The afternoon sun sparkles on the Harbor River near Beaufort, South Carolina, a million glittering splinters of light on the dancing waves.
We’re kayaking through a grassy salt-marsh briny with the rich scent of the Lowcountry, the clusters of barrier islands between Charleston and Savannah that shelter the historic little town locals know as BYOO-fort.
The nearby Atlantic Ocean and mild subtropical climate keep this coastal Eden alive with activity—much centered on the water: light-tackle fishing, paddleboarding, crabbing, or just sipping a julep on some broad veranda, watching the water.
We quietly dip our paddles in a tidal creek as dolphins rush against a nearby bank on “stranding” raids. They’re trapping small fish in the shallows for a fresh lunch. We’re so close we could almost skip an oyster shell into their midst, but that would interrupt their meal.
As long as we stay still, the dolphins tolerate our presence. One even does a slow swim past, rolling to the side a bit to turn a surprisingly discerning eye on us, the upturned line of its jaw like a sassy smile.
A kayak is a great way to get such up-close looks, slipping without a whisper through the still waters, between delicate sea lavender and salt marsh aster blooms among the grasses. We push deep into shallow estuaries knobby with bald cypress knees and alive with the chirruping of a thousand spring peepers and southern chorus frogs.
“The Beaufort area offers great, year-round paddling for all skill levels, from easy-going, inshore flat water creeks to exposed and challenging surf zones on the edge of the Atlantic,” says Eric K. Gibbons, owner and guide at The Kayak Farm outfitter.
“Without having to paddle far from the boat ramps, one can see 300-pound loggerhead sea turtles, pods of bottlenose dolphin, fully grown alligators, huge manta rays, bald eagles, otters,” he says. “I could keep the list going. If you put in your time on the saltwater, you won’t be disappointed.”
Dropping a line
Later we join Bay Street Outfitters, where the whir of rapidly unspooling fishing line gets us a different view of some local creatures—the redfish, drum, cobia, and many other gamefish eager to strike a fresh-cut mullet lure or a well-presented fly.
“Beaufort is a dream saltwater fishery,” says Capt. Owen Plair, an Orvis endorsed guide at Bay Street Outfitters. “The place is so rich in habitat—the ever-changing tides, winding waterways, and countless fields of Spartina grass.”
We keep our lines baited and in the water for more action. Poling silently through the waterways, we’re on fish nearly the whole time. Sight-casting for low-tide redfish we listen as the water laps gently against the boat, watching as American oystercatchers stalk the shoreline, plunging their bright orange beaks into the oysters exposed by the low water.
We learn to distinguish wading white ibis with their pink beaks and legs from snowy egrets with their legs and beaks of black. We laugh at flocks of grey winged and black capped terns all standing stubbornly aerodynamically beak-first into a prevailing wind as though waiting for a parade to pass by. Wind in your tail-feathers must tickle, we decide.
Among the spreading, centuries-old live oaks along the shore, we glimpse abandoned cotton-era mansions now lorded over by roly-poly raccoons and colonies of barn swallows. In the distance, the Lowcountry’s ubiquitous shrimp boats bristling with outrigger booms trundle off to wet their sagging nets in offshore waters.
“It’s a place I call a lifetime fishery because it will take a lifetime to explore it all,” Capt. Owen says. “There’s just nothing like a day on the water not seeing another boat or any sign of civilization; just surrounded by the true beauty and nature of the Lowcountry.”
A great headquarters for that exploration is Anchorage 1770, a beautiful Revolutionary-era mansion that peers out over the Beaufort River from between Greek columns topped with ornate Corinthian capitals.
“Our guests can walk across the street to experience kayaking, paddleboarding, fishing, boat tours, cocktail cruises, and more,” says Vivi Verity Nellen, manager of the graceful Greek revival bed and breakfast. “Getting on the water is one of the reasons to visit Beaufort and all its beauty!”
The white tabby mansion’s airy verandas look past palmetto and live oak to the salt marsh and sailboat-dotted river beyond, and provide a perfect setting for activities—or luxurious inactivity. “The views from our porches are truly breathtaking,” Nellen says, “whether you are sitting and reading a book in the afternoon, taking a private yoga class, or sipping a glass of wine at sunset.”
The inn adds gracious amenities to any visit. Easy-pedaling fat-tire bikes carry us past Beaufort’s picturesque antebellum architecture—fortunately untouched by the destruction of the Civil War. Dismounting, we visit the many artists, shops, and galleries in the town center near Waterfront Park, just two blocks from our rooms.
For the culinary arts, there’s a Lowcountry cuisine walking tour of six Beaufort eateries specializing in distinctive regional dishes like she-crab soup, gumbo, Brunswick stew, or shrimp and grits. The inn also offers customizable picnic baskets for daily outings, say to a nearby sandbar for lunch or aboard one of the many cruise vessels available for charter.
It’s a menu of options matched by Beaufort, South Carolina’s roll call of great adventures, especially those in and around the salt marshes, tidal creeks, estuaries, and sun-sparkled rivers leading to the vast Atlantic Ocean.
Even the locals find themselves entranced by the sheer beauty and range of memory-making delights, many in clear view from Anchorage 1770’s broad porches.
“Having the water as your backdrop is instantly relaxing,” says Vivi Nellen. “It’s why I live here.”
Sharing a bottle of wine on the inn’s third floor veranda as a Lowcountry sundown shimmers its shades of coral, ruby, and lilac in the reflecting river, it’s easy to agree.