The hiking continues! The first blog post of 'Discover Statia' highlighted the two different routes from Lower through Upper Town Oranjestad and all the way to the end of Rosemary Lane. Now, we take the Quill Trail to hike into the National Park and up to the crater rim. Some of the best hiking in the Caribbean is waiting for you on this dormant volcano on St. Eustatius.
Hiking is more fun together
It is also safer. As there isn‘t cellphone reception throughout all the trails in the Quill National Park, Statia Tourism advises you hike at least with two people. The more, the merrier! If you prefer to go alone or don‘t have a hiking buddy one day, make sure you let somebody know where you are going and when you plan to be back. Notify that person once you are back so we can keep each other safe in our small community. Talking about community, for those of you new to Statia or visiting the island, a lot happens on Facebook (What we do in Statia or STATIA Rent borrow and sell).
The team of Devocean Pictures was fortunate to meet up with friends as hiking, same goes for other outdoor activities like diving, is simply more fun together. Courtney and Steve came prepared to the trailhead. After checking 'The hiker‘s guide to the Quill/Boven National Park St. Eustatius' published by STENAPA, we agreed to hike the Quill Trail. After enjoying the gorgeous view at the rim, we decided to continue hiking the Crater Trail.
Basic facts: The Quill Trail
From the top of Rosemary Lane at 140 meters (460 feet) the Quill Trail goes to the crater rim which is round around 400 meters (1300 feet) above sea level.
Duration: 2-3 hours (round trip)
Distance: 3.2 km / 2 miles (round trip)
The path is clearly marked, well-maintained, and mostly shaded if you walk it in the morning. From 11 am the sun heats up the forest, especially in the lower parts of the trail to the South. Also, the drier the forest gets, to more sunlight penetrates through the foliage of the trees (local weather forecast). We recommend good shoes with proper grip for any of the trails in the Quill National Park, though some people hike on flip-flops or even barefoot. A hiking stick helps with stabilization.
For seasoned hikers, like Courtney and Steve, it wouldn't be a problem to walk this trail faster. But why would you want to do that when there is so much to discover along the way? Just take a look:
The Quill/Boven National Park
The name Quill is based on the Dutch word 'kuil' for hole or pit, describing the crater. This dormant stratovolcano (strato = layer) formed about 22,000-32,000 years ago. According to radiocarbon dating, the last major eruption must have been between AD 245 and 365. Instead of lava flowing out of the Quill, the volcano exploded due to the high pressure of gasses inside. The molten rocks and loose material of this eruption shaped the Quill into the form we admire today. With 601 meters, Mazinga Peak in the East is the second-highest point in the Kingdom of the Netherlands. The highest one is Mount Scenery on Saba (hiking on Saba).
The Quill/Boven National Park was the first official national park of the Netherlands Antilles. It was proclaimed in 1998 to protect the unique biodiversity and ensure sustainable use by all stakeholders. Until 2007, activities focused entirely on the Quill as there was a land-use conflict in the Boven area. Together with all the different habitats on the island, the national park is home, migratory stopover, or breeding site for well over 100 endangered species.
The Quill National Park stretches 3.4 km2 (1.3 mi2). It starts at White Wall in the South at sea level and for all the rest of the slopes at 250 meters. The park is managed by St Eustatius National Parks (STENAPA) with the aim to protect unique species and natural landscapes of Statia alike. This protection includes all fauna and flora as well as geological features and historical/cultural ruins within the park.
Tourists as permanent residents of the forest
One of the first tall trees hikers can spot along the Quill Trail is the gum tree (Bursera simaruba). It is easily identified by the reddish-brown bark which exfoliates in thin flakes. As this looks very much like the skin of a tourist who spent too much time in the Caribbean sun, this tree is locally called a tourist tree.
The trunks of younger tourist trees often have a green colour underneath which sets a wonderful contrast to the red flakes, especially when the sunlight shines through. If you are interested to learn more about flora and fauna along any of the hiking trails of St. Eustatius, you can book a guide.
Gum trees can grow up to 30 meters and attract birds and butterflies. In the picture above, the tree trunk is used by termites. Termites are a group of insects which consume a wide variety of decaying plant material from wood and leaves to humus. This is called decomposing, an important ecosystem service provided by termites, hermit crabs (see below) and other members of the life and food web in and around the forest. Termites are often called white ants, even though they are not related to ants. You hardly ever see them out in the open as they create their own protected path – just like a tunnel. All you see, are the black lines running through the forest.
Hike through various vegetation zones of the Quill National Park
The Quill Trail starts off in scrubland. While hiking up over natural ground with some steps created by either wood or stone, the vegetation goes quickly over to mountain thickets. Apart from the tourist tree, the dominant species here is the blackberry tree (Eugenia ligustina). It produces edible fruits after flowering. These taste best when purple and juicy. Dry evergreen forest is changing into semi-evergreen seasonal forest once you entered the protected zone of the national park at 250 meters above sea level (820 feet). At that height, a signpost directs you to the left (Crater, Panorama, Mazinga). However, the bench next to it is a good place to rest and drink some water (minimum requirement is one large bottle per person per hike).
The next section of the Quill Trail has no more steps. The well-maintained natural path slowly climbs up along the Western side of the volcano where a serpentine track leads to greater height. The further you venture up,the taller the trees get. Apart from tourist trees, these are mainly silk cotton trees (Ceiba pentandra), white cedar (Tabebuia heterophylla), locust trees (Hymenaea courbaril), yellow plum (Spondias mombin) and water mampoo (Pisonia subordata).
Also, the air gets cooler. Take in the scents. The forest smells different after a dry period than after a rain shower. Notice the various forms of tree trunks and how the roots grab hold of the mountain. Often the roots of one tree are not only holding that one firmly in the ground, but its roots are supporting the roots of another tree too. It looks like trees are landing fellow trees a hand. After all, the forest is one big living symbiosis. Can you feel its grounding energy pulsating at the Quill?
In one of the gullies, there is a tall silk cotton tree (Ceiba pentandra) rising towards the sky on the right-hand side. Young trees have sharp spikes growing on the trunk. These spikes recede when the tree grows taller. However, you can still spot the markings of these spikes on the bark. This gully is filled with some large boulders. Slaves had to place them here to reduce the power of water flushing down and prevent erosion (learn more about the history Statia in the local museum).
At the next clearly marked junction, we recommend taking the small detour down to the viewpoint (less than 100 meters / 330 feet). Beautifully framed by trees, you can enjoy the view all the way down towards Oranjestad and Signal Hill. In the distance, Saba rises out of the deep blue ocean. The highest peak, Mount Scenery, is often covered in clouds. On this day, however, the cloud cover lifted to present the whole outline of the island.
On the last part, the steepest of this trail, the vegetation gets still thicker. Notice the different kinds of mushrooms. Some thrive on decaying wood, others on living trees. Also, lianas and vines make the giants of the forest their home in the search for sunlight, while epiphytes such as bromeliads start their lives directly up in the trees.
Discover the animals of the woods
Luckily, there is so much more than trees to take in. If you listen carefully, you hear birds singing or cooing. The endangered bridled quail dove (Geotrygon mystacea) stands out of the group of ground doves with white markings on the face and a blue-to-green hue around its neck. Every once in a while, we are lucky enough to spot this pretty bird, walking through the leaves on the ground at the flanks of the Quill. A more common and vocal bird is the grey kingbird (Tyrannus dominicensis) which hikers can already encounter in the lower partsof the Quill Trail.
Watch out to not step onto any Caribbean hermit crab (Coenobita clypeatus), a.k.a. soldier crab, crawling up and rolling down the volcano. Hermit crabs set a great example in the way they acquire a new shell. When its shell is getting too small and a hermit comes across one which isn't just the right fit, it will just sit and wait there. Over time, more and more hermit crabs are joining in. In the end, they are forming a line from small to big and ideally everyone moves up one house.
Caribbean hermit crabs feed on animal and plant remains, overripe fruit, and faeces of other animals(decomposers). Females release fertilized eggs into the ocean. The spawning happens on certain nights, usually around August. Take a look at this interesting creature and read more about its background and behaviour in the description of this short clip.
There is a variety of butterflies and other insects from spiders to wasps. The nests are the reason Polistes are called paper wasps. First, the insects gather fibers from plant stems and dead wood. Then, they mix these fibers with their saliva. Finally, they use this grey or brown papery material to construct their nests attached to branches or trunks along the trails (read more on jackies here).
Not a fan of insects or simply like bigger animals? Different species of lizards roam the underground as well as the trees. Also, the red-bellied racer snake (Alsophis rufiventris) can be found anywhere along this path. Years ago, there was a resident rooster waiting for hikers around the big rocks at the end of the Quill Trail. These days, pearly-eyed thrashers (Margarops fuscatus) have taken its place. They come in for a close look, especially when you unpack your snacks (watch and read more about this bird here).
Enjoy the view and keep on hiking
The grand finale of the Quill Trail is the view inside the crater. When you arrive at the rim, just walk a couple of steps up to your right. It is the perfect photo and filming opportunity! Take nothing but memories. Leave nothing but footprints.
At the moment, STENAPA is setting up a new labeling system for the different trails in the Quill/Boven National Park. There are different designs and colors of footprints. For the way back the colors of each trail are inverted - in case you are wondering.
At the end of the Quill Trail, you can opt to continue hiking. There are three different trails: Crater, Panorama and Mazinga. We are going to hike all of them for you and present each trail in a blog post.
Nature, culture and history – St. Eustatius has it all. Discover Statia by foot. Ecotourism at its best.