The Dutch Antilles got their first national park in 1998 when St. Eustatius established Quill National Park.
“Quill” is based of the Dutch word kuil, which means pit, and that’s just what this park is. A giant pit. In the form of a volcano that last erupted about 1,600 years ago.
I like St. Eustatius because it hasn’t been heavily developed for tourism, if at all. This gives it much of that old-world Caribbean feel that I love. As such, it isn’t set up for cruisers because it lacks chandleries and boat repair shops, but it does make a great destination for the atmosphere.
Getting to the Trail
You’ll need to purchase a tag to hike the trail – they are $6 and last an entire 12 months. Proceeds go towards trail maintenance and park administration. Tags can be purchased at various locations throughout the island, to include the airport, various hotels, and the National Parks Office in Lower Oranjestad (on the waterfront).
You can pick up the trail in either Lower or Upper Oranjestad. If you start in Lower Oranjestad (like at the park office), they can direct you to the start of the trail right out the back of their office.
If you start in Upper Oranjestad, you’re looking for Rosemary Lane (or you may see signs for “Rosemarylaan”) in the south end of town. This road runs east-west; obviously take it east towards the big volcano only a mile away. Yes, it’s that short.
The Quill Trail
At the end of Rosemary Lane you’ll see a well-marked and well-maintained trail directing you to the crater rim. This is the “Quill Trail” and from the end of Rosemary Lane, the rim is only one mile away and about 2,000 feet above sea level (but you’ve already climbed some of that elevation).
The climb isn’t too steep but it will have you breathing hard. The trail runs through fairly dense forest most of the way, and because of this, the breeze is mostly blocked and it will feel hot and humid (though you are mostly protected from the sun).
There are a lot of conservation efforts happening on the trail and if you see a student or someone who works for the parks department, they can tell you about the various flags you’ll see on the trail, marking points of interest for the researchers. Even if you don’t pass them on the trail, you’ll still see some interpretive signs telling you about the area.
Natural History of Mount Mazinga
The volcano is almost a perfect cone, the result of magma building up at high pressure and then suddenly erupting straight up, with the remnants falling straight back down. As mentioned previously, the last eruption was around 1,600 years ago. The southern side of the mountain has a feature known as the “white wall”, a layer of limestone sediment that was pushed up from the sea floor during a period of volcanic activity.
According to the brochure published by the National Parks, there are 482 plant species in the park, including a species of Morning Glory that was declared extinct until found here in 1994. Of the sixteen endangered orchid species on St. Eustatius, nine of them are only found on Mount Mazinga.
Also unique to Statia is the Red Bellied Racer snake, only found on this island and the tiny neighboring island of Saba. These non-poisonous snakes are abundant on the trail and I must have seen a half dozen different ones.
Other animal species found in the park include the Antillean Iguana, American Kestrel, Bridled Quail Dove, and Yellow Warbler. Birders will find many other species to add to the small list mentioned here.
Other Trails on the Quill
Hiking to the rim of the Quill volcano isn’t the only activity; there are a number of other trails accessed in the park.
At the end of the Quill Trail, you can continue almost 1,000 feet to the crater floor, passing cocoa plants (introduced by humans), silk cotton trees, and gum trees. The crater is home to a unique seasonal evergreen forest. This trail is steep (1,000 feet in less than a half-mile) and can be very slick, almost dangerous, during rains.
Another dangerous trail is the hike to Mazinga Peak, which starts as your bear to the right at the end of the Quill Trail. This follows the crater rim to the high point and is likewise slippery with steep dropoffs. The park recommends doing this part with a ranger.
Bearing left at the end of the Quill Trail will take you to Panorama Point, the site of a weather station with great views to the north end of the island. Unfortunately it was rather foggy and cloudy while I was up there.
Going halfway down the Quill Trail to Rosemary Lane, you’ll see a sign for the Around the Mountain Trail. This three-mile trail will take you, if you hadn’t guessed by the name, around the entire mountain. On the east end there’s a small side trip to a botanical garden. The “white wall” limestone formation can also be seen from this trail as well.
Overall you can get to the crater rim and back in about three hours, but if you plan on doing some of the other trails and side trips, give it a whole day.
Bring a hat and plenty of water!