I’m predicting a new trend: traveling where there is nothing to do. I mean, who isn’t tired of having a vacation that you need another vacation to recover from? Early morning tours, all-day excursions, trying to see it all—only to come home exhausted and unrelaxed.
Slow travel is making a comeback. And there’s no place better to engage in a little slow travel than Daufuskie Island in South Carolina’s (s)low country.
Located off the coast of Hilton Head, this 10-sq. mi. island has a population of just 400 full-time residents. It’s uncrowded, unspoiled, and rich with history and sights to take in. At your own pace. You can make it a day trip or spend an entire week getting to know the islands and the locals.
Haig Point, on the Northern tip of the island, is a private residential community with 3.5 miles of pristine beachfront and activities befitting a slow travel experience, from a leisurely game of croquet to a snail’s crawl day of golf to riding horses along the beach at sunset.
The History of Daufuskie Island
The history of the island dates back more than 9,000 years, according to the artifacts and relics left behind. It wasn’t until 1521 that European settlers began arriving, ultimately clashing with the island’s natives and leading to the Battle of Bloody Point in 1715, one of the island’s historic sites.
A full century later, the Gullah slaves were brought to the island to work the oyster canneries and logging industry; portions of the tabby-walled dwellings are still standing at Haig Point, giving visitors a glimpse into their daily life. The Gullah history remains strong, and the island’s preserved structures earned a listing on the National Register of Historic Places.
Getting There and Getting Around
Daufuskie Island is known as the island without a bridge. The only way to reach this destination is by private boat or ferry. Guests of Haig Point will board a private ferry from Hilton Head, while daily travelers and other guests can take the public Daufuskie Island Ferry to reach the island.
Here’s the best part about the island: there are no roads, no cars, no traffic. To those of us who spend a lifetime commuting or running errands, this is heaven. Oh, there are roads. But they’re rugged, dirt roads that meander through the canopies of the towering oaks. Golf carts are the primary mode of transportation with bicycles coming in a close second. Myriad rental agencies on the island can assist with transportation.
What to Do on Daufuskie Island
Obviously, the first suggestion of what to do is “nothing.” Just sit on one of the island’s white sand beaches or stroll the coastline and pick up a few seashells. That’s the beauty of slow travel—no plans, no itineraries, just whiling away the day doing nothing in particular. But if you feel the need to get out and explore, there are plenty of experiences to fill your day.
Visit Historical Sites
Start at the Daufuskie Island History Museum to learn about the area’s rich past. You can pick up a Rob Kennedy Trail map that offers a self-guided tour of the island’s landmarks.
If you like lighthouses, the 1873 Lighthouse sits on Haig Point and guided mariners around the shoals of Calibogue Sound until the 1930s. The Bloody Point Lighthouse sits at the opposite end of the island and led ships into the Savannah River Channel from 1883 to 1922.
The First African Baptist Church, built in 1884, still holds services on Sunday for the island’s residents. The two-room Mary Fields School was built for the island’s Black children in the early 1930s and was integrated in 1962. Famed South Carolina author Pat Conroy once taught at the school.
See the Crafts of Local Artisans
Tony Chase moved to the island in 2013 and, like most island travelers, his first thought was, “Where do I get a good rum drink around here?” It was that thirst that gave birth to the Daufuskie Island Distillery. He built the business on rum but now has a variety of flavored and aged rum, bourbon, and vodka. Stop by after lunch and you’ll see why this is one of the island’s hot spots. The facility is open to the public from Wednesday to Saturday from 10am-4pm and offers daily tastings. Tours were suspended due to Covid but will open up in late 2021.
Trust me on this one: You’ll want to take home a reminder of this coastal lifestyle so be sure to visit Iron Fish Gallery. Chase Allen, an island transplant in search of a laidback artist’s life, makes beautiful, handcrafted metal sculptures with a coastal theme including fish, mermaids, crabs, sea turtles, lobsters, and more. If Chase is not at the studio, you’re free to select your piece of art and pay by the honor system (something that only works on an island like Daufuskie). Just leave him a note with the piece you took, and you can pay via mobile app or leave your phone number and he’ll call you for payment.
Daufuskie Island was once filled with rice and indigo fields. Indigo still grows wild here, so two locals taught themselves how to harvest and process it as a natural dye. Daufuskie Blues was founded by friends Leanne Coulter and Rhonda Davis who create beautiful hand-dyed textiles. The shop is open Tuesday through Saturday 11am-4pm.
The Daufuskie Community Farm was established in 2010 to encourage and educate locals and visitors on the importance of sustainable living. Today, this non-profit is home to a variety of friendly farm animals, a vegetable garden and orchard, and an artisan village is currently under construction. Tours must be scheduled in advance.
Take Up a Few Sports
Haig Point Club features a 20-hole Rees Jones Signature course that has been featured in Golf Digest’s “America’s 100 Greatest Courses” and in Golf Magazine’s “Top 100 in the World.” While most ocean courses only have two or three holes that touch water, Haig Point has seven tee boxes or greens with amazing water views.
I should mention that there’s one other means of transportation on the island besides golf carts and bikes: horses. There’s a strong equestrian community on the island and Daufuskie Trail Rides offers small group beach and trail rides, as well as riding lessons.
Of course, it’s hard to play golf or ride a horse with an afternoon cocktail in your hand so Haig Point’s croquet and bocce courts may be more your style.
Where to Stay and Eat on Daufuskie Island
The Strachan Mansion at Haig Point offers luxury accommodations, complete with that old fashioned Southern hospitality. The mansion was built in 1910 on St. Simons Island as a summer retreat and, in 1986, it was moved by barges over the span of three days and reconstructed on Haig Point. The lighthouse serves as guest accommodations with two bedrooms, a kitchen, dining room, and porch overlooking the water.
Dining is always a casual affair here, whether you enjoy one of Haig Point’s restaurants or visit one of the island’s seafood shacks. Lucy Bell’s, Old Daufuskie Crab Company, and the new Bells at the Beach all tout fresh off-the-boat seafood on the menu.
Whether you take my advice and slowly travel your way around the island, or if you simply sit in your beach chair watching the sun rise and set, this is the kind of place everyone should visit at least once in their lifetime. You’ll forget that traffic or alarm clocks ever existed. Or phones or deadlines or to do lists.
I think life on Daufuskie Island can best be summed up by a conversation I overheard at lunch one day when one partner asked the other, “What do you want to do after this?” and the response was, “I don’t know… maybe I’ll take a nap.”