped­als, causes warm wa­ter to splash my calves. Over my shoul­der, clus­ters of white vil­las with in­fin­ity pools are sprin­kled across the hill­side and the re­sort’s 40ha of trop­i­cal fo­liage. On the sweep­ing, cres­cent-shaped beach — un­doubt­edly the finest on the is­land; its pow­dery cus­tard-yel­low sand is im­ported from Guyana — I won­der which A-lis­ters are shel­ter­ing un­der rows of thatched um­brel­las. Oprah Win­frey has kicked back and re­laxed at Sugar Beach; Matt Da­mon re­newed his wed­ding vows in a star-stud­ded cer­e­mony in 2013; and Gwyneth Pal­trow and Chris Martin hol­i­dayed here dur­ing hap­pier times.

I am pretty sure fit­ness fiend Gwyn­nie would’ve signed up for this spin class if it had been avail­able. You can ex­pect to burn more than 2000 kilo­joules dur­ing 30 min­utes of thigh-bust­ing ex­er­cise, but the real in­cen­tive comes from the unique per­spec­tive on St Lu­cia’s most iconic vista. From my sad­dle, the Pi­tons seem to soar from the sap­phire sea like two almighty rain­for­est-clad book­ends. We cy­cle south, pass­ing Mana­tee, the re­sort’s wooden sail­ing sloop, bound for a dis­tant buoy pointed out by An­son, who jokes (I hope) that he will ex­tend the class if I don’t reach it be­fore he does.

St Lu­cia may be pre­mium fly-and-flop ter­ri­tory but it’s an is­land that de­liv­ers on ac­tion, ad­ven­ture and adrenaline just as it does sun, sea and sand. Bik­ers seek­ing the more tra­di­tional op­tion of trails on terra firma are well catered for around the forests and black-sand beaches at Anse Mamin on the west coast. Routes in­clude the chal­leng­ing Tin­ker’s Trail with gra­di­ents of up to 60 de­grees and the most ad­ven­tur­ous of St Lu­cian pur­suits, scal­ing Gros Pi­ton. The first to tackle it did so out of des­per­a­tion. Dur­ing the slave re­bel­lion of 1748, a band of free­dom fight­ers known as the Bri­g­ands sought so­lace on the slopes of this mighty volcanic peak, which was formed about 260,000 years ago. Their fu­ri­ous “masters” re­leased poi­sonous snakes at the base of the moun­tain as way of pun­ish­ment.

Fast for­ward a cou­ple of cen­turies and hol­i­day­mak­ers fol­low in their tracks, but with­out the worry of ven­omous crea­tures.

Hav­ing reached the buoy, I think, wrongly, that our work is done. An­son points at an­other across the bay in the shadow of Pe­tit Pi­ton. “Right, let’s go. Work hard now and you can have an ice-cold Pi­ton beer tonight.” Sea­weed floats on the sur­face of the wa­ter, which has mor­phed into the deep­est of blues. At times, trop­i­cal fish ap­pear from the depths as bright as sub­merged fire­flies.

Ped­alling against the wind proves even harder. Long rip­ples dance across the sur­face while speed­boats send waves far and wide that cause our bikes to bob up and down. Sweat is trick­ling down my face as we progress to­wards Pe­tit Pi­ton (750m), its pointy peak stand­ing like a crooked witch’s hat. We get close enough to study its many im­per­fec­tions, such as dark crevices and black marks smeared down its scabrous sur­face, like mas­caras­tained cheeks.

The sun is slowly sink­ing to­wards the hori­zon. Bands of am­ber and pink are streaked across the sky and the moon is start­ing to rise above the dark­en­ing hill­sides to the east. We slowly pedal back to the shore, mind­ful of spell­bound snorkellers float­ing in the cor­ner of the bay des­ig­nated a Na­tional Marine Re­serve. Get­ting more au­di­ble with each ro­ta­tion of my ped­als are the sounds of happy hour on the beach — a live sax­o­phon­ist and a cho­rus of clink­ing cock­tail glasses. And wait­ing just for me is an ice-cold and much de­served bot­tle of Pi­ton beer.

TELE­GRAPH ME­DIA GROUP • viceroy­ho­tel­san­dresorts.com • stlu­cianow.com

Wa­ter bik­ing off St Lu­cia; Sugar Beach, top right; Viceroy Re­sort, above right

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