This Tiny U.S. Island Is Full of Quiet Beaches, Art, Rum, History — and Some Say Voodoo
Dirt roads and lonely beaches beckon travelers to an island frozen in time.
Imagine an island with pristine beaches and vast forests, less than a mile from one of the largest resort destinations on the East Coast. For decades, developers have eyed Daufuskie Island with plans to capitalize on its incredible beauty, yet they've mostly failed. Some blame it on access — the island is only accessible by boat — while others chalk it up to voodoo.
Daufuskie is a place where very little happens. When it does, word travels fast down the dusty roads that connect the fledgling resort communities with the 400-or-so year-round locals who have persisted here for generations, relying on farming, fishing, and ferries for subsistence. Look closely as you walk, pedal, or golf cart past the cabins in the woods, and you'll see eyes painted on the trees and windowsills painted indigo blue. These measures are taken by the local Gullah-Geechee inhabitants — descendants of the enslaved people and freedmen who have farmed the island for two centuries — to ward off the "hag," an evil spirit believed to slip into bed with slumbering locals.
Where to Stay
Maybe it's the hag that keeps Daufuskie pristine. The ambitious beachfront Melrose Resort remains shuttered, its once-grand inn slowly decaying, despite rooms with horizon views across the Atlantic. On the island's southern end, Bloody Point Golf Club & Resort is no longer any of those things — a private inn is available for rent, but weeds grow on the golf course and the restaurant's kitchen has been shuttered for years.
But it's the island's seemingly innate stubbornness to be developed that lends Daufuskie its charm. And one project seems to have cracked the hag's curse. At Haig Point, directly across from Hilton Head Island, a 40-foot-tall lighthouse, dating from 1873, has been converted into a luxurious rental that sleeps four people, completed with a full kitchen and rocking chairs looking out over Calibogue Sound. Nearby, the 1910 Strachan Mansion (relocated to Daufuskie from St. Simons Island in 1986) includes four rooms open to travelers. In 2022, the first Cottages at Haig Point will open, each offering comfortable common areas and six private guestrooms. The resort features an oceanfront golf course designed by Rees Jones, a tennis complex, and an equestrian center, with trail rides available through the forest and on the beach.
Outside of Haig Point, several Airbnb rentals offer a taste of local life. At Freeport Marina, colorful, tiny cabins offer a place to rest your head for the weekend, with easy access to the live music and cultural happenings on the waterfront. Deeper into the island, it's possible to rent a marshfront home for under $200 per night.
What to Do
Daufuskie is best explored by bicycle or golf cart. Cart rentals start at $75 per day. Island attractions include the Iron Fish Gallery, where sculptor Chase Allen crafts coastal images like stingrays and sea turtles into attractive wall hangings. Nearby, Silver Dew Winery has bottled its sweet elixirs in a tiny brick building intermittently since 1953. The island also has its own distillery, the Daufuskie Island Rum Company, offering tours and tastings.
To fully appreciate Daufuskie's cultural history, consider a tour with native islander Sallie Ann Robinson. Her experience growing up on the island — including as one of Pat Conroy's students, as told in his lauded novel about life on the island, "The Water is Wide" — casts an authenticity on the place that's difficult to achieve on a self-guided visit. Tour stops include the Mary Field School, where Conroy taught and two enterprising women now operate Daufuskie Blues, a textile company where the nearly lost art of indigo dying is back on trend. Robinson also takes guests to Gullah cemeteries dating back 200 years, and to the Oyster Union Society Hall, the gathering place for factory workers during Daufuskie's boom as an oyster producer in the early 20th century.
After a day of exploring, visitors can wind down with drinks and seafood by the water. At the island's public landing, the recently shuttered Marshside Mama's will reopen in 2021 as Daufuskie's, a restaurant and general store with sunset views across the river. At Freeport Marina, saddle up at the circular open-air bar for a local pint and a basket of fried shrimp or soft shell crabs before enjoying the scenic ferry ride back to the mainland. Or, stay for the night. Just make sure to confirm that the shutters are painted blue before dozing off.