Nature and Eco Tours
Enjoying nature on the water.
If you don't mind providing the locomotion, kayaking is an excellent way to see dolphins and shore birds. Tour guides are versed in the local wildlife and talk about the flora and fauna seen on the tour. They also know where to go to find dolphin. Seeing a dolphin from a kayak is quite a thrill because you are so close, but it can be intimidating to some. Click here for details.
Zodiac boats are inflatable boats with rigid hulls. They hold up to six people plus the captain (a few might hold more if the captain is licensed for more). They are low in the water, so provide a good platform for observing dolphins up close. Going out on a zodiac, you will also have an expert guide and will be in a small group. Zodiacs have a greater range than kayaks, so they can go farther to find dolphins. Also, you don't have to paddle them. Here are some places that provide eco tours on zodiacs.
Commander Zodiac at the South Beach Marina in Sea Pines plantation. 843-671-3344. They use Zodiac boats (rigid bottom inflatable sides).
Island Explorer has both zodiac type boats and deck boats. They hold either six or twelve passengers. They operate from the docks at the Old Oyster Factory. 843-785-2100.
Other companies offer nature tours on small, six passenger boats. Low Country Nature Tours in Shelter Cove Harbour, 843-683-0187, uses deck boats.
If there are more than six people in your party and you want to be together, there are enviro tour boats that can hold more passengers but are still small enough to provide a close-up view. Two of these are the SS Pelican (16 passengers) and the Island Queen, (40 passengers) which is wheelchair accessible . It operates out of Broad Creek Marina. 843-681-2522. The Dolphin Seafari at Palmetto Bay Water Sports holds 15 passengers. 843-785-2345. You can call the various marinas for information about others. Click here for marinas.
For those who like to sail, sail boats and sailing catamarans are available for eco tours also. For example: Cheers, a 47 foot sailing yacht, which sails out of Hudson's Restaurant landing. From my personal experience these are more to be enjoyed for sailing than for nature. Hilton Head's only gaff rigged schooner, Schooner Welcome, sails from Shelter Cove Harbour and holds up to 30 passengers. Pau Hana and Flying Circus are sailing catamarans operating from the Palmetto Bay Marina 843-686-2582. Harbour Town Marina has H2O Let's Go Sailing, with two distinctly different boats 843-671-4386.
Some people prefer a stable viewing platform with amenities such as restrooms and snacks and beverages available. Some larger power boats that go out on dolphin watches are:
Gypsy, a 65 foot boat, which is docked at the South Beach Marina in Sea Pines Plantation. Gypsy offers not just dolphin watches but a "kids cruise" which adds cast netting for shrimp, pulling up crab traps that have previously been set, and shark fishing. 843-363-2900. Has a restroom.
Another eco cruise especially (but not exclusively) enjoyed by children is the Tammy Jane, a trawler where passengers learn all about shrimp trawling and are treated to a demonstration. You never know what will come up in the nets: squid, puffer fish, shrimp, crabs etc. Located at Skull Creek at Hudson's Seafood House. 843-384-7833.
The Holiday (80 feet) operates from Shelter Cove. 843-785-4558.
An interesting new excursion is aimed at nature photographers. Salt Marsh Photographic Cruises offers boat trips in the salt marsh guided by an experienced photographer. Departs from the Hilton Head Boathouse on Marshland Rd. 843-290-2720.
If you are experienced you can rent a boat or kayak and go out on your own. The best way to see dolphins, if you are fortunate enough, is to seek out a shrimp trawler that is at anchor with its nets up. Shortly after a trawler anchors, the crew usually clears the nets and the shrimp catch of collateral catch (small fish, squid, etc.) and dumps it overboard. This attracts small to medium fish, which in turn attract dolphin. If you are in a power boat and if the tide is running (either way) you should be able to nose into the current and apply just enough throttle to stay alongside the trawler for a long time. It's an experience you won't soon forget.
You will be almost certain to see several alligators on the H20 Alligator and Wildlife tour, a one-hour tour on an electric boat on a lake in the Sea Pines forest preserve. Be sure to bring your camera. 843-686-5323.
The Coastal Discovery Museum offers a broad range of programs, including walking tours of the beach with a trained naturalist. In the loggerhead nesting season there is a chance of seeing a loggerhead nest and a slim chance of seeing hatchlings heading seaward at night. No matter what you want to do on Hilton Head, the Coastal Discovery Museum is well worth a visit. They are located at the Honey Horn Plantation at the Gum Tree road exit/entrance to the Cross Island toll road. 843-689-6767.
Enjoying nature on land.
To go bird watching and perhaps see alligators, turtles, deer and other critters, you might want to visit the Sea Pines Forest Preserve, a 650 acre forest with trails and lakes where you can go self-guided or with naturalist guides. For a guided tour, call Sea Pines Ecotours at 843-842-1979. Depending on the time of year you might be treated to a hayride (tractor drawn). You can also tour it on horseback by calling Lawton Stables at 843-671-2586. During egret nesting season, don't miss the Rookery, an island in the preserve where hundreds of egrets and herons nest.
Other popular places to go are the Audubon Newhall Nature Preserve off Palmetto Bay road between the foot of the cross-island bridge and Sea Pines circle, and the Pinckney Island Sanctuary. Both of these offer self-guided tours. The Coastal Discovery Museum offers guided nature walks on Pinckney island and sometimes at the Audubon Preserve, programs are conducted by the Audubon Society. 843-785-5775.
The ideas presented above are a sample of what's available for visitors to
enjoy. We make no representation regarding any of the companies or
organizations listed, and they have not paid to be included. More complete
boat related information can be had by calling the
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