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Hilton Head off course: Beyond golf, South Carolina's Lowcountry offers world-class kayaking

By Lisa Allen, Contributor

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. - After an early-morning round of golf in Hilton Head, head northwest, then east to Beaufort and see the city from the perspective of the first Europeans to arrive - from the water, this time in a kayak.

Kayaking in Beaufort, S.C.
A group of kayakers, led by David Gorzynski of Beaufort Kayak Tours, paddle past Beaufort antebellum mansions.
Kayaking in Beaufort, S.C.18th century tabby bulkheadBeaufort from a waterside viewKayak tour of BeaufortBeaufort - horse-drawn buggy Kayaking in Beaufort, S.C. - pelicansKayaking in Beaufort, S.C. - pelican

Beaufort Kayak Tours, owned by husband and wife team of David Gorzynski and Kim Gundler, offers a multitude of water tours, from the vast river systems and marshes of the ACE basin, a 350,000-acre sanctuary consisting of the Ashepoo, Combahee and South Edisto rivers between Beaufort and Charleston, or a jaunt out to the Atlantic via South Carolina's most popular state park, Hunting Island.

The outfit also offers tours of Beaufort, South Carolina's second oldest city next to Charleston, or Penn Center, the first school for freed slaves and a retreat locale for Martin Luther King Jr.

"We have tremendous natural and historical resources in this area," Gorzynski said, who started Beaufort Kayak Tours eight years ago. "We look for locations that will have additional points of interest."

A paddle tour of Beaufort history

The two-hour Beaufort history tour around "The Point" starts out amid the power boats launching from the landing off Factory Creek on Lady's Island. But after Gorzynski goes over less-drippy paddling techniques and how one maneuvers a 12-foot kayak, you're off. He helps each person launch so there are no awkward, beached-whale moments.

Once in the water, one understands how stable a kayak is. Their center of gravity is below the waterline, so there is no perilous tilting with each stroke that one might find in a canoe.

From there, Gorzynski directs you toward the middle of the wide Beaufort River and across the Intracoastal Waterway after carefully checking both ways for boat traffic.

It's high tide, so the water laps against a mid-19th century tabby bulkhead that shores up Bay Street on the north side of the 1930s-era swing Richard V. Woods Memorial Bridge that connects Lady’s Island and Beaufort. The bridge alone is worth some photos.

400 years of history in a hurry

Once out of the current against the breakwater, Gorzynski gathers paddlers for a succinct summary of the arrival of the French in the 1560s, the Spanish, then the British to Beaufort and the importance of the deep Port Royal Sound, one of the deepest inlets along the East Coast, which meant large European ships had harbor.

From there, Gorzynski leads the group along the waterfront mansions along The Point, some dating back to the mid-1800s, explaining that many were just summer homes away from the nearby plantations, in the hope that the breeze from the water would be cooler.

A brief skirmish and the Civil War was over

Again, the guide pulls the group into a knot and explains how Beaufort was the first Southern city the Union army captured in the Civil War. Once word reached town that the Union army had overpowered local volunteer resistance in just a few hours, all the white people fled, leaving behind thousands of slaves to fend for themselves.

Therefore, while the Civil War raged elsewhere for four more years, Beaufort, its population now 80 percent to 90 percent black, was well into Reconstruction, building a Southern society without slavery, led by blacks.

Northerners were intrigued by the idea of teaching them how to run a community and set up schools to help them. Penn Center, on nearby St. Helena Island, is the first school for freed slaves. (Beaufort Kayak Tours leads an excursion there, too.)

The Union Army, recognizing the value of the cotton ready for harvest, paid former slaves to pick it, the first time slaves possessed money of their own. The effort to create a black-led community was known as the Port Royal Experiment.

Today's environment and its perils

In between the history lessons, Gorzynski leads the group in a leisurely pace, pointing out birds seen along the way: pelicans, cormorants, ospreys and oyster catchers. He explains how oysters filter water and the importance of delicate land management.

"We try to emphasize how important this area has been in both natural and social history," Gorzynski explained.

But soon, you'll head back to shore, bringing a twofold journey to an end. Yes, you crossed the Beaufort River, but you also had a quick jaunt through Beaufort's rich past, with a side trip through a nature center. That's a lot to pack into a couple hours.

And, if you hurry, you might get in another round at Oyster Reef Golf Course.

Beaufort Kayak Tours

Beaufort Kayak Tours offers both half- and full-day excursions to a multitude of places: ACE basin, Hunting Island State Park, Beaufort and Penn Center. They provide the kayak, life preserver and paddle. David and Kim offer custom tours as well. For more information, see www.beaufortkayaktours.com or call (843) 525-0810.

Lisa AllenLisa Allen, Contributor

Lisa Allen is a golf, travel and business writer based in Beaufort, S.C. She has edited newspapers, magazines and books in Michigan, Indiana and South Carolina. Follow her on Twitter @LAllenSC.

Reader Comments / Reviews Leave a comment
  • Great Post

    Paul wrote on: Apr 8, 2010

    Kayaking in the Lowcountry is the best way to get out there, and Beaufort Kayak Tours does a great job. It really lets you appreciate how beautiful of a area the Carolina sea island are!
    Thanks for the great article


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