Shem Creek during a sunset tour last week, hours after the Lowcountry was pelted by heavy rains.
When a group of three dolphins swam within reaching distance of six kayakers in Shem Creek, this past Wednesday afternoon, there were the usual oohs and aahs from the crowd. One of the people whose eyes lit up was naturalist and guide of Nature Adventure Outfitters (NAO) Clark Scalera.
As a tour guide with NAO for about a year, Scalera has seen hundreds of dolphins. “It never gets old,” he said, smiling. “They’re really something special.”
The group was returning from a tour of Shem Creek, including Bayview Creek and a viewing of Crab Bank Island. NAO takes adventure seekers on that route and through Blackwater Creek – in the Francis Marion Forest.
On the Shem Creek tour, paddlers saw blue crabs, an osprey, a crested night heron, great egret and brown pelicans. In Blackwater Creek, alligators, song birds, warblers and thousand-year-old cypress trees are common sights. NAO also accepts specialty tours for those wanting to paddle elsewhere in the Lowcountry.
Scalera noted Capers Island – beyond Sullivan’s Island and Isle of Palms – as one of his favorite spots to kayak. He has a wealth of knowledge of wildlife, a passion for sea creatures – he rescued stranded crabs in an abandoned net during Wednesday’s trip – and a zest for getting people out on the water.
“We can go 20 feet and take an hour and a half,” he joked about his talkative nature.
“It’s a great combination of meeting fun people and having a great time on the water,” he said. Wednesday afternoon’s group included tourists from Indiana and Pennsylvania. “There are so many magic moments.”
Gates Roll, one of the lead guides with Coastal Expeditions, picked his own three Lowcountry spots as kayaking favorites: Copahee Sound, Charleston Harbor and Wambaw Creek. “All trips are suitable for anyone, but I’d say that the Copahee Sound would stand the chance of being the most challenging – the right ride would be critical,” he said.
Copahee Sound, nestled around Hamlin Sound, Bullyard Sound and Capers Inlet east of Mount Pleasant, is best toured with minimal wind and with a low and rising tide. “Explore this moonscape of oyster bars and mudflats as new channels form,” Roll said. “A sure place to see shallow water feeding action – be it shorebirds or bottlenose dolphin.”
The harbor is best explored in cooler weather and when “the damned weekend warriors hibernate,” he added. Paddling is suitable during any tide. Experience birds, dolphin and historical areas. “Get your fair share of both history and wildlife, and if the harbor is a bit windy, find one of the many intimate back creeks and take it slow and easy,” Roll said.
Roll’s final recommended spot, Wambaw Creek, is great at any time during any season, he said. “This little blackwater creek is a hidden gem, and it is right up the road from Mount Pleasant,” Roll said. There’s even an opportunity to picnic at Hampton Plantation on the Santee River among millennium cypress trees.
Anna Sullivan, a naturalist and tour guide with Charleston Outdoor Adventures (COA), said the company is back to thriving after a fire on Bowens Island last August destroyed most of its resources, including kayak fleet, stand-up paddleboard fleet, charter boat and office.
COA’s location at the end of Bowens Island is away from the commotion of Folly Beach. Typical sights during kayak tours include dolphins, Loggerhead sea turtles, American wood strok and Manta ray, according to Sullivan.
She said the Folly Beach area is the best Charleston location to kayak “with the most wildlife sightings and the least amount of boat traffic.”