I am no Pat Conroy when it comes to talking about Beaufort and the Lowcountry. This place ran in his blood, and I’m not touching that. But a recent journey had a profound effect on my appreciation of this beloved area of South Carolina.
If you are drawn to the wonders of the Lowcountry, St. Phillips Island, near Beaufort, is a worthy destination. To see, feel, smell, and breathe in what nature intended is something we rarely get to do these days, and I was moved by the chance to be in a quiet, pristine landscape.
We booked our St. Phillips Island visit through Coastal Expeditions, which allows access to experienced guides who escort guests through the registered National Natural Landmark without missing one detail. This is an official designation, of which there are only six in the state. Media icon Ted Turner owned St. Phillips Island and sold it to the South Carolina Department of Parks, Recreation and Tourism in 2017.
Our trip begins at the Hunting Island Nature Center. (If you’ve never been to Hunting Island State Park, come early so you can take in this untouched beach and maritime forest. My husband and I were lucky enough to hit the island on a perfect day—the waves rolling in sync for the sweetest body-surfing ride of his life.)
We board a ferry, and Captain Henry Brandt steers us through winding estuary passages, which are surrounded by nature at its thriving fullest—oyster beds and little oystercatcher birds who’ve discovered the freshest oyster bar ever, spending their entire migratory journey feasting on the best mollusks from Maine to Florida.
When we arrive on the dock at St. Phillips, park rangers greet us in a tram, the only vehicle allowed. Captain Henry captivates us with his knowledge and easygoing storytelling style, and we appreciate the rangers’ practical advice, especially since there are alligators lurking.
We stop several times to take in roseate spoonbills, Grande Flora magnolias, and wood storks nestled in the trees. In the low parts of the rippled and forest-covered dunes that provide the topography of the island, freshwater ponds (yes, in the middle of an ocean island) allow for other species of plants and animals to thrive, too.
From our natural utopia, we are whisked to Ted Turner’s former home, a five-bedroom house available for overnight reservations. Although large, the mansion sits unassuming in the landscape, and one can understand why Mr. Turner wanted to be here. We learn that guests can rent the island for the week through the parks department, but since no one has, we explore the grounds and beach area of this truly treasured place.
Boarding the ferry going back to civilization, we are a lot quieter, more pensive. Being that close to nature’s untouched bounty makes us realize how much we need it. The refreshing experience is a reminder to get back to simplicity, to quiet, to retreat from our overwhelming tech barrage. Only when I see the dolphins popping out of the water, leading us back out to our real lives, do I realize I have to leave—because it belongs to them. We can see it, appreciate it, help preserve it. But it is not ours. Maybe Mr. Turner realized that, too.
For more information on St. Phillips, visit coastalexpeditions.com/product/st-phillips-island-ferry