Elizabeth Jones discovers the sad deterioration of the mangroves in Hungry Bay.

There’s one issue my sister and I can never agree on, and that’s musical comedy. She hates it. Not for her the barbed brilliance of Cabaret or the passionate sweep of Les Miserables. That’s because South Pacific ruined the whole genre for her. “Happy talk, keep talking happy talk/Talk about things you like to do/You got to have a dream, if you don’t have a dream/How you gonna have a dream come true?” she mimics savagely. “Yuck.”

I’m laughing, remembering this, as we set out to make one of my dreams come true. I have always wanted to see Hungry Bay as described by Suzette Lloyd and later William E. S. Zuill in his Bermuda Journey. I imagine a sort of supersize Riddell’s Bay-that is, a larger bay with an even larger mangrove forest. I imagine, too, following mysterious pathways through the nature reserve that is clearly marked on the map.

So here we are in search of which road? Happy Talk Lane, presumably named by someone who doesn’t (or didn’t) share my sister’s contempt for the song. Actually, we started our walk in the Botanical Gardens in Paget. The carefully spaced trees on the southern slopes are alive, but they have a forlorn though gallant air. I look for the jacaranda blossoms, which are sometimes abundantly beautiful in April. But the white cedars are there, their flushed-pink trumpet blossoms with yellow-tinged throats flutter down in the breeze, becoming drenched in the wet grass.

In contrast, Happy Talk Lane, on the opposite side of South Road, is lush, with more hedge, shrub and vine than tree. That said, white cedars thrive here, too, although only the flowers are visible. The trunks are lost in the melee. The tiny white flowers of the deadly nightshade draw my attention, as do the bright scarlet of a hibiscus scrambling down a dry stone wall and the voluminous curtain of morning glory, and ruellia, with its softly petulant blue petals, insinuates its way along the roadside. We’re not talking much, but the feral chickens are, and a few geese hiss as we approach. 

We turn onto Happy Talk Drive and see a garden filled with the smudged pinks, whites and mauves of periwinkles allowed to run wild. A soft rain starts to fall, and the clumps melt into a pink mist. Ahead of us are two parallel lanes, divided by a magnificent match-me-if-you-can hedge, alternately copper and green. At this point we realise we’re definitely on private property, a fact confirmed by the owner of the hedge, who kindly points out the periphery of the nature reserve. We peer through a mesh of twisted Mexican-pepper roots and can just make out a few mangrove roots pushing up through the mud. None of the pathways I imagined, though, materialise. We have an occasional glimpse of a thin layer of water, but a view of the bay is impossible from this vantage. However, we do hear the distant thunder of the ocean, which reminds me of William Zuill’s explanation for the name Hungry Bay: “…the moan of the sea on the breaker outside the bay, which is often heard before rain, was likened to the roar of a hungry animal.”

And that, I think, is that. But the following morning, thanks to Scott Tucker, who gives me permission, I approach Hungry Bay from Lagoon Drive and eventually end up on a private dock. From here I can see as well as hear the ocean and the stretch of headland to the east where a fort once stood. Gnarled, naked dead trunks and branches rise out of the water and edge the curving sea line. The scene is eerie, but the eeriness arises from devastation rather than the mystical beauty I had expected.

Where are the mangroves for which the bay was known? I use the word “devastated” when I talk with Scott later. He agrees. As a boy, he lived nearby and spent many a day exploring the mangrove reserve, sometimes finding himself waist high in mud. And he remembers the tree-climbing crabs and the bay teeming with fish. Hurricanes of late have lashed Hungry Bay, but the mangroves were diminishing prior to the recent storms from erosion and the increase in tidal surges. On this side of the reserve, packed sand has replaced the mud that mangroves love.

After leaving Lagoon Drive, I realise there’s another access to the bay: Tribe Road No. 1 next to Peace Lutheran Church in Paget. I walk up the hill and again find myself in a cluster of private properties, but the road itself is public so I feel legal. Carefully tended gardens brimming with flowers-more periwinkles, hibiscus, star of Bethlehem, to name but a few-and bumpy stone roofs and chimneys lend cottage-y charm. Eventually, I reach another dock directly on the bay and gaze again toward the line of twisting trees, the reserve behind it. And I look ahead, the open bay before me, as the waves – wave after wave after wave – crash remorselessly and yes hungrily, over the breaker.