Kayak Adventure – Hilton Head, SC
Last year’s winter escape was so fun, we decided to try it again! We got a chance to go to Hilton Head, SC and stay on the Intracoastal waterway for 5 glorious days of paddling and fun. The weatherman was kind, and we enjoyed the chance to put our shorts and bathing suits on for one last paddle adventure in 2015.
Highlights of the trip included seeing a baby dolphin in Skull Creek, paddling our way around Pinckney Island, home of Pinckney Island National Wildlife Refuge, and under the big bridges that lead into Hilton Head, dinner at Skull Creek Boathouse, and a trip to Savannah for New Year’s eve.
Thanks to my friends for such an awesome adventure and for use of their words and photos in this post.
Trip Journal from Guest Blogger Linda Byrd Masters…
Sunday, Day 1: Hoping to recap on last year’s kayaking adventure to Florida, we were all pretty excited to hit the road early this morning for this year’s trip to Hilton Head, SC. With the addition of Julie this year to our “paddler” group, and with the help of our new kayak trailer, we had decided earlier to travel in two vehicles – Terri, Julie and Sandy in Terri’s big ride, and Paula and I in my Jeep with the trailer. It was a good thing too, because with a “roller coaster” weather forecast, all of us had over-packed not knowing whether to prepare for cold, rainy, or summerlike conditions! The plan was to rendezvous at the Food Lion in Courtland at 5:00 AM; however, it was so foggy that I drove right past it down 58! Fortunately, they managed to spot the trailer as is passed (it IS quite a sight loaded with all the kayaks), and after a quick call, we all met down the road in Emporia before jumping on I-95 South. The ride down was fun and thankfully uneventful, that is until we hit a huge traffic backup on the Interstate midway through South Carolina. Paula was navigating and picked up on it early enough for she and I to jump off on a parallel highway for the remainder of the trip, but the other group was ahead of us and got bogged down in heavy, slow moving traffic. Enough so that we arrived at the resort 40 minutes ahead of them! However, our detour took us through the low country of SC, and there was so much more to see with beautiful old homes and the scenery of intermingled cotton fields and swamp land. We finally made it to the condo here at the BlueWater Resort and Marina. After a quick exploration of the grounds (beautiful!), we unpacked and then ventured to Giuseppi’s Pizza & Pasta for dinner and to Kroger’s for supplies for the week. Hitting the bed now as we’re tired from the drive, but excited about getting on the water in the morning!
Monday, Day 2: What a fantastic day on the boats! The weather here is warm enough for shorts and tanks! Our resort is located on Skull Creek (which also borders Pinckney Island, a national wildlife refuge), and has its own pier and kayak launch. “Creek” is misleading, as it suggests a little water way; however, Skull Creek is more of a wide river complete with a boating channel and numerous piers and docks on our side, while the opposite shore is beautiful marshland and oyster beds connected to Pinckney Island. We put in the launch about 10:30ish, and paddled up-creek against the tide until we spotted a large public dock, part of a local community park. After mooring to the dock and making use of the park’s restroom facility, we decided to have our picnic lunch (and “celebratory” cold beverage) sitting on the dock next to the kayaks. We looked like lizards on a rock laying out and soaking up the bright, warm rays of the sun! Back in the water, we paddled across the creek and up into the tidal marshes of Pinckney where we searched in vain for a peek at an alligator. After Terri’s run in last year with the mysterious onshore creature that rushed her kayak, she was anxiously convinced the noises in the marsh grass were gators; we had many laughs with that! The tide was running low, exposing hundreds of oysters that we maneuvered around; I was tempted to load up the dry well with a few to grill for dinner, but without a hammer or oyster knives, I decided that was way more work than I wanted to deal with on vacation. After a long time exploring around, we turned the boats towards home and paddled our way back. Terri was the chef of the day, and had prepared a vegetarian chipotle chili of butternut squash and black beans in the Crockpot that morning, so we downed that with salad and wine. Good stuff!
Tuesday, Day 3: Another great day on the water! Today we ventured out of our resort to seek out another place to paddle (there are so many down here!) and after checking out one boat ramp, we decided against it because of heavy boat traffic and settled on a quieter, more marsh-like location. We launched from a small public boat ramp on the Harbor River and headed upriver into narrowing, winding canals through marsh grass. The weather was just as warm as yesterday, but a few clouds appeared and the wind picked up. We were determined again to spot a gator, but other than kayaking across occasionally big sets of bubbles rising from the creek bottom, none were to be found. (Note: later I found out that alligators “brummate” on the creek bottoms, so more than likely, they were right beneath us!). We spotted an old dead tree on the shore loaded with huge white birds, and paddled as close as we could to it so Sandy could photograph it. Sitting in our kayaks there, we decided it was as good a place as any for our picnic lunch again (and of course the traditional celebratory cold beverage). Paula and I paddled away from the group to see how far towards shore we dared to go in water only inches deep, when we realized we were in a field of submerged golf balls someone had teed off with from shore. We made a game to see who could collect the most – she won! Afterwards, we paddled up the creek as far as we could possibly go until it narrowed into the side of a small cement bridge. Paddling down river for the return trip, we introduced Julie to the game of bumper boats kayak style, and played follow the leader through additional water canals along the way back. Back at the ramp, we loaded up just as many others were arriving to put out. We headed back to the resort to shower and change, sticking to our original plan for the day to kayak early and then get out to do a little sight-seeing before dinner. We all piled into Terri’s ride and struck out for the southern end of Hilton Head where we ended up at Harbortown, a beautiful marina with little shops and a modern day light house. From there we watched one of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve ever seen; the sky was filled with pink, orange, yellow, and red clouds over the harbor and a skyline of palm trees and live oaks on neighboring islands…it must be the place to watch one from too as there were throngs of folks there to do the same! The next event was a return trip to Kroger’s, but the draw this time was a street next to it that had been decorated with thousands of lights for the holiday. We walked around and shopped a bit, then a friendly man helped us with group photos beneath the Christmas lights. The last event for the evening was a highly anticipated outing to the Skull Creek Boathouse for dinner, and it did not disappoint! The food was delicious, and our charming young (and cute!) waiter offered us more kayaking tips for tomorrow’s adventure. We are still on a mission to find that gator, but now we know that there may be dolphins to find as well!
Wednesday, Day 4: Ok, I know I’ve described the last two days as fantastic, but today has absolutely been the best of the three! The weather early this morning was windy under gray skies, but we were determined to get out on the water as long as possible anyway. We donned our new, yellow “Tribal” T-shirts that Paula surprised us with (“I Love A Good Padding!”) and posed on the pier here at Bluewater with our paddles for a group photo. Then despite the wind and threat of rain, we launched into Skull Creek once again, and it was almost too good to be true when 15-20 minutes into the water, the clouds blew over and the bluest skies and brightest sun shined down on us for the rest of the day. This time we paddled in the opposite direction towards Port Royal Sound and challenged ourselves to make the entire loop around Pinckney Island. About a mile from the launch, we saw them right in front of us…a family of dolphins, including a baby, only a few feet from the kayaks! They were beautiful but almost impossible to photograph! We watched as long as they stayed, and then continued our quest, paddling toward the open waters of the sound. At the northernmost end of Pinckney, we pulled up on a gorgeous, secluded, white sandy beach for lunch and “treasure” hunting; it was so sunny and warm one would have thought it was June instead of December! After resting a bit, we journeyed on and rounded the island, turning south again into Mackay’s Creek. We followed the channel markers along the northwest side of the island and paddled for the better part of two hours until we turned to go around the southern end. That’s when the wind really picked up, and we paddled in choppy waves with water breaking across the fronts of the boat at us! It was great fun, and definitely good exercise! Eventually we paddled the last turn beneath two huge bridges into the mouth of Skull Creek and then back to the launch just as the sun began to set. This evening, Sandy took a map and scoped out that we paddled at least 12.5 miles, which is about 5 or 6 miles farther than our longest group paddle to date! Once the kayaks were secured back on the trailer we hit the outdoor whirlpool at the resort where hot bubbles (and cold beverages) are probably going to save our lives (or at least our muscles) tomorrow morning! The cruel joke however is that after three days of searching for alligators, we learned from other guests at the whirlpool that the gators were hanging out on the greens of the local golf courses…too funny! This evening we ate delicious vegetarian lasagna that Julie prepared this morning and then vegged out around the condo! Although sad we finished out the kayaking portion of our trip today, I’m really looking forward to tomorrow’s ride to Savannah to see the sights there.
Thursday, New Year’s Eve, Day 5: We rode to Savannah, GA this morning (about a 40 minute drive – thanks Paula for doing the D.D. thing!); upon arriving, we went straight to the visitor’s center and booked seats on a 90-minute trolley tour of the town. Savannah is so beautiful with its ante-bellum homes, iron wrought everything, cobble stone streets, graveyards, statues, and huge live oaks! The most difficult problem today however was figuring out how to tour the town in a short time span – NOT possible. I definitely want to go back. There was just too much to see and do, but we had a blast doing what we could. We shopped and viewed galleries at the City Market, walked down famous River Street, wet our whistles at both Wild Wings (beer) and Wet Willie’s (margaritas), ate a late lunch at the Kayak Kafe, visited the S.C.A.D. store (Savannah College of Art & Design), ate ice cream at Leopold’s…whew! It was 78 degrees and balmy, but threatening storms to the west caused the postponement of the big New Year’s Eve celebration Savannah usually has down at the riverfront. Not all festivities were cancelled however, and we ended our evening back at the City Market for live street music and partying. Great fun with the people there; everyone we met (and for the entire week really!) was so friendly and nice to be around. We had fun people watching, dancing, and singing with the bands until about 10:00 when we decided to beat the impending weather and the crowds out of Savannah to make our way back to Hilton Head. We watched the ball drop on TV and now everybody’s crashing for our last evening here.
Friday, Departure Day, Day 6: Woke up to nasty, cooler, rainy weather this morning. Terri arranged the condo for us through her time share program, and we actually have the place through Sunday. I made a decision to sit tight one more day because of the rain and pull the trailer home tomorrow when it’s sunny. However Terri’s crew left about 10 am for home. We unhitched the trailer and drove around a bit to catch a few more sights and when the rain broke around noon, we went over to Pinckney Island to walk the trails. Saw dozens of species of birds, ducks, and geese, but still no alligators! Guess we’ll just have to keep visiting our reptilian friend at Merchant’s Millpond back home ha ha! What a fabulous way to end my year, kayaking and playing with my sisters in such a beautiful setting…2015 has been a great one for paddling. Based on that I can’t wait to see where we paddle to in the coming year…Happy 2016!