Sapelo Island Whole Day Whole Island Tour

Guided tour of Sapelo Island five miles offshore from the Georgia Coast. Includes roundtrip ferry ride to the Island, the University of Georgia's Marine Institute, R. J. Reynolds Mansion, historic, Sapelo Island Lighthouse, beautiful unspoiled and undeveloped Atlantic Ocean beach, and African-American community of slave descendants.

Visitor's meet your guide at 8 a.m. at the Sapelo Island Visitor's Center, 1966 Landing Rd., Darien, Ga 31305. Directions from Georgia 99: Between the 11 and 12 mile markers on the east side of the road, turn east onto Landing Rd. at the Sapelo Island-Elm Grove Baptist Church signs. Drive to the end of the paved road. Turn right, cross the bridge, and park as close to the Visitor's Center Building, then come upstairs in the elevated red building for a short tour of the Island historical time line museum, followed by a 300 yard walk to the ferry dock, where you pay the boat mate and sign his list.

I recommend sitting upstairs on the top deck for the best view, where masks are not required. Watch out for dolphins following the boat, as well as sea gulls, pelicans, and occasional bald eagles! On arrival at the Island, you will pay the rental vehicle owner in cash, exact change, $60, plus use a credit card to replace gas used at the end of the trip, usually about $10 worth at current prices for fuel on the Island.

We then drive up the 150 year old causeway to the Island, and drive up a scenic road with even older live oak trees decorated with Resurrection Fern, found only on the Coastal Plain, arriving at the former R.J. Reynolds Dairy Barn, now the main campus lab building for the University of Georgia's Marine Institute, where 28 student groups from all over the U.S. come to study marine life, along with resident professors studying the Island's 5,000 acres of saltmarsh monoculture. There is even a 100 seat movie theater upstairs where multimillionaire R.J. Reynolds used to show 1st run movies to his guests! After briefly touring the other campus buildings, stop to study the unique turkey fountain and begin the story of playboy R. J. Reynolds four wives and four divorces! You might see an alligator in the adjacent pond!

Next stop is the over 200 year old R.J. Reynolds Mansion known as "The Big House" by Islanders that has survived hurricanes and wars, and where three U.S. presidents and Henry and Edsel Ford and Charles Lindberg have all been entertained by previous owner Howard Coffin, also a multimillionaire who also developed The Closter on nearby Sea Island, a famous resort for the wealthy and famous, and made his money as a founder of the Hudson Motor Company. Hear stories of two of the four wives of R.J. Reynolds who visited there on the spot where events in their life played out, including his marriage to his third of four wives!

Next stop is the scenic Sapelo Island Lighthouse, built in 1820. On Wednesdays and Saturday's, you can climb the 77 steps to the top. A nearby beacon light tower and an observation tower can be climbed at any time, to kid's delight! While here, you will hear more stories of Reynold's beautiful Hollywood starlet Marianne O'Brien who spent her honeymoon on Sapelo with R.J., plus the lighthouse's many roles in the Island rich military history.

Then we drive to the beautiful unspoiled and undeveloped beach, one of the few accessible to visitors in the United States, where huge loggerhead sea turtles lay their eggs at the edge of the scenic sand dunes rimmed with sea oats, and hear more second wife stories of Reynold's last two boys of before visiting the Hog Hammock National Historic Site, home to the African American Gullah-Geechee descendants of former slaves on the Island.

Next, we go into the R.J. Reynolds Wildlife Management Area, where whitetail deer are frequently seen, along with occasional wild hogs, wild cows, raccoon, armadillos, alligators, and even a bald eagle, if we are lucky. Then we visit the restored Raccoon Bluff Church, similar to the one on Cumberland Island where President John F. Kennedy's son got married, and you can too! We see scenic Blackbeard Island and Blackbeard Creek, Bourbon Field Indian Mound, the prairie, and the mysterious 4,500 year old Indian Shell Ring.

Then we head back south to pre Civil War Chocolate Plantation, with the largest remaining tabby ruins of slave cabins and manor house on the Georgia Coast, before visiting the hunt camp at Moses Hammock, Lumber Landing, the last cotton gin on the Island of R.J. Reynolds, the Howard Coffin Island commissary, the Sapelo gas station, the tabby ruins of Thomas Spalding's tabby sugar mill and Long Tabby, now the Island's post office. Finally, we visit haunted Behavior Cemetery, and finish the stories of the four wives of R.J. Reynolds before returning to the dock and catching the ferry at noon for the ride back to the mainland, known as "The Hill" to Islanders, arriving at 5 p.m.

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I have been fully vaccinated with three shots of Moderna's Covid 19 vaccine. I'm an 80+ year old widower. I have a degree in journalism from the University of Georgia. I am the former chief of information of the Georgia State Game and Fish Commission, assistant director of the Georgia Conservancy, information officer of the U.S. Interior Department's Bureau of Outdoor Recreation in Atlanta, and executive director of the Georgia Wildlife Federation, named the National Wildlife Federation's Conservationist of the year. I am also an experienced news reporter for radio and TV stations, newspapers, and magazine editor.

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