If your vacation calls for a detox from the debilitating effects of modern life, if you’re craving a big dose of nature, you’ll be happy to hear that your remedy is only a 20 minute boat ride from the Isle of Palms. Step aboard the hourly ferry and exhale. You’ll feel like the King or Queen of the Nile as you cruise the Intracoastal Waterway to the parallel universe of
. No traffic lights, just trees; no cars, just
golf carts; no noise, just birdcalls and lots of peace and quiet. Over 95% of the 1,200 acre island is in its
natural state with only 64 secluded houses flanked by one of the most pristine
and private beaches in the country. Dewees Island
In 1989 Hurricane Hugo decimated the coast and left
habitat in tatters. Two years later John
Knott surveyed the damage and claimed that "the environment and development are natural allies." He envisioned building a community with environmental considerations as the cornerstone. Dewees’website brags that “all
the rules of traditional beachfront real estate development were broken,” in a
“process driven by restoration, preservation, not destruction and
removal.” Private boat docks, golf
courses and manicured lawns are prohibited.
Homeowners are required to use indigenous plants, natural surfaced
driveways and energy- and water-efficient designs. Dunes were renourished using boardwalks, sand
fencing and the requirement that all houses be built away from the shore. The result is a self-selected group of
environmentally attuned homeowners.
About 12 families live full time on the island. Two or three even send their children to
school on the mainland, commuting by ferry. The kids’ unique perspectives are
derived from a combination of learning with their peers and running barefoot in
the freedom of their island home.
Luckily, many of the homes are available for vacation rental. Dewees Island
Some of the allure of visiting Dewees is the proximity of
Charleston, especially for those who live
elsewhere. But many locals take
advantage of the destination for romantic weekends or extended family
gatherings. Often there’s a matriarch or patriarch who has the means to be the
host and the desire to create priceless family memories. “Kids love it out there. They feel like Huck Finn,” says Emily Watson
of Dewees Rentals. Readers who’ve envied
the lifestyle of island children growing up in the 1950’s as described in
Josephine Humphrey’s Sullivan’s Island will find it here. Kids can run around unattended, crabbing and
fishing and exploring without danger.
Family time might include hitting the beach at sunrise with the island’s
turtle team to identify nests or help hatchings scamper to the water. Kayaks sit ready to grab and explore for
alligators and birds in the marshes. The resident naturalist and two summer
interns lead programs like creek floats, fishing, crabbing and a colorful golf
cart parade. Adults can enjoy concerts,
art shows and happy hours in the beautiful Huyler House community room. A salt water swimming pool, tennis courts,
game room with ping pong, a nature center, fishing and crabbing docks and
picnic tables on most beach boardwalks add to the fun.
Every house is unique. Right beside the Huyler House community room are one-bedroom condos that adjoin the pool and can comfortably sleep two for under $2,000 a week. The top of the line Ocean Retreat provides three bedrooms (two are master suites), a gourmet kitchen, exquisite artwork, sprawling screened porches and an ocean view for $4,000 per week. Most houses have a few staples in the kitchen but vacationing on Dewees requires planning and simplifying. Few clothes are needed but packing the food is tricky. Ferry passengers are often hauling carefully packed bins knowing they can’t run down to the corner for milk or juice. There are wheeled carts at the boat Summer rentals fill up fast, often six months in advance.
The inconveniences of the location have been minimized as much as possible. In the case of emergency, there are fire and medical responders on the island and a helipad. Trash and recycling is handled by barge. Some things just require patience. I’ve often seen painters and plumbers on the ferry headed to do repairs and barges of building materials, even bulldozers, en route. But Dewees visitors and residents happily accept these obstacles as the trade-off for the simplicity, luxury and seclusion of Dewees.