No bridge, No problem: Exploring the Lowcountry Islands Only Accessible by Boat
A little effort to explore our many islands only accessible by boat is well worth it.
Story by Lisa Allen
From rustic to regal, large to small, islands unattached to the mainland give our area its uniqueness.
“The islands are a big part of what makes the Lowcountry,” said Mike Overton, owner of Outside Hilton Head, an adventure company and retail store.
Look closely at a map and you’ll see the dozens of tiny land masses that represent Page, Morgan, Bay Point, and St. Philips islands. Some islands are so small that they don’t have names. Daufuskie Island, near Hilton Head, is one of the larger islands.
Why so many islands? Beaufort County is 38 percent water and its configuration makes it unique among all areas of the East Coast. The combination of uninhabited islands, clean water and the topography of the Port Royal Sound creates the perfect habitat for sea creatures to raise their young. The dozens of barrier and sea islands provide ideal fishing, crabbing and shrimping grounds and protect us from the onslaught of storms.
Those natural wonders that surround us beckon us to take a closer look. So, climb aboard a boat or wiggle into a kayak and go exploring. It helps to enlist the help of a local expert, both for navigating the islands as well as our large tides. (When up to eight feet of water is sucked seaward at low tide, firm ground gets pretty far away. You can be unexpectedly swimming when high tide returns that eight feet of water.)
Helping people explore the area is the reason Outside Hilton Head exists.“Our mission is to enrich lives by connecting people with exceptional places, products and experiences,” Overton said, citing the company’s mission statement.
Outside Hilton Head can help you explore the entire area, from the lagoon system within Hilton Head to the creeks and inlets that separate the many islands. Guides can take you to Page Island, a chain of hummocks that strung together represents 40 acres of land between Daufuskie Island and the mainland. It takes about an hour via power boat from Shelter Cove Marina. Once at Page, you can explore further via kayak.
“We use Page Island as a growth center and for team building,” Overton said. “It’s the ultimate of Lowcountry activities of kayaking, paddleboarding, shrimping and crabbing. Boardwalks connect the island, but everything else is the same as it’s been for hundreds of years.”
Page Island is private, so work through Outside, which owns the islands, to explore it.
The 4,500-acre Daufuskie Island, visible from Harbour Town, also is a popular destination.
“It is one of the true gems of the East Coast,” Overton said. “Each era of history has added to it. Several of our guides have written books about the island.”
One book is called “An Island Named Daufuskie,” by Billie Bern. Another is a 1980s study of the Native Americans on the island.
Another touring company, Daufuskie Island History and Artisan Tours, is based on Daufuskie and takes visitors to sites that illustrate the island’s rich history and unusual present. Guides show visitors the contributions of indigenous people as well as reminders of the Revolutionary and Civil wars. Visitors can watch nationally acclaimed artists at work, including Chase Allen of The Iron Fish Gallery. Visitors also can observe century-old techniques that transform indigo plants into dye for beautiful scarves. It takes about 100 pounds of plants and three days to make one scarf,” according to tour guide Mackenzie Brubacker.
Tour guide Sallie Ann Robinson grew up on Daufuskie and was Pat Conroy’s student. Conroy wrote “The Water is Wide” about his experience teaching on Daufuskie. It was made into the 1974 movie “Conrack.”
Haig Point is a historic private community located on Daufuskie. It offers its members 29 golf holes, tennis and fitness facilities, swimming, and beach recreation.
There are more islands north of the Broad River. Morgan Island, known as “Monkey Island” is the most intriguing because of its federal primate research facility. It is home to more than 3,000 rhesus monkeys, but not to humans.
Primate research began on the 2,000-acre island just north of St. Helena Island in the 1970s. “No Trespassing” signs surround the island, but you can get a glimpse of a few monkeys from your boat. Please respect the boundaries for your sake and the sake of the monkeys.
St. Phillips Island off the southern tip of St. Helena Island is the latest addition of islands one can explore. Media mogul Ted Turner recently sold it to the state and it will fall under the care of Hunting Island State Park. Specific plans for the island are still being developed, said J.W. Weatherford, park manager.
These islands are just a sampling of our surroundings. There are dozens more by-boat-only islands. Bon voyage!