During my recent trip to Myrtle Beach, I took a guided kayak tour with Black River Outdoors Center through a section of the Waccamaw near Sandy Island, the largest undeveloped fresh water island on the East Coast.
Led by guide and avid birder Paul Laurent, we set off from Wacca Wache Landing in Murrells Inlet heading north along this picturesque river that has served as an important navigational channel since the 18th century. Boaters can take the Waccamaw - part of the Intracoastal Waterway - down to Winyah Bay in Georgetown and then out to the Atlantic.
We paddled the deep, wide river about a half hour before turning onto the narrower White Creek. Far removed from the popular visitor attractions, the area is a refuge for a wide variety of wildlife, from migratory ducks to alligators to otters.
As we traveled along the creek, we saw a number of birds soaring overhead and winging it across the water. The avian passersby included a Pileated Woodpecker, Sharp-shinned Hawk, White Ibis, Red-tailed Hawk and several kingfishers.
Our closest encounter with the area's critters came as we entered one of the many rice canals that were carved out of the tidal swamps to drain the low-lying land. Taking the lead, I was casually paddling through the narrow waterway when an otter perched on the shore, slid into the creek just in front of my boat. I barely had a chance to gasp before the bashful little fellow disappeared into the black water.
Clearly, this is a popular fishing spot for river otters as we found their telltale tracks all over the muddy banks of the rice canal.
River otters aren't the only mammals prowling the Waccamaw and nearby creeks for a seafood dinner. During our three-hour paddle, a half-dozen anglers passed us in motorboats sporting all the trappings for an afternoon of fishing. The catch of the day could include bass, crappie, bream and catfish.
We paddled deeper into the narrow canal, navigating through the thick marsh grass. But with a waning tide, we decided not to chance running out of water on the trip out.
Back on White Creek, we continued our way through the meandering waterway, traveling a short distance on Black Creek before reconnecting to the Waccamaw. Having come full circle, we headed to a sandy shore at the edge of Brookgreen Gardens to rest and refuel. In the summer, I might consider cooling off in the river. But on this chilly morning, I stayed high and dry, enjoying the landscape as I ate my sandwich.
After our brief break, we continued downstream on the Waccamaw, stopping to admire several large cypress trees and the remains of a dock that was once used to ship rice to Georgetown. Before long, we were back at Wacca Wache Landing.
The five-mile Sandy Island kayak trip is one of six naturalist-guided eco-tours offered by Black River Outdoors Center. Other popular excursions include the Huntington Beach salt marsh, a tupelo swamp and Georgetown Harbor. Click here to check out Black River's complete schedule of tours. For more information, call (843) 546-4840 or email info@BlackRiverOutdoors.com.