Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sanibel: "Ding" Darling National Wildlife Refuge

 We arrived in Sanibel an hour before their annual Luminary Festival, for which Periwinkle Way is lined with luminaries and light displays.

   We settled into a efficiency room at Shalimar Cottages and Motel.  Our room had a small kitchen, a huge bed and a screened porch on which we could watch the sunset on the beach.  This is not our normal accommodations, but at off season rates, we could pretend it was.
Porch view just after sunset
  An evening stroll along a shell strewn beach, a quick tour of some of the luminary displays, a late dinner all made for a grand introduction to Sanibel.

   In the morning we went to Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge and rented kayaks from Tarpon Bay Explorers.

   "You're the third person to show up with a Greenland paddle this morning." the outfitter told us, "There were two others here before you."

    "So are they out on the trail?" Mark asked.

   "Nah, they were headed out of the bay.  But you can't take the rental boats there, they have to stay in the bay or on the trail."
Ruddy turnstones waiting to take a boat out

   There were a lot of "don't"s - Don't take the boats out of Tarpon Bay, don't land on any islands, don't enter the mangrove maze at the far end if you don't have a GPS. ("We got tired of launching search and rescues.")  Mark packed a GPS, but it refused to work, so we crossed that area off our list.
On the bay
   Tarpon Bay Explorers offers single or double kayaks, but they are the same boats, just with one or two people inside.  Most of the kayaks were Acadias, but the Greenland Paddle, or perhaps our sizes, led him to pull two Loon 160's for Mark and I.  "These are the guide boats," he explained.  (Later we did see a guided group and the guide was in a Loon 160.)
The trail is well marked, note the wire used to keep birds off
   We followed the other paddlers in exploring the Commodore Trail through the mangroves.
Mangrove trees nicely reflected
  There we found very accommodating  calm birds to photograph, other explorers and an array of tiny (1") to mid-sized (4") sea stars.  The trail was wide and high, a pleasant shady place to paddle.
Yellow Capped Night Heron

  Afterwards,  we explored the bay for awhile.  The bay is where dolphins and manatees are frequently spotted.  We didn't see any though, and as the temperatures rose to the 80's, I was ready for a break from the sun.  I had hoped the Loons would handle like our Palmico, but they seemed wider and slower.  The front seat didn't fasten in place (maybe because it was a rental?) so as I used my legs while paddling the seat moved back little by little until I needed to scootch it forward again.

   We arrived back at the launch, and met the Greenland Paddlers, a couple from North Carolina, who summered in Maine.  We talked for quite awhile, comparing destinations, paddles and boats, before heading our separate ways.
Little Blue Heron on Wildlife Drive
  Later we explored Wildlife Drive, which I hear is a great place to launch.  Certainly it is a wonderful place for spotting wildlife.
View from a platform along the drive.  Ibis in flight, a barely visible rainbow
   We also checked out two other rental agencies, both on nearby Captiva.  Adventure Sea Kayak and Captiva Kayak and Wildside Adventures.  Both offered rentals of true sea kayaks, but both had a restricted rental paddling area; basically a bay and a trail through the mangrove island.  Adventure Sea Kayak had many Wilderness System ruddered models, Capitva Kayak Company had Current Design kayaks with skegs.  Both also had other boats, but I only remember the ones we were considering.
A royal tern on the beach in the morning.  Be sure to take morning strolls on the beach as well, so many birds then!
   We had a wonderful sunset dinner in our room, another stroll on the beach, but we were ready to go.  The heat and sun was too much, there were too few hours when I felt like moving.  When we'd planned our trip, we thought we'd stay in Sanibel; spend a day biking, try all the kayak rentals.  If we got bored,  we planned to go south to the Everglades, a place I'd never been.  But feeling a bit burned, we reversed course.  On Sunday we'd drive north four hours to Crystal River and King's Bay.  There, even if the day was hot, area springs would create a cooler climate over the bay.


  1. Lucky you to be in Florida! I don't blame you for escaping the wicked winter this year.

    I visited Florida in 2010 and posted a few stories. I hope you can make it to St. Pete's (St. Petersburg). It's a great city on the water to visit, and not far from there, you can paddle Cockroach Bay and open mangroves with a guide. We had a great time. Steph bumped into 3 manatees and we saw dolphins and mullets jumping. And, our guide showed us how to chop open a watermelon with a Lendal paddle.

    Enjoy your trip. You won't want to come back home this winter! But the heat and sun in Florida is pretty intense.

    1. Mark is already talking about moving down. But I'm not sure I could take that much warmth. We never paddled near St Petersburg, but we did spend a night there and enjoyed watching dolphins in Johns Pass. But we did use a guide in the Crystal River area. He didn't open a watermelon with a paddle, but it was still fun!