Most people who travel to South Carolina for vacation choose a popular resort in Myrtle Beach, Garden City Beach or even Pawley’s Island. After all, there’s plenty of sunshine, countless activities such as miniature golf, amusement parks and shopping, not to mention restaurants that showcase Southern dining at its very best best.
But nestled off the Atlantic coast, just 20-miles North of Charleston, is a secret destination to most who visit South Carolina. Bulls Island is an unusual and fascinating place, full of beauty and mystery.
As part of the Cape Romain National Wildlife Refuge, Bulls Island boasts of 5,000 acres of uninhabited land just waiting to be explored. In order to reach this “other world,” you need to take a ferry ride from the mainland at Garris Landing. It is literally the only way onto the island and the only way off of the island.
Coastal Expedition, a small, family-owned business created in 1992, provides an educational ecotour as the ferry slowly leads you away from civilization. It’s common to see a team of dolphins swimming along side the ferry and the naturalist onboard explains the ecosystem, carefully pointing out details that I’d miss on my own.
The closer you get to Bulls Island, the greater the anticipation.
Once you exit the ferry, you are completely on your own. At first, the possibilities seem endless and the thought of venturing around is thrilling. However, as the hours drift by and the hot South Carolina sun is beating down on you, it can feel a bit unsettling and lonely.
On my most recent trip to this magical place, my family and I spent the afternoon walking along the seven mile stretch known as Boneyard Beach. It’s called Boneyard Beach because the oak and cedar trees that once stood tall on the island are slowly being stripped away as the high tides cause the coastline to shift. The remains of the white-bleached trees actually look like large dinosaur bones.
Erosion, or the gradual destruction of something, is not something that often translates into beauty. But at Boneyard Beach, it’s quite the opposite. The beauty, however, is complicated.
For photographers like myself, this is a dream location. Literally every angle provides a jaw-dropping landscape that leaves me curious to know more about the mysteries that exist beyond the coastline.
Venturing away from the beach, we decided to explore the dense forrest, which feels more like a jungle as you push through thick brush and battle the mosquitos with each step into nowhere. Once we were able to find a crude path, we followed it, not knowing quite where it led and hoping that we’d find our way back in time for the ferry pick-up.
Many people visit the island to relax on the beach for the day or to birdwatch or to collect gorgeous shells. And we did those things. But we also came to find alligators. Sometimes along the path, we would see markings on the ground, revealing the long shape of a dragging tail.
As we would approach a sawgrass marsh, we ended all conversation. The complete silence allowed us to give our full attention to the particular sound we were listening for: the sound of an alligator sliding into the water. With our binoculars in hand, we’d take turns tying to locate the creature. The excitement when we had spotted his eyes sticking barely out of the water was uncontainable.
When most of your vacation revolves around man-made attractions, escaping to an uninhabited island is a welcomed getaway. There isn’t a Starbucks on the corner by the eroding tree and you’ll leave with too many bug bites to count, but the “other worldliness” is unforgettable. The views are stunning. And for a few hours, you feel like an explorer.