Somewhere inside of me, there will always be an island kid. I've spent about three years of my life living on islands, and there is just something special about them. When I'm talking about an island, I mean a real island, one you can only get to by boat. As soon as a bridge connects it, it becomes a peninsula in my head. It loses its charm. It becomes just another part of whatever it is connected to. A real island is isolated and quirky and the residents are eccentric and innovative, as anything they need - from groceries to lumber - probably has to come from somewhere else. Daufuskie Island is a real island and a beautiful and charming one at that. It's hard to believe it's only 20 minutes by water taxi from mainland South Carolina because it feels a world apart.
The first thing I want to do is dispel these myths, though, so you won't be disappointed by what you actually find there. Any time I have heard of an island where there are "no cars", the first things I see when I get off the boat are usually cars. The same holds true here - there are plenty of cars on Daufuskie, but the roads are quiet and they don't really take away from the charm. The second myth is that it's like stepping back in time a hundred years. While I understand the comparison, a hundred years ago people probably weren't whizzing around in golf carts and calling each other on their cell phones. Now that those guidebook descriptions have been set aside, Daufuskie is a wonderful place. It's quiet, removed, peaceful and an absolutely perfect place to get away from the hustle and bustle of everyday life.
I arrived on Daufuskie by taking the regularly scheduled ferry from Buckingham Landing off of the highway before crossing the bridge to Hilton Head. It was easy to access and the parking was free. The ferry ride from this dock takes about an hour, but it's a pleasant ride. Be sure you bring a book or some good music, or maybe you'd have just enough time to listen to one of my podcasts. Before you know it though, you'll pull into the dock at Daufuskie and arrive at a quieter, simpler place.
You want to be sure you have your transportation set when you arrive, so you don't waste a lot of time figuring this out on the island. There are guided tours, which I'm sure are wonderful, but I chose to just rent a golf cart for the day. At about $60, it's hard to go wrong and then you can go where you want, when you want and spend as much time there as you want. You can set up your rental for the day by calling (843) 505-3937. My cart was right there waiting for me when I walked off the dock and with a map in one hand and a cold beer in the other, I set off to explore the island.
My first stop was at the now abandoned Melrose Resort. Apparently after the last economic downturn, Melrose was given up by the owner, and it has been left to deteriorate for the last 10 years. It was sad, but also really cool to see. I enjoyed cruising around the grounds and looking at the old broken buildings. Many have been sold, and I'm sure it's only a matter of time before the old place is up an running again. One of the cooler parts of their property, though, was a pond and rookery, full of beautiful birds. I got out and wandered around for a while there, taking photos and enjoying the views.
From there I headed on around the north of the island to check out some of the old buildings and cemeteries on my map. Apparently in the Gullah culture, it is preferred for cemeteries to be located near the water so that it's easier for their spirits to return home to Africa.
The First Union African Baptist Church, the main church on the island, was also really pretty both inside and out. It was nice to be able to wander inside and up the old crooked stairway to the balcony. Up the road from the church was an old "council tree", a place where people could gather after church in the shade and chew the fat about non church-related business. It was easy to picture people hanging around under this massive, sprawling oak, laughing and talking about the weather, the crops or whatever else they discussed under the tree. Also near the church was the old Mary Fields school, which was built in the 1930s to educate the island's black children. It was also the school where Pat Conroy taught and which served as the inspiration for his book The Water is Wide.
By the time I had finished all this exploring, I was ready for some lunch. There are two restaurants on the island, Daufuskie Crab Company near the ferry dock and Lucy Bell's out in the middle of things. Lucy Bell's had been recommended to me by a friend, so that is where I went. It was really good. I got one of the specials - a lightly fried grouper with a sweet creole sauce over jasmine rice with green beans and slaw. It was to die for. It really was one of the better pieces of fish I've had in a long time, and everything else was wonderful too. I enjoyed my lunch sitting at a nice, outdoor table under another giant oak draped in Spanish moss. I would highly recommend Lucy Bell's for your trip to Daufuskie.
Full of delicious food, I set off to explore the south of the island. My first stop after lunch was at the Bloody Point Lighthouse and Silver Dew Winery. Not a traditional lighthouse, this was more the keeper's house, but it had a wonderful video and a small museum to check out. The deer ate all their grapes this year, so the wine they were pouring was not their own, but it was still interesting to taste the variety they were working with. A little sweet for my taste, but nice to sample.
From there I headed down to for a nice long walk along the beach on the southeast side of the island. It was nice to walk off some of my lunch and the beach was all but deserted when I was there. After a nice long walk, I headed back up towards the dock. A quick beer at the Crab Company was all I had time for before jumping on the 5:30 ferry back to the mainland.
It was a really wonderful day out on Daufuskie Island. As the boat whisked us back towards the highways and crowds, I felt happy with a day full of fun, wonderful memories, a few nice photos and the peace that comes when you can truly escape it all for a day. It definitely felt like I had spent the day "somewhere else". I saw a shirt in the island's lone store which just about summed it up. It said "Daufuskie Island, Just 2.5 Miles From America".
Daufuskie Island was a wonderful day trip for me. There are also plenty of overnight options if you want to spend the night. I found THIS GUIDE to be really useful in finding my way around the island.