Just under three hours from downtown Columbia rests a hidden jewel of the South Carolina coast — the Botany Bay Plantation.
The Botany Bay Plantation, nicknamed Botany Bay, is a 3,363-acre wildlife preserve with a rich history, protected wildlife and a unique oceanfront that makes the secluded beach a must-see along South Carolina’s coast.
Formerly two plantations, Botany Bay has a longstanding history on Edisto Island as a source of major cotton production. The first plantation, Bleak Hall Plantation, was built in 1798 by the Townsend family, but the house was destroyed in a fire later on. John Townsend then purchased the neighboring Sea Cloud Plantation in the mid-1800s, and the land was soon producing the most cotton in South Carolina.
After destruction caused by the Civil War and the boll weevil in the 1920s, Dr. James Greenway combined both the Bleak Hall Plantation and the Sea Cloud Plantation, giving the property its name of Botany Bay Plantation. After John Meyer — who received the land in 1968 — and his wife died, the property was officially opened by the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources in 2008. It is now a protected area of both wildlife and history.
The drive to Botany Bay is scenic, as the last hour of the drive is heavily populated with oak trees shrouded in Spanish moss. Make sure to pack both food and water, as there are not many restaurants or grocery stores near the park. There are also no public restrooms on the property.
The entrance is modest, and although admission to the park is free, the collection of shells and wildlife is not permitted. Botany Bay, open from sunrise to sunset, is home to one of the top beaches for sea turtle nesting, as well as nesting areas for threatened bird species.
The park provides maps complete with directions to the beach and for a driving tour of the property. Ruins of the old plantations are labeled and described in short narratives on the map. The property contains a few fields of crops such as corn, as well as an abundance of sunflowers.
From the parking area, a beautiful half-mile walk along a gravel path, through stunning grasslands and palm trees, leads to the oceanfront. The beach itself is covered in shells — many are hanging from palm trees thanks to other visitors that found and displayed the shells, since they were unable to take them home.
Swimming is not easy as the current is strong, and old roots and shells reside beneath the surface of the water; however, the water is warm and perfect for a brief, ankle-deep escape from the heat. Skeletons of old trees are scattered across the beach, providing excellent photo and climbing opportunities. Besides a few groups taking family or engagement photos, the beach is quiet, and it's easy to find a secluded location among the palm trees and branches.
Although a slightly longer drive from Columbia than Isle of Palms or Sullivan’s Island, Botany Bay is a guarded treasure of both the history and the wildlife of South Carolina. Visitors will be charmed and awed by the quiet, natural beauty of Botany Bay — as long as they remember not to take the shells.