Fun & Sun in Golden Isles, GA

We returned home late last night from our 4-day trip to Golden Isles, GA. The Golden Isles are comprised of  St. Simons Island, Sea Island, Little St. Simons Island and Jekyll Island. We spent the majority of our time on Jekyll Island, with a brief visit to St. Simons Island. We also visited St. Marys, a historic waterfront community about 30 minutes south of Jekyll Island, and the uninhabited Cumberland Island.

KOAWaffleThis was actually our second time to visit St. Marys. A few years ago we camped there to attend the Jacksonville Jaguars vs. Houston Texans game. The KOA made such a favorable impression on us that we didn’t think twice about picking it again for this trip. You really can’t beat the free waffles and pancakes that are included with your stay, or the great staff. On this trip, we stayed in a Kamping Kabin. At $50 per night, you can’t beat that either (well, unless you stay in a tent).

On Friday, we spent the morning exploring St. Simons Island. My mom, an avid reader of historical fiction, had taken me to St. Simons as a kid to explore the cemetery of Christ Church, Frederica, one of the oldest churches in Georgia and the burial ground of many of the characters brought to life in Eugenia Price’s novels. When my mom and I made the journey in 1985, Eugenia Price was still alive. Today she is buried alongside the people she wrote about. Though I no longer remember the characters from the books, I do remember how much my mom loved them, so for her, we made a visit to Eugenia Price’s grave.

The beach on St. Simons was by far my favorite from this trip. At low tide, you could walk for 100 yards or more without ever going more than ankle-deep in the water. I think it was the marine life though that most captivated our attention. In the clear tide pools you could see baby stingrays, hermit crabs, and all sorts of little fish. I wish we could have spent more time at the beach but we had reservations on Jekyll Island for a dolphin tour.

After the tour, we went to dinner at the Driftwood Bistro on Jekyll Island. With a 4.5 star review score on TripAdvisor, I had high hopes for a great dinner of Wild Georgia Shrimp. Perhaps the cook staff was having a bad night (it was pretty busy) but our meals were nothing to write home about. The shrimp was greasy and the veggies were bland.

The highlight of our evening was taking a Turtle Walk with the Georgia Sea Turtle Center. Having spent an entire summer on sea turtle patrol in Florida in 2014, we were pretty excited to be back on the lookout for nesting loggerheads. Sadly, we didn’t see any that night (not that we could have taken pictures – they are forbidden due to the flash). We did find numerous horseshoe crabs and a tiny baby flounder washed up on the shore, which was promptly tossed back in to grow to sandwich size. On an odd note, a young girl on our walk (maybe 11 or 12 years old) picked up a horseshoe crab shell and carried it around with her like a baby for the entire 2 hour walk.

On Saturday, we spent the day on Cumberland Island before returning to our campsite to make dinner. At home we make mostly vegetarian meals so we decided to try an Eggplant Parmesan (on rice) on the grill, with corn on the cob, and grilled peaches for dessert. It was pretty darn good, if I do say so myself! Definitely a whole lot better than the meal we paid $35 for the night before.

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The ride home on Sunday was mostly uneventful, except for the many stops along the way to find “real” Georgia peaches. Don’t be fooled, like we were, by the signs along the interstate. The peaches may be from Georgia but at nearly $1 each, I’d literally call it highway robbery. We did buy a bucket of peaches for my mom (since we promised) but for ourselves we waited until we crossed back into Tennessee, where our favorite farmer, Mr. Paul, had white peaches for $1 per pound.

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Hot Sand & Wild Horses

With nearly 18 miles of shoreline, Cumberland Island is the largest barrier island in Georgia. It is accessible only by boat. The island is owned and operated by the National Park Service so be sure to bring along your National Parks Passport if you’re collecting stamps. Sadly, our Passport wasn’t among the many things we carried to the island that day.

To get to the island, we took the Cumberland Island Ferry from the Mainland Visitors Center in St. Mary’s, GA. Aside from a handful of private vessels docked on the island, it seemed most folks were arriving via the ferry. From the ferry, there are two options for disembarkement – the Dungeness Dock and the Sea Camp Dock. We got off at Dungeness, which we had previously been told was the “hardest way to get to the beach”.

The very first sight we were greeted by at the dock was a group of manatees gathered in the shallow waters.

The second sight was a team of wild horses grazing by the picnic tables.

The trail through the Dungeness Ruins is indeed the hardest path to the beach and they don’t call it the “Sahara” for nothing. From the moment you pass Dungeness (the former home of Thomas Carnegie, brother of Andrew), you enter a sandy desert that seems to stretch for miles. In reality, it’s only about a mile from the dock to the beach but a good bit of the walk is through a sand dune.

The beach on Cumberland Island is everything that a beach should be…and then some. We especially enjoyed playing in the shallow pools that formed on the beach during low tide. The water in the pools reflected the heat from the sand, making it feel like you were sitting in a hot tub. We even decided to eat our snack – a bowl of cantaloupe purchased earlier that day from the St. Marys Farmer’s Market – while sitting in the tide pool. Why? Just to say we did.

After a few hours of walking the beach (from Dungeness to Sea Camp) and trying to capture photos of the inside of waves with our waterproof Nikon Coolpix camera (one of the greatest gifts we’ve ever received), we started making our way back to Sea Camp Dock to meet the outgoing ferry. In total, we walked about 3 miles from dock to dock.

Midway up the trail, we came upon the showers for the Sea Camp campground and decided to change back into our dry clothes. Outdoor showers with no hot water are always a fun experience! Being clean also meant we’d rinsed off the bug spray we just put on. Not good when you’re on an island in the South at the height of summer. If you take no other suggestion from this post, take this one – bring bug spray and use it often!

The ferry ride to/from St. Mary’s to Cumberland Island takes roughly 45-minute each way. If you’re lucky, like we were, you may see dolphins swimming alongside the boat.