As a photographer I don’t like to admit this, but I can honestly say that there are some things that just have to be seen in person. These places that defy my desire to capture in a photograph are so magnificent and breathtaking that a picture just can’t do them justice. My day trip to Martha’s Vineyard to visit the Gayhead Cliffs in Aquinnah proved to be one of these places. Last week, my sister Olivia was on the Cape with one of her best friends from school and I wanted to treat them to a day of adventure. My sister and I have made many day trips to the towns on Martha’s Vineyard but had never visited Aquinnah, so we were very excited to get off the beaten path.
We took an early afternoon ferry from Woods Hole and found a great spot up on the top deck to hang out as we crossed the Vineyard Sound aboard the Steamship Authority’s Island Home ($17 passenger ticket RT). The ferry ride itself is gorgeous and it is easy to enjoy the views of the surrounding coast line, Nobska Lighthouse, and Martha’s Vineyard.
Once we landed in Vineyard Haven we made a quick stop at the Black Dog for lunch. The first year round restaurant on the island started in 1971, this iconic spot on the harbor in Vineyard Haven is worth the trip alone. The fish and chips were excellent and we were now fueled up for our journey to the cliffs.
I was pleasantly surprised by the ease of use and organization of the public transportation system on the island. The VTA (Vineyard Transit Authority) has published a detailed and intuitive map with bus schedules and extensive routes that take people all over the island. For just $8.00, you can purchase a day pass to hop on and off all day long. We got on the bus in Vineyard Haven, made a switch in Chilmark and arrived in Aquinnah in about 50 minutes. This day trip to Martha’s Vineyard is inexpensive and convenient as a guest of the Woods Hole Inn, where the Woods Hole ferry terminal is located across the street.
The Aquinnah bus drops passengers off at the top of the Gayhead cliffs where there is a gorgeous observation deck to view the vibrant multicolored cliffs cascading into the surrounding seas. You can also see the iconic Gayhead Lighthouse which was just recently relocated. Almost $3.5 million dollars were raised to move the lighthouse from the rapidly eroding cliffs, and the elaborate job moving this antique brick structure was completed this spring saving the famous lighthouse from certain ruin within a few years.
From the observation deck, we made our way down to the beach below where we were able to get a closer look at the clay cliffs. They were saturated with jeweled tones of rust, powdery whites, mustard yellow, and honeydew green. So amazing to have an incredible natural landmark located just a short ride day trip from Woods Hole. No wonder the Wampanoag’s (native Americans from the Cape and Islands) consider this a sacred spot.
Although I got some great shots of the cliffs, I know there will always be more ways to capture their natural beauty. I have already started to make plans for my next day trip to Martha’s Vineyard where I will once again challenge myself to fit the feeling of seeing them first hand into a photograph. But in all honesty, you really just have to go see them for yourself. -Sam Frawley, guest blogger
Blog Post by Megan Jensen
My early trips this summer to Martha’s Vineyard kept me close to the main island towns of Vineyard Haven, Oak Bluffs and Edgartown. Each town is unique and has plenty to offer for the casual journey to an offshore isle. But, for my last sojourn to the island before heading home, I decided I was up for something more adventurous – Up Island, as the locals call Menemsha, Chilmark and Aquinnah.
It was a rainy and cloudy day but I decided to brave the weather and optimistically bought a day pass for the bus hoping to see all of the up-island hotspots, from the Menemsha fish markets to the Gay Head lighthouse.
Taking the bus is my absolute favorite way to get around the Vineyard and I love the helpful and informative bus drivers. They really are the true guides to the island. They’ll drop you off anywhere along their route, and make sure you get picked back up again. They can point out anything from Jackie Onassis’s property to the greatest breakfast stop, and will tell you the best and fastest route to get where you are going.
To head up island you will need to take the number 2 or 3 bus. I would recommend buying an all-day bus pass for $7, otherwise its $1-2 every time you get on and off the bus. When I took the bus I went to Menemsha first because I wanted to have lunch in the historic fishing village, but the bus driver told me it would have been much easier if I had first gone to Aquinnah and then worked my way back to Menemsha.
This tiny, historic fishing village offers visitors a chance to see and experience a different way of life. I was beyond excited to try the fresh seafood and it really was incredible, just-caught fresh and I found myself trying one of everything. The fish markets are little more than one room shacks and you have to eat your meal while sitting outside on lobster traps at makeshift tables. Menemsha Harbor offers a great public beach and beautiful sunsets. For five dollars, you can take the bike ferry across the water to the bike path that leads all the way to the Gay Head cliffs and lighthouse. If the scenery seems vaguely familiar to you, it might be because parts of the movie Jaws were filmed here. Give yourself a few hours here – and keep in mind the bus only comes once an hour.
Chilmark offers a great in-between stop on your way from Menemsha to Aquinnah (or vice-versa). The Chilmark Store is sure to be busy, and here you can stock up on groceries, local produce and grab lunch – the pizzas are delicious and homemade. Down the street is the Chilmark Chocolate Shop known for a constant line out the door. I found it to be a great place to relax and refuel before heading to Aquinnah.
Aquinnah may arguably be the most beautiful place on the Vineyard. The name was changed from Gay Head in 1998 to reflect the year round Native American population that still lives there. This town is known for its stunning clay cliffs, lighthouse and Jungle Beach. Located near the lighthouse there are quaint rows of shops where you can buy beautifully crafted jewelry or have a bite to eat. Be sure to give yourself 2-3 hours here – there is plenty to see and do. Although if it is really rainy I’d come back a different day, as all activities are outdoors.
Exploring this side of the Vineyard gave me a very different look at the island and personally I prefer the up-island area to the bustling towns. I love the remote feeling, the broad vistas and the sense of peace. I hope you get a chance to visit this less-seen part of the Vineyard and find it as beautiful and memorable as I did!