Hilton Head Island: Kayaking and Dolphin Watching on Broad Creek

Kayaking on Broad Creek Hilton Head IslandFor the past 7 years, I have been part of a longstanding custom in my husband’s family that consists of  a weeklong vacation in Hilton Head Island, SC. Over the years activities  have ranged all over from long boarding or biking down long moss-shaded sidewalks to fishing with casting nets and watching for alligators in the lagoons.  Loosely held traditions include a putt-putt game, extensive beach time and wave riding, the obligatory trips to thrift stores or other shopping outlets and an out-to-dinner date night for all the adults at a fun restaurant. My husband and I love to get in  beach runs on the wide flat expanses of sand and the days end with a rotating roster of different family members taking turns cooking a big dinner for all 18 of us.

While the whole week is a sunlit, breezy run-together wave of relaxation and fun, we have developed a tradition of our own that is now one of our favorite things to do in Hilton Head.  No trip feels complete without a kayak or SUP adventure down Broad Creek searching for dolphins. While there are many  dolphin watching cruises and even paddle tours available, we always prefer to bring our own boats and explore for ourselves. There are always tons of gorgeous waterfowls–pelicans, herons, egrets, white ibis,  even the occasional eagle and we usually catch a glimpse of at least a dolphin or two.  Several times, we have had whole pods surrounding our boats, gliding in and out of the water  close enough you could almost reach out and touch them.

dolphin dorsal fin on Broad Creek Hilton Head IslandI don’t know why the excitement of this never diminishes for me. Every time we spot a distant dorsal fin, shining gray across the water I am filled with childlike giddiness. These creatures are so beautiful and coming across them in the wild feels like being let in on a lovely secret. The tides and marshes lend the area an ever-changing allure, and whether the dolphins appear or not, we always enjoy our excursions on Broad Creek.

Kayaking Low tide on Broad Creek Hilton Head Island

Low Tide

Getting Here: There are several places you can enter Broad Creek, but recently our favorite spot has been Shelter Cove Marina. Here, you can rent boats from Outside Hilton Head or launch your own boat for a $5 fee. We like this spot because the water entry is super clean, easy, and gentle on the boats. It also happens to drop you in a part of the creek where we have most frequently come across dolphins.

If you have your own boats and want to make the Shelter Cove area a destination (roughly 2 miles), you can begin at Marshland Road Public Boat Ramp near the Old Oyster Factory. It is free to use this spot and easy enough to get to and unload. The only downside is that the entry point is composed of two extremes–rather rough pavement and very squishy marshy mud. Despite this slight inconvenience, we have successfully used this spot many times, taking a right off the ramp and heading towards Shelter Cove and beyond.  It is another great option.

Kayaking out of Shelter Cove Marina Hilton Head Island

Exiting Shelter Cove Marina

Good to Know: No matter which launch spot you choose, make sure to check the tide direction and observe wind/weather conditions. These details can potentially make or break your trip. If you rent at Outside Hilton Head they will happily give you a rundown of this info, but if you’re striking out on your own, it’s good to have thought through this. You ideally want to do your hardest work (going against the tide or wind) at the beginning of your paddle and save the easier direction for your return.  Always bring water, a PFD, an emergency whistle and some snacks. I personally prefer to have a good hat, sunglasses, and sunscreen as well.:)

Where to Eat: When you’re done with your dolphin watching and paddling, you should definitely hit up a delicious Hilton Head restaurant. We love the Lucky Rooster for a nice dinner. Their food is creative, delicious, and locally sourced. The Hilton Head Social Bakery is a new favorite that happens to be in very close proximity to the Shelter Cove put-in (same shopping center). It is a French bakery with delicious pastries, breads, and savory items such as sandwiches and quiches.

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Hilton Head Social Bakery: Lemon Tart, Chocolate Almond Croissant, and Peach Mango Turnover

Keep looking for adventure far and nigh!

Kauai Activities

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Stunning cliff trail to Waipoo Falls

While the Kalalau trail was a major priority and highlight for our trip, there were many other equally amazing adventures to be had on Kauai. Here are few more of our favorites. Most of the headings have links to more information and/or the exact company we used for a specific activity.

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Waimea Canyon

Western Kauai

Waimea Canyon– This place is unreal. People call it the Grand Canyon of the Pacific and it is pretty mind blowing. We did a couple small runs here too and would have loved to explore more.

Na Pali Coast Overlook- Amazing views of the coast and what looked to be some pretty sweet campgrounds along the way. This was an especially magical place at sunset. When we got there, almost no one was around. There were huge wild hydrangea bushes in full bloom and locals were hiking down past the fence to reach more views. It’s probably a little more dangerous than just taking things in from the overlook, but we couldn’t resist following just a little ways to check it out.

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Just below the Na Pali coast overlook

The Saddle Room – Delicious burger place in Waimea. Fun atmosphere and really good food. It is pretty low key, but it’s attached to Wrangler’s, a fancier steak house.

Little Fish Coffee– This was a really fun coffee spot in Hanapepe. We had wonderful affogatos here.

Na Pali Coast Kayak Trip– The most intense kayaking trip I’ve ever done. The company we went with calls it the Mount Everest of kayaking and awards you a certificate upon completion of the excursion while National Geographic has named it one of the top 40  Best American adventures. It’s around 17 miles of guided sea kayaking. You get to see the entire Na Pali coast up close in one day as well as spinner dolphins, sea turtles, waterfalls,  awesome beaches and much more. The trip includes lunch and guides (which we were SO grateful for).

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Na Pali Coast paddling trip

After doing the trip, I had no desire to ever try it unassisted. The conditions felt a little crazy to me and apparently it was a very average day in regards to ocean swell, wind, etc. When you look at the ocean from a distance it looks relatively smooth, but when you are actually out on the ocean you can get on these massive swells and backwash off the cliffs that make your neighbors disappear and send you soaring.  It’s very cool, but it is no joke. We fell out once or twice, as did most of the group, and it really wasn’t a big deal since we had an easy system for getting back in, we were wearing pfds and everything we brought was in waterproof bags lashed to the boat; however, it was a bit scary initially and it definitely cemented my healthy respect for the ocean. The guides give you great safety training and directions and they are especially helpful during the beach landings where you can get pummeled if you’re not careful.  I had the misfortune of feeling seasick for about half the trip, so I would highly recommend bringing a remedy for that if you have ever had any semblance of motion sickness.  I never actually got sick, but other people did and it takes away from a really exciting and amazing experience. It is very cool to propel yourself through the ocean along one of the most beautiful places in the world–absolutely unforgettable!

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Polihale Beach, the gorgeous finale of the trip

North Shore Kauai

Kealia Farm Market- This small market was our favorite by far! We got INCREDIBLE fresh sashimi grade tuna for a really reasonable price, as well as some beautiful vegetables. The guy who sold the fish also served a couple of cooked dinner items ($7-10). They were amazing as well. 3-7pm Mondays and Fridays, bring Cash

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Kealia Farm Dinner- grilled pesto fish with local greens

 

Ke’e Beach– The “end of the road” northernmost beach at the base of the Kalalau trail. This spot was beautiful–cliffs plunging into the Pacific Ocean–and we had our best snorkeling here.

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Ke’e Beach from the water

Kamokila Hawaiian Village–  This was a really neat spot near Kapaa. We toured the village, rented kayaks for a very reasonable price and did a short paddle on Wailua River + a hike to a waterfall. Great shaved ice in a food truck on site!

“Tourist” Lumahai Beach – Gorgeous beach, local favorite, not great for swimming depending on the season. It was calm while we were there (in early June) and lots of people were jumping off the lava shelf into the ocean, but apparently it can be very treacherous at times.

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Tourist Lumahai

South/East Kaui

Wailua Shave Ice– This was probably my favorite shaved ice spot. It was the last one we went to and it was really great. They make all their ices with local fruit–so delcious–and they had a yelp coupon the day we went!

The Greenery– Amazing restaurant in Lihue featuring local, organic soul food fare. This is where we landed, jet-lagged and starving after leaving the airport. It was incredible. They were about to close for the day, but with true Hawaiian hospitality they served us some absolutely delicious food.

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The stunning local fruit

Huli Chicken– This is an easy-to-miss roadside stand in Anahola. They slowly grill whole chickens over hot coals and it is outrageously moist and flavorful. They have limited hours and do sell out so get there early if you can. We also got mountain apples at their farm stand.

 

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Keep looking for adventure far and nigh!

 

 

Santee Surf and Turf Triathlon & Biathlon

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Rounding the bend at the turn around point

April 26, 2014

Trail Run + Kayak + Mtn Bike + BBQ= AWESOMENESS. This is the tagline that drew us into a race comprised of 3 miles trail running, 3 miles flat-water kayaking or 1.5 miles SUP, and 8 miles of mountain biking for the triathlon option. Who wouldn’t be intrigued by the sound of that adventure party? Three fun sports followed by BBQ, is difficult to pass up. Evidently, Adventure Geek Productions has been putting on some form of this race for the last 4 years, but we have never heard anything about it until we stumbled upon it via the internet one evening about 3 weeks before it was due to take place. We were super excited because the distances for this race are not crazy long and it is a unique combination of disciplines for a tri or biathlon.

Once we discovered this event, we immediately tried to talk several different friends and family members into doing it with us, but with only a few weeks notice, there were no takers. Despite our initial excitement, we went back and forth about it for quite a while, halfway training and allowing the signup deadline to creep closer and closer. Finally, with only hours to spare we signed up. David picked the triathlon, because he is a beast in possession of a sweet new-to-him mountain bike, while I opted for the easier biathlon which took out the biking. With some trepidation, we loaded up our gear and headed south, joined by a couple of great friends who agreed to hang out and kindly helped with water, gear etc.

The lakefront course and the beach (photo credit: Garrison Morris)

The lakefront course and the beach (photo credit: Garrison Morris)

We arrived about an hour and a half before the race started, checked in and got instructions about where to station our kayaks on the beach. It is a first come, first serve situation for getting your paddling position so we were glad to be there in enough time to have a couple options left. My husband and one of our friends carried the boats down and strategically picked a spot by some very cool racing kayaks. While we were getting situated we met a super nice couple who had done the race multiple times before. They provided some great insider tips about where the run dumped out and the distances between the run finish line and the kayak start. This definitely helped to ease our nerves, but everyone around us looked so hardcore and intense, we still felt like we might get destroyed in each of our respective races.

To begin the event, they gathered everyone at the start/finish line and directed us into the woods where we followed red arrows for the run and passed blue arrows that directed mountain bikers during the third leg of the race. The race started almost at a diagonal left, across an open grassy area, past the bike staging zone as well as some picnic spots. That was the only slightly confusing part of the race. We had never run at Santee before, so we didn’t know where the trail was going to begin and as previously stated it wasn’t really a straight shot out of the start line. After we got into the woods, turns were clearly marked, and the course was pretty flat and easy, covered in packed dirt and pine needles. As soon as we hit the finish line our kayak time began. We ran a little more than a quarter of a mile to the boat launch, threw on our pfds, and got launched by the volunteers. The kayak course was two 1.5 mile loops that paralleled the shoreline. If you used an SUP (we did not), you only had to do one loop. Once we finished that, we hopped out of our kayaks as quickly as possible and ran back to the start/finish line. For me, that was the end of the race. David changed shoes, strapped on his helmet and hit the trails again for the 8 mile bike ride. The biking definitely added a significant level of challenge to this event. It wasn’t steep or super technical, according to David, but doing three events over two is definitely more exhausting. Still, we both had very solid finishes. David was 11th overall in the triathlon and I won the much smaller biathlon.

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Final pump to the finish

All together, I would heartily recommend this event. It’s a unique challenge to do multiple activities back to back, and we appreciated the fact that this tri/biathlon was off-road and did not involve swimming, a sport we are definitely not in shape for right now. You can rent kayaks through several different outdoor vendors connected to the race which is helpful if you don’t own a boat, and the field of participants is not huge which we found less intimidating. The post-race party atmosphere was great too, with food, plenty of Heed and water, and great camaraderie. If we do it again next year, I would definitely work on my biking and try to do the triathlon, but the biathlon is a great option if you don’t bike. The race can also be run as a team, so grab some friends and start planning for next year’s Santee Surf and Turf Triathlon & Biathlon.

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Please note the ample BBQ and the Start/Finish line behind us 🙂

Keep looking for adventure far and nigh!

For more details about this race and other fun events sponsored by Adventure Geek Productions check out this website: http://www.adventuregeekproductions.com/santee-surf-and-turf.html