Rocha Do Navio which translates to ‘ship rock’ is a natural reserve island on Madeira’s north east coast, close to Santana. The cable car runs from the top of the mountain down to the beach and back up however you can also hike back up the hillside. The hike is only 1.5km long but at a climb of 330m it gives a nice work out.
Rocha Do Navio
Its name (Ship Rock) is due to a Dutch shipwreck in the bay, in the 19th century. The islet appearance is also similar to the front of a ship.
Rocha do Navio comprises a total area of 1.710 hectares (1710 acres) and is 6259 metres long. It has a natural floristic heritage, characteristic of the Madeira coast where unique flowers grow. In winter there are not so many flowers but the higher you climb the more abundant they become.
Parking and Payment
Parking is limited to just four spaces in the official car-park with space on the road for about another three cars.
Payment is by cash and costs 5 euros for adults and 1 euro for children. Each cable car is limited to six people and is locked before it sets off!
Catching The Cable Car
The cable car is quite small and in high wind it does sway from side to side lol. It takes approximately seven minutes to get down the mountain so not a long time to snap photos. The car gives great views across the mountain, sea and over to the island of Rocha Do Navio. However walking back up the mountain gives better views but obviously takes longer!
The view from the cable car
Taking photos in the cable car was difficult due to the reflection from the very dirty glass but it is nonetheless very exciting to descend the mountain in it – especially when it sways and all the kids go ‘Ooooh’!
From the air you can see some of the steep steps that have been carved into the rock that we hiked back up on. You can also see a number of waterfalls and the gardens from the houses below.
There are concrete and stone paths along the foot of the mountain which divide the land and beach. People live down there and there are a handful of residential homes. The beach is incredibly rocky and the waves pound the shoreline (well it is winter, I suppose). A great spot for kids to jump and throw rocks into the ocean.
In the summer I am told it is much calmer and you can swim into the rock’s cave as well as snorkel and dive.
Bananas and Vines
Lining the base of the mountain are gardens and agricultural plots where the residents and local farmers grow bananas, grapes, coconuts, custard apples and other fruits. In this part of the island, life is simple and many residents live off what they grow and make a living from selling the produce.
Each garden is surrounded by ten foot bamboo to protect against the wind and sea spray but you can peak through the gaps to see what they’re growing.
Bananas are sold at the foot of the cable car when you descend, in buckets. I have never seen bananas in real life still attached to the branch or growing on a tree, so I was very happy.
Waterfalls & Bridges
Madeira has an abundance of rain and water and you can see the water cascading off the mountains in most places on the island. Here is no different and I think we counted three waterfalls.
There is also a particularly picturesque hump bridge crossing a river which feeds the sea, which is partially overgrown by bamboo.
Don’t forget to see the biosphere building
The Reserve encompasses a wide diversity of relevant natural habitats; vegetated sea cliffs with endemic flora of the Macaronesian coasts; lower formations of Euphorbia close to the cliffs; submerged or partially submerged sea caves as well as a large number of nesting and migratory ornithological species.
The biosphere building was closed when we visited and I think it might only be open to pedagogical groups by request? To do this, contact the Instituto das Florestas e Conservação da Natureza.
Hiking back up
Hiking back up the mountain is hard work but ultimately very rewarding. It’s only 1.5km but climbs 330m.
All of the path is man made and comprises of steps cut into the rocks or steps made with rocks.
From this height you can see the small plots of agricultural land clearly.
The path is steep and in places narrow but the view over the bay is fantastic. There are hand rails over half the path but these are weak and I wouldn’t put any real weight on them.
Winery rock face
Maybe about 1/3rd of the way up the mountain, you can see a winery and a water tank excavated into the rock.
It is said to be a testimony of the farmer’s resilience to overcome the physical difficulties imposed by limited access to the area. I certainly cannot imagine trying to carry all those grapes up that cliff face!!
There are little wooden signs to keep you going up the mountain. They’re all in Portuguese and they have helped our children start learning a new language.
Rock falls and mud slides
Madeira is renowned for its rock falls and mud slides. At times perilous and we discovered a couple of fresh mud slides and about four rock falls. One of these rock falls was closer to the top and had removed a good 60cm of the pathway, leaving a path of 20cm wide with a sheer drop of 250m on the other side. You will need sturdy shoes and to be mindful of covered paths and unstable paths. There is a risk but we felt it was manageable and our kids understood the consequences and acted responsibly.
Reaching the top
The walk back up the mountain took us an hour but we didn’t walk very fast, we stopped for photos and of course had to be careful of the rock and mud slides.
An experienced walker or runner could complete this in half the time but probably wouldn’t have time to check out the view.