North Caicos is characterised by large pine and oak trees, dense shrub, a pond that is fed by a subterranean passage, flocks of flamingoes, and the lushest flora in the country. The island is separated into two sections by a large pond of pink flamingoes, appropriately named Flamingo Pond. At low tide the flamingoes can be quite a distance from the best viewing area so it is recommended that photographers and bird watchers carry a telephoto lens and binoculars.
Residents of the island were traditionally farmers. North Caicos has the richest soil and the highest rainfall of all the islands. It is because of these twin blessings that residents of the island have been able to harvest a variety of fruit and vegetables. The island is often referred to as the garden of the Turks & Caicos Islands.
Residents of North Caicos grow yam, mango, avocado, oranges, banana, and papaya. In addition to farming, the people of North Caicos traditionally supplemented their diets by engaging in a little fishing. Today, although life has changed considerably, most North Caicos families still keep some sort of garden.
The western side of North Caicos is comprised of land that slopes downward from the north into the tidal flats of the south. On the western side of Flamingo Pond there are ridges in the northwest and southeast that rise to about 100 feet.
The island has four settlements:
Bottle Creek is the largest of the settlements. It is located on top of a ridge on the northeastern side of Flamingo Pond, just behind the creek from which it derives its name. It is possible to walk across the creek and, on one side, there is a mangrove swamp that acts as a nursery for wild birds. The other side of the creek is secluded but it has some of the best beaches anywhere in the world. There are also shy rock iguanas and wild horses on this side. The airport is just to the north west of Bottle Creek. Along the seaward side of the settlement there are many banana and sugar cane plants. Sisal plants, an orphan from the rope industry of the 1790’s, also grow wild in Bottle Creek. The shallow waters of the creek are home to schooling bonefish and, at its deepest point of five feet, there are puppy sharks and sponges.
Kew is the second largest settlement in North Caicos and was once the capital and the largest settlement on the island. Unlike Bottle Creek, the settlement is located inland, just West of Flamingo Pond. It is the lushest of all the North Caicos settlements. Kew is virtually surrounded with tropical fruit plants that bear sugar apples, guineps, citrus fruit, and cassava. The settlement is believed to have been named after London’s Kew Gardens, home of botanical specimens from around the world. In the summer months the area is colourful with blossoming poinciana and hibiscus flowers.
It is the rich and fertile soil of Key that made it, in the late 1790’s, the home of the most successful plantations in the country. There are plantation ruins still intact at Teron Hill, St. James Hill, and at ‘Wade’s Green’, the largest and most successful plantation of them all. These plantations are all located in or around the Kew township. Despite the initial success of some of the plantations in the Turks & Caicos, however, a combination of the boll weevil, shallow soil, hurricanes, and dangerous harbours and reefs made the plantation owners’ success short lived. When the plantation owners left the Caicos islands some left their freed slaves behind. It was the freed slaves that established the communities of North Caicos and Wade Green’s plantation, in Kew, was chosen as the capital. The main house of Wade Stubb’s plantation, also known as ‘Wade’s Green’, as recent as the early part of this century, was used as a court house and a jail. The ruins of this plantation are the best preserved in the country, with the main house, slave quarters, wells, and the grounds still intact. The ruins make for an interesting visit.
The town of Whitby is small but it is home to the three hotels on North Caicos. The settlement is spread along King’s Road on the road’s northeastern tip, sandwiched between Whitby Beach and Whitby Salina. It is located on the northwestern side of the island, just above Flamingo Pond. The beach in front of the Whitby settlement is pristine and beautiful. Whitby is also the home of the country’s only crab farm.
Sandy Point is located on the western side of Flamingo Pond, about seven miles southwest of Whitby. It is located on the west coast, just across from the resort island of Pine Cay. It is the smallest settlement in North Caicos. The Sandy Point beach is beautiful.
North Caicos also has an Art Centre, where you can watch local ladies basket weave. Although there is no traffic, virtually all the roads in North Caicos are paved. With very large trees on the sides of the roads, there is lots of shade so cycling and motorcycling is an excellent way to visit places of interest. Like Middle and East Caicos, the southern portion of the island is swamp and tidal flats. These tidal flats have been designated by the Ramsar Convention, to be of international importance for the protection of marine life. The island is also home to Cottage Pond, a deep inland lake with underground access to the ocean. There are countless species of birds that include the West Indian Whistling-Duck (an endangered species), terns, pelicans, and hummingbirds.
Of all the features that distinguish North Caicos, its flora and the friendliness of the people are perhaps the most striking.