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Nevis: Triathlon’s Hidden Destination Gem

They call it the most beautiful triathlon in the world and, while you could argue that there are some worthy rivals, there’s no arguing that the Nevis triathlon is set in one of the most stunning venues in our sport.

Story and photos by Kevin Mackinnon

The Nisbet Plantation was once the home of famous British Navy Captain Horatio Nelson.
The Nisbet Plantation was once the home of famous British Navy Captain Horatio Nelson. In the background is Mount Nevis, with the typical cloud cover.

Just a few kilometres from St. Kitts, Nevis is a tranquil island filled with high-end accommodations, incredible beaches, stunning scenery and a laid back atmosphere that is certain to leave you feeling rested and relaxed after your time on the island. In 1493, Christopher Columbus named the island “Nustra Senora de las Nieves” (Our Lady of the Snows) because of the white clouds that almost always surround the top of the mountain. That eventually got shortened to Nevis. The small island (93 km2) has a population of just 12,000, many of whom are aligned with the tourism industry and appear bound and determined to make sure your stay is a good one. The population is so small, and there’s so much untouched wilderness, that there are actually more green monkeys on the island than people. Once a major centre for the sugar industry, all of the island’s sugar plantations have closed, leaving tourism as the island’s main industry.

The volunteers, along with everyone else on the island, are determined to ensure you have a great race experience.

This year the 14th running of the Nevis Triathlon, held on November 14th, featured three events. The Nevis 73, or the “long course” race, featured a 1 km swim, 62 km bike and a 10 km run. The Nevis 37 was half the distance (500m swim, 31 km bike, 5 km run), while the Try a Tri race included a 100 m swim, 10 km bike and a 2.5 km run. It’s one of a series of endurance sports events that are designed to enhance tourism to the island. In September there’s a “Running Festival” which includes a 5 km, 10 km, half marathon and marathon.  In March there’s a 4 km cross-channel swim between Nevis and St. Kitts, which will be held for the 15th time next year.

While the field for the triathlon was small, there were three Canadians competing in this year’s race. One of those, Burlington’s Vanessa Gardiner, works for Scotiabank and made her first trip to Nevis in 2006 for business. She was here just before the triathlon and was intrigued by the hype leading up to the event. “If I ever do a triathlon,” she thought to herself, “this is the one I’ll do.”

Over the next few years Gardiner made another trip to the island and became more and more enthralled with the idyllic vacation spot. Then, in January, Gardiner decided she wanted to lose some weight and figured having a goal would be the best way to get herself motivated to do that. She decided she would do a triathlon and joined the Triathlon Club of Burlington to start training. She convinced her friend Kris Graci to join her, and promptly signed up for the race she’d promised herself she would begin her triathlon career with.

“It (Nevis) feels like home,” Gardiner said after completing this year’s Nevis 37. “There’s something about the people, there’s something about the island. When I was here I met a lot of the locals and went to a lot of the local restaurants … nothing is cookie cutter. Aside from the one resort hotel, everything is unique. I think that is what I like about it, it is a very unique island.”

Canadians Kris Graci and Vanessa Gardiner were on hand for the race in Nevis.
Canadians Kris Graci and Vanessa Gardiner were on hand for the race in Nevis.

While Gardiner doesn’t work for the Nevis Tourism Authority, they would be wise to sign her up soon as an ambassador. Her take on Nevis is spot on – everything about the island, including the triathlon, is both unique, relaxing, welcoming and enjoyable. There are a few hotels (with a total of 396 rooms), but the biggest is the Four Seasons, which is the only resort of the chain in the Caribbean and the only “chain hotel” on the island. (Hopefully you’re finding as much humour in my identifying the Four Seasons as a “chain hotel” as I am.) In keeping with the high-end theme there are a number of luxurious “Plantation” resorts which offer exceptional accommodations and service in a truly unique environment. The Nisbet Plantation is the only one of the four plantation resorts with beach access and is renowned for its friendly staff who greet guests by name. (They’re not kidding, either – I arrived at breakfast to have a women I’d never seen before say “Good morning, Kevin! Congratulations on your race yesterday.”) Other smaller plantation resorts include the Montpelier and the Golden Rock Inn, which are every bit as beautiful, unique and welcoming, but are further up Mt. Nevis, which dominates landscape of the island. The other hotel I got to see during my weekend on the island was the Mount Nevis Hotel, another spot higher up on the island that offers an exceptional restaurant and a decent sized pool that would serve a triathlete well for training if he or she chose to take a break from the non-stop relaxing that seems to be the norm for visitors.

One of the numerous pools at the Four Seasons Resort.

Everything is extremely relaxing, tranquil and relaxing in Nevis, or so you think until you finish the beautiful triangular 500 m swim course (the long course folks do it twice) in the 80+ degree and clear, flat waters of Gallows Bay and start the bike. It’s not long before you are into the 5 km hill affectionately known as “Anaconda,” which has some steep sections, but is mostly difficult because it is so long. Once at the top of the climb, there’s a long decent followed by a rolling ride around the island (the long course race does two loops). For the most part the roads are in reasonable shape, but do get a bit rough for the last few miles of the loop. The run course is a relatively flat out and back from the race site in Charlestown to the entrance to the Four Seasons resort, again done twice for those in the long course race. The biggest challenge of the run is the heat, which even shortly after 8 AM is over 30 degrees Celsius. (The lowest temperature during race weekend was 26 C – the place is warm.)

Jason Costelloe took the men's Nevis 73 title.
Jason Costelloe took the men’s Nevis 73 title.
Fresh off a runner-up finish in the women's 45-49 age group in Kona, Jane Hansom won the Nevis long course race and was second overall.
Fresh off a runner-up finish in the women’s 45-49 age group in Kona, Jane Hansom won the Nevis long course race and was second overall.

Getting to the island isn’t as easy as some other Caribbean destinations because the airport in Nevis can only accommodate smaller planes, but there are lots of options to get there. There are regular flights directly from San Juan, but it’s also pretty easy to fly to St. Kitts and take a water taxi over to the island – a five or six minute ride along the same route the swimmers will take in March for the channel swim. Most of the athletes competing in the race chose not to bring their own bikes, choosing instead to rent a bike from Winston Crooke from Wheel World Cycle Shop  (bikenevis@gmail.com), the original Nevis Triathlon race director and a level two ITU official. While not exactly state of the art, the KHS bike Crooke provided for me did a great job of getting me through the course.

Winston Crooke, left, represents the Caribbean on the ITU board. Local Romel Caskin finished third in the Nevis 37.
Winston Crooke, left, represents the Caribbean on the ITU board. Local Romel Caskin finished third in the Nevis 37.

Taking place on the second weekend in November, the Nevis Triathlon offers the ultimate opportunity to combine a unique triathlon event with one of the most intimate and pristine vacation spots in the world.

Find out more about Nevis  and the Nevis Triathlon here.