Eagle Island Georgia: The Naked Truth
There are no less than seven mirrors gracing the walls of my tiny home. Not due to vanity, but rather, insecurity – and – to create the illusion of space. Eagle Island Lodge has but one mirror. The expansive structure certainly holds its own stripped of illusions. It’s the real deal. Reflections here don’t emanate from artifice. But from an otherwise elusive opportunity to soul-search, commune with nature and connect with comrades, whether co-workers, family, or friends.
During this three-day escape, my face was naked; no make-up, no mirrors (relatively speaking), and no worries. The bald eagles, wild boar, and deer didn’t seem to mind my bare countenance. Besides a handful of colleagues, they were the only co-inhabitants of private Eagle Island.
Just 15 minutes from the Atlantic Ocean and 10 minutes from the Intercoastal Waterway, Eagle Island is accessible only by boat, ensuring privacy as well as anonymity. The island is a naturalist’s wonderland; 10 acres of wildlife habitat punctuated by the rustic yet luxurious lodge, the quintessential headquarters for becoming acquainted with friends feathered and finned.
The truth is, it’s not for everyone. If your idea of Paradise is an uninhabited island with fishing, crabbing, boating, and bonfires, you’ll be in hog heaven. But if bright city lights and room service are more your cup of afternoon tea, book a room at the Ritz. I happen to like it all.
So I’m driving to Georgia. From southwest Florida. Scared out of my mind and convinced I’ll end up in Louisiana, not that landing there would be a bad thing; but honestly, I am probably the only travel writer who gets lost going around the block.
Turns out, the drive afforded six relaxing hours of viewing the forests and fields of pastoral Florida. Horses, cows, even llamas along the way seemed to usher me safely to my journey’s end: the Coastal Maritime Lodge in Darien, Georgia. The elegant lodge and contrasting down-home shrimping village are destinations in themselves, but also afford an ideal start and end to the Eagle Island adventure.
Captain Andy Hill not only built Coastal Maritime Lodge but also Eagle Island Lodge. In fact, Andy owns Eagle Island, just one of eight Georgia islands he has collected. It is the unassuming captain himself who greets guests on the mainland and escorts them, via a breezy boat ride, to Eagle Island. We navigated through isolated rivers past marshes, hammocks, eagles, and osprey to arrive at what Andy calls his Five-Moon – versus Five Star – property.
Imagine sleeping under the stars on a swinging bed. Toasting marshmallows over a bonfire. Singing, laughing, and eating to your heart’s content. Having time to read your favorite book. Being isolated from the world. Well, almost. Eagle Island Lodge offers complimentary wireless access for those of us who are communication-obsessed.
The lodge sleeps 10 to 12 and has two modern bathrooms; a majestic hearth indoors, an exotic outdoor shower, and a hot tub on the wrap-around the veranda. I slept in the loft. A spiral staircase led to my tower, a childhood dream-come-true. The décor was warm and welcoming. The mattress and pillows were extraordinary. Can’t remember the last time I slept through the night, every night. Of course, daytime outdoor activities (and a bit of wine in the evening) might have factored in, but I don’t think so. The robes were superior in quality, in my experience, to any five-star luxury resort.
Though Andy now offers a personal chef package, we instead relished pitching in together to prepare hearty country breakfasts, graze-as-you-like lunches and colorful happy hour spreads. Two state-of-the-art kitchens, one indoors and one out, provide blank canvases for culinary creativity.
Bring the groceries of your choice but also expect to savor local seafood. At night, Captain Andy delighted us with his oyster roasts and low country boil, a bright fusion of flavors including shrimp, sausage, potatoes, carrots, onions, peppers, lemon, and garlic.
During the day, he skillfully arranged for bald eagles to visibly nest in a nearby towering pine. He also offers eco-adventures, with a little help from his friends.
Islands in the Stream
“I don’t think I can do this,” I said to Danny Grissette, our guide from Altamaha Coastal Tours. “Can the kayak turn upside down? What if it turns upside down?” After the previous night of bonfire revelry that went on way past my normal bedtime, I was not feeling confident in my physical ability to fend off what I perceived as a possible kayaking disaster. Speaking of truth, “disaster” couldn’t have been further from it. Danny patiently refreshed my skills – and spirit of adventure – and off we went to explore the tributaries of gorgeous coastal Georgia. Paddling the peaceful, easy waters was just what the doctor ordered. Danny regaled us with the history of the area; stories about slavery and rice fields. And, local shrimping and crabbing, which are still viable industries today.
Fishing guide, charismatic character, and TV personality, Captain Wendell Harper explained why. “The Georgia Coast is the most fertile in the United States,” he said. “The marshes are full of nutrients, so shrimp, blue crabs, and fish thrive.” Saltwater fishing is as fruitful. Expect to catch king mackerel, cobia, grouper, and sheepshead. Even tarpon fishing is spectacular, though best in July through September. Reeling for redfish offers year-round rewards.
A Sweet Excursion
Though one could be content to never leave Eagle Island and its environs, the short and scenic boat ride to Sapelo is a must-do. Sapelo Island is an enclave that time has let be. It deserves a separate article. But for the purposes of this overview, just know that you’ll want to either avail yourselves of Andy’s services to get there or, rent one of his boats and venture out on your own. It’s an easy trek to times gone by.
We were deposited on Nanny Goat Beach, a remote, windswept, dune-blanketed area. For an hour and a half. I panicked. What? I can’t check e-mail or voice-mail? You see, I live in a coastal community. And when I do squeeze out time to go to “my” beach, I actually feel guilty because I’m not being productive. So, here we are. Five writers on these deserted coastal strands. Andy gave us buckets to collect treasures. Driftwood, shells, and whatever else the Atlantic Ocean washed up. That was all we had to do. And we did. Somehow, the incessant, dictating voices in my head, simply, ceased.
Sapelo Island is replete with modest cottages, proudly built edifices by the descendants of slaves, a tight-knit community of people known as, “Geechie Gullah.”
Amid the homespun structures lies a palace of unimaginable opulence, The Reynolds’ Mansion. Tobacco heir Richard Reynolds purchased the property in 1934. Today, the mansion, and most of the island, is owned by the Georgia Department of Natural Resources and is available for overnight stays, weddings, and tours.
If you want to talk history, be sure to visit Cornelia Bailey, the island historian. Be prepared for Oprah with attitude. The feisty, family-oriented, living legend is world-traveled and erudite, despite her “southernisms”. She runs a country store and a B&B and keeps close tabs on the social and political climate of the historic island.
The Inn-side Scoop
We spent two nights on magical Eagle Island, then returned to the mainland for our last evening together at Coastal Maritime Lodge. While island life was indeed mesmerizing, it was comforting to spend our final night immersed in mainland luxury. Each cushy suite has a private bath and fireplace. Though the high-tech kitchen rivals that of a Home and Gardens spread, for dinner this evening, we voted for a night out “on the town”. The happening place is Skipper’s Fish Camp, where we hooked up with Captain Andy and his lovely bride, Shannon, a real-life Barbie.
Gator bites, grouper, oysters, calamari… all things seafood, were the order of the night. The casual restaurant provided a beautiful, laid-back – and tasty – farewell to our new friends. Live country rock music topped off the night.
How refreshing to have had a few days to regroup and reflect upon nature’s truths. And, as a result, return home feeling like we could soar like the eagles.
If you go:
For more information about Eagle Island and Coastal Maritime Lodge, visit www.privateislandsofgeorgia.com or call 912-638-0306. Guests of Eagle Island can book kayak, canoe, and bicycle tours with Altamaha; www.altamaha.com, 912-437-6010, and/or fishing charters with Captain Wendell Harper, 912-437-8200.
Originally published in Global Writes, a magazine produced by the International Food, Wine, and Travel Writers Association