Get up close and personal with Hilton Head Island’s most exotic resident
As I boarded the vessel for H2O Sports’ Alligator & Wildlife Tour, it took me back to my childhood Disney World visits and the time spent on the Jungle Cruise. However, instead of animatronic Bengal tigers, king cobras and hippos, you’ll be in search of real life animals such as the lanky Great Blue Heron, the elusive Bald Eagle and the mesmerizing American Alligator.
As a local, I can fess up that, yes, even us locals will stop and hold up traffic in our cars if we spot a gator sunbathing next to a lagoon. But this one hour tour, which takes you out on the Sea Pines Forest Preserve’s Lake Mary (the largest fresh water lake in the Preserve), gives you an up close encounter with a creature that seems to take you back in time. With their scaly skin, spiky backs, long claws and sharp teeth, the American Alligator looks like it should be found in the prehistoric wing of a museum.
Growing up to 11 feet in the Preserve, gators can live to be 40 or 50 years old and grow up to 12 to 14 inches in length each year until hitting maturation (6 or 7 years). As they age, their width increases. Males tend to be larger, and a gator’s size is dependent on the amount of sunlight it receives, the amount of space in which it has to live, the amount of food it has to eat, and the number of competitors (other gators) it has to contend with. Their diet consists mostly of birds, fish, turtles, other alligators, small mammals, white tail deer and even coyotes. Alligators, for the most part, do not pose a threat to humans unless they feel at risk. Swimming up to 30 mph and running at speeds of up to 25 mph, the alligator’s tail, which is used mostly for aquatic propulsion, can also be used as its best weapon against other predators.
However, this tour is not all about alligators. While on your adventure you may see Anhingas, Spotted Sand Pipers, Yellow-Bellied Sliders (turtles), Blue Herons, Ospreys, Wood Ducks and other indigenous plant and animal life. On our tour, we were even lucky enough to see a Bald Eagle.
But, if gator is your main objective, plan your visit for sometime between April and October. During the months of November through March, they go into dormancy, staying cozy in the mud or dens that they have built. The most active time is during the gator mating season (April – June). Expect to hear noisy gators as they perform their mating calls – one of our guide’s favorite sightings in her time with H2O Sports.
H2O Sports’ Alligator & Wildlife Tours run 12 times a day, 365 days of the year. The one hour tour is $25 for adults and $20 for ages 12 and under. The boat can hold groups of up to 12 people and runs every hour (from 8am to 7pm) on Lake Mary. To book your tour or any of H2O Sports activities (includes everything from parasailing to paddle boarding to kayak tours and much more), call 1-877-290-4386 or 843-686-5323 (local) or visit www.h2osportsonline.com.