I’m back with the second instalment of our holiday story. It all feels like a long and distant memory now and I am already longing to go back as Autumn starts to take hold here. You can read about the first part of our American Adventure here.
As some of you will know, Hilton Head Island is a “Lowcountry resort town located on an island of the same name in Beaufort County, South Carolina in the United States” (according to Wikipedia). Over here in the UK, I was completely ignorant of its existence until it was suggested as a possible holiday destination by our travel agent who had visited the island herself and couldn’t recommend it highly enough. We were just looking for somewhere to kick back and relax after our week in New York but our only proviso was that we didn’t want to go to Florida because a) we had been a couple of times before and b) we are planning to holiday in Florida within the next few years and will probably do a beachside location there on that occasion. I completely understand that choice of holiday destination is a very personal preference so please do bear in mind that everything that follows is very much my own opinion.
Hilton Head Island itself was a type of landscape I had personally never encountered before. I had seen pictures of the ‘Southern’ landscapes in America with the Spanish moss hanging from the trees and the wetlands stretching for miles. We were captivated by the reality of the environment. A lot of consideration has been given to the natural habitat in Hilton Head and there is a notable absence of bright lights and colours. All the buildings seemed to be designed to blend into their surroundings and we were told that artificial light interfered with the turtles’ nesting activity which accounted for the absence of night-time lighting.
We certainly noticed this lack of light on our first evening in the area when we got spectacularly lost driving from the airport in Savannah, Georgia to our resort in Hilton Head. It was an interesting evening to say the least! We picked up our hire car (A ‘Dodge Charger’ – is it possible that there could be a more American-sounding name for a car?!) at Savannah airport just after a rainstorm which had steamed up the windscreen nicely. Unfortunately, we discovered too late that the de-mister didn’t really work properly and finished up unable to see out, driving on the wrong side of the road (we drive on the left here in the UK), in the dark, with no map or sat-nav. We seemed to drive through mile after mile after mile of forest and there was nothing anywhere!
How on earth we went so wrong I still don’t know. The journey back to the airport at the end of our holiday was so straight-forward it seemed impossible we could have got so lost! The children (and adults) hadn’t eaten or drunk anything since a snack in the airport at lunchtime and by the time we reached our hotel, it was 11.00pm. I have NEVER been so relieved to get anywhere, EVER in my life! We only found the island by eventually deciding to head back towards Savannah and start again. Thanks to some friendly local police officers, we finally found our way. Let’s just say that the drive, which should have taken us about 50 minutes, took over 3 hours. Luckily, Hubby and I remained completely calm throughout and at no point did we find ourselves driving backwards down the wrong side of the road or screaming ‘STAY ON THE RIGHT!!!!’ like a crazy person or, indeed, swearing that if we ever found the hotel we would never leave it until we had to go home (at which point we would tell the woman at the car-hire desk exactly where she could shove her ‘directions’). Thank goodness for that!
Thankfully, the following day, my parents arrived to join us for the rest of our holiday and, having not had the hideous first-night experience we had, they encouraged us that perhaps we could consider leaving the hotel at some point! Ironically, we became extremely attached to the ‘Dodge’ by the end of our holiday and were sad to say goodbye!
We stayed at the ‘Sonesta Resort Hilton Head Island’ in Shipyard Plantation. It was a newly refurbished hotel which had only been part of the Sonesta group for a short while. I think there were a few teething problems that were still being ironed-out but generally, the surroundings, service and our experience as a whole were wonderful. The grounds of the hotel were beautiful and the rooms were really comfortable, plush and welcoming. The beach was amazing and the climate was very ‘Florida-like’ – hot, humid and perfect for lounging around in! The thing we most noticed about the second week of our holiday was the ‘Southern Hospitality.’ I don’t think we have ever visited anywhere that the people were as warm and friendly as they were in Hilton Head and the surrounding areas. Everywhere we went, people were smiling, happy to stop for a chat, interested to hear about where we were from and eager to help with anything we needed. It was so lovely and really added that extra sparkle to our experience.
The majority of our days were spent relaxing by the pool (which was heavenly after a week of tearing around New York) and we ventured out more in the evenings to explore the island. After one evening in the hotel, my parents managed to convince us that it was safe to venture out in the ‘Charger.’ We left the hotel while it was still light and everything seemed so much easier! The first evening out was spent just down the road at the ‘Coligny Plaza.’ We did some souvenir shopping and found somewhere to have dinner. Our daughter was especially taken with Coligny Plaza, she is becoming quite the little shopaholic and there were all sorts of little boutique-type shops which were her idea of heaven!
For our next evening, I had made plans prior to our holiday to go on a ‘Sunset Fireworks Cruise’ with Drifter Excursions which departed from South Beach and sailed past Harbour Town to Broad Creek for the fireworks which took place there on Tuesday evenings throughout the summer.
Prior to the trip, we had dinner at the ‘Salty Dog Cafe’ which is renowned locally as the port to which a dog called Jake (so the legend goes) swam for three days and three nights with his owner hanging on to his collar after their fishing boat was wrecked in a storm. Who wouldn’t want to hear that story?! The food was really good too! After dinner, our excursion departed and we were treated to the most spectacular sunset I think I have ever seen! This photo is completely un-edited. It really was this beautiful! And that yacht happened along at just the right moment!
The fireworks were great and it was such a beautiful, balmy evening. It was a very relaxed and relaxing thing to do and we got to see the Harbour Town lighthouse for the first time. There was lots of wildlife to see as well, we even saw a brown pelican diving into the sea for fish (we established that it was a brown pelican after reading that they are the only type of pelican that dives in this way.) The pelicans were a frequent sight during our holiday, there seemed to be an endless string of them constantly flying along the shore-line.
The following evening, we decided to check out Harbour Town and were lucky enough to get a table on the veranda of a restaurant which looked out to sea. We spent the evening drinking cocktails and watching the boats sail into the harbour. It was heaven. We were even treated to another quite special sunset.
Harbour Town was a buzzing place which was home to restaurants, shops and a very fancy lighthouse! We would have loved to spend more time there and are hopeful we will visit again one day.
On our penultimate day in Hilton Head, we decided we could not leave without spending a day in Savannah. My daughter and I went with my parents leaving the boys to chill-out (our 8 year old was all walked out after New York and I wasn’t about to push him any further). I’m so glad we took a day to explore. It was an amazing place which just oozed Southern charm! We spent most of our day on historic ‘River Street’ which was a fascinating place packed with all manner of souvenir shops and a market place packed with local traders selling their handmade creations. We chose a great day to go as it was stormy and we were treated to a dramatic down-pour which made everything all the more exciting!!
We took a ride on that tram which dates back to the 1930’s and has just been restored and returned to River Street. We did lots of souvenir shopping in Savannah and even managed a quick whip around one of Hilton Head’s designer outlets on the way back!
Having my parents with us for the second week of our ‘holiday-of-a-lifetime’ and unexpectedly finding ourselves in such a glorious location meant that our time in Hilton Head Island was the icing on the cake which made our time in the US extra-special. I would definitely recommend it as a holiday destination and we will certainly be planning to visit again one day.
Has anyone else ever visited Hilton Head? Anyone planning their next big adventure? I would love to hear all about it. Until next time….xoxo!
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