One tiny island, five original experiences
By Elizabeth Florio, Justin Heckert, and Bill Warhop
Photography by Gregory Miller
You don’t actually have to do anything to appreciate Jekyll Island. Simply look at the stars. But on this seven-mile strip of sand and marsh, there’s a surprising amount you can do, much of it
unique to the area. Here are five ways to seize the opportunity.
#1: Ride a Horse on Driftwood Beach
You move at a walk beneath the ancient oaks in the morning. Elwood the horse fidgets a bit and you pull slightly on his reins, and he eases. You pass bridges and dunes, the children fishing, the shell collectors, the sunbathers; you watch the long shadow of the horse on the sand. You pet Elwood’s mane, take his harness, follow the guide’s instruction to tug him gently to stay in a line. The water fizzes and shines. The most peaceful place to sit on the beach turns out to be right on horseback, right on Elwood or Diamond or Stormy, with that feeling of calm just beyond you, of the ocean, of the horses. —J.H.
Public group rides and private rides are available from Golden Isles Carriage and Trail at Three Oaks Farm, 912-635-9500.
#2: Take Tea in the Grand Dining Room
About two dozen people sit in the Riverview Lounge as bees buzz the holly just beyond the bow windows. The hostess proffers bins of tea, and scents of Jade Cloud and rooibos percolate in the room where titans of industry dined a century ago. Shrimp salad sandwiches, pastel macaroons, and scones with crème fraîche appear as snippets of conversation drift by—a not-so-quietly shared secret or maybe just a little passing gossip. Palm, oak, and magnolia stretch their shadows across the lawn as the sun slips toward Fancy Bluff Creek. —B.W.
The Victorian Tea is offered Fridays and Saturdays from 4 to 5 p.m. in the Grand Dining Room at the Jekyll Island Club Resort. Reservations recommended, 912-635-5155.
#3: Visit the Amphitheater Ruins
White-tailed deer freeze along the path beyond the stands, heads raised in apprehension before they bound away through a tangle of palmettos. Turkey vultures circle the pines as great egrets settle on the pond, a snowstorm of white dotted with the soft pink of roseate spoonbills. Walk across the weathered stage, then wait. Eyes closed, face upturned to the sun and the empty
aluminum bleachers, listen for an echo—of laughter, of applause, of celebrations long gone from this abandoned temple among the trees. —B.W.
The amphitheater, which once hosted Valdosta State University theater performances, among others, closed in 2005. Revitalization of the amphitheater is on the Jekyll Island Authority’s planning horizon. Driving north on Stable Road, turn right on the dirt road just past the firehouse, then keep to the right to find a green archway. From there it’s a short hike to the amphitheater and pond.
#4: See a Sea Turtle’s Second Chance
The boy’s mother lifts him for a view of a sea turtle the size of a dinner plate circling a small pool. Sea turtles can live about as long as humans if predators or boat propellers or plastic refuse doesn’t get in the way, and these two juveniles—the boy and the critically endangered Kemp’s ridley—aren’t far apart in age. But their experience on this planet could not be more different. Hopefully, after a few weeks of R&R to counter the effects of cold-stunning, the turtle will return to the Atlantic, where he’ll drift with the currents and perhaps stop off in the Sargasso Sea, an oasis of seaweed. For now he snacks on Romaine lettuce and cucumber, and the boy laughs at the familiar feast. —E.F.
The Georgia Sea Turtle Center, a working wildlife hospital, is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
#5: Hunt for Hidden Treasure
You might find one tucked in the garden of Crane Cottage, or nestled against driftwood on the beach, or stowed in a bird-watching tower. Modeled after fishing-net floats of old, these handcrafted glass orbs are the coveted prizes in an island-wide treasure hunt. But hiding them is its own reward. Just ask Lori Lopel, who finally got the chance after eight years in the Jekyll Island Authority staff lottery. To avoid being followed, she dressed as a tourist and struck out at dawn. One morning she spotted a family and found herself doing the
spying. “I very covertly plunked one in a planter right in their path,” she confesses. “That was so much fun.” —E.F.
Throughout January and February, hundreds of plastic globes are scattered around the island for the annual Island Treasures event. Lucky finders—some 450 this past year—exchange their plastic placeholders for hand-blown glass works of art (pictured).