Lift off from Port Zante, St Kitts
By Chris Roberts
BASSETERRE, St Kitts -- Cruisers to Alaska know about helicopters. The crème de la crème tour in Skagway and Juneau is strapping into a Temsco chopper for an exhilarating landing on a glacier.
“Of course, there are no glaciers in the Caribbean, so we have the next best thing,” said chief pilot John Whedon, base manager for Skagway, now supervising in St Kitts. “We’re offering an aerial island tour.”
This new venture for Temsco Helicopters, Inc. required repositioning two of their jet ranger versions to St Kitts from Juneau. Whedon says the trip took two weeks and 50 hours of flight time. Temsco’s previous Caribbean experience was flying relief operations for the Antigua government when the volcano on Montserrat erupted. Last summer officials at Temsco looked into the feasibility of implementing tours.
“For the helicopter passenger, the focal point of St Kitts is the dormant volcano Mt Liamuiga, rising 3,792 ft/1,155 m” said Whedon. “The flight actually takes you into the crater – IF the weather permits.”
Many times the volcano’s summit is shrouded.
Other sure-win sights to photograph are Brimstone Hill Fortress, spotted along the south coast, with its firepower pointing toward St Eustatius. Impressive as the largest fort in the Eastern Caribbean, it is rightly called the Gibraltar of the West Indies. The pilot points out the equally shrouded Mount Nevis, punctuating the neighbouring island two miles from St Kitts.
Uncluttered with development, you pass over the rough Atlantic side of St Kitts. Below look for the rails of the only remaining passenger railroad in the Caribbean (a freight train still exists in Cuba).
Try the Fly and Ride combo
The St Kitts Scenic Railway is one of the newer attractions, offering a terra firma tour of the island in a double-decker railcar. The three-hour train ride follows the old sugar cane train tracks and gives gorgeous views of the island’s landscape. The cars are both open air and air conditioned.
The last “sugar train” rattled into the yard in 2005, bringing an end to over 350 years of sugar production on the island. But wait, the train survived. In a unique partnership between government and private enterprise, the privately-owned railway started running excursions. The “Last Railway in the West Indies” is a living link to a past when sugar ruled the island's economy.
Two tours to take
Do the helicopter portion only – 20-25 minute flight. Or, when you land, board the train for the relaxing, historic train – the around the volcano, a combo tour that showcases all of St Kitts.
Temsco has been in business for 55 years, operating aerial tours for 30 years.
“We also have proposals in to do charters, search and rescue, and photography sessions,” added Whedon. “These other services are appealing to the people and government.”
Booking information: www.temscoair.com
. The Temsco office is located at Port Zante, where the cruise ships dock.
Chris Roberts is a freelance writer based in Hollywood, Florida.