Amelia Island: A nature lover’s paradise

Kayak Amelia offers classes in stand up paddle board yoga on Simpson Creek in Little Talbot Island State Park near Amelia Island, Florida. 
Courtesy of Wesley K.H. Teo

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Kayak Amelia offers classes in stand up paddle board yoga on Simpson Creek in Little Talbot Island State Park near Amelia Island, Florida. Courtesy of Wesley K.H. Teo

Soak up natural beauty while biking, hiking, birding and doing SUP yoga.

AMELIA ISLAND, Fla. — After a couple of initial challenges in Deb Cunningham’s Vinyasa-style yoga class, I obtained a mindful state that persuaded my body to do things I wasn’t sure it could. Leaning back in a sitting position, I lifted my sunscreen-slathered face toward the Florida sun, tightened my abdominal muscles and slowly raised my legs until my body was in a V shape. I was doing it — holding boat pose. Wow!

That may not be particularly impressive in a yoga studio where one is firmly rooted on a floor mat, but I was doing stand up paddle board (SUP) yoga in the middle of Simpson Creek, a calm tidal waterway in Little Talbot Island State Park.

It is popular activity among visitors staying on Amelia Island, Florida’s northernmost barrier island surrounded by 13 miles of pristine beaches off the Atlantic coast and renowned for its vast tracts of protected land and abundant wildlife. During the age of COVID-19, those wide-open spaces are especially appealing.

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Cyclists ride beneath the live oak trees at Omni Amelia Island Resort. Courtesy of Omni Amelia Island.

Credit: Handout

Cyclists ride beneath the live oak trees at Omni Amelia Island Resort. 
Courtesy of Omni Amelia Island.

Credit: Handout

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Cyclists ride beneath the live oak trees at Omni Amelia Island Resort. Courtesy of Omni Amelia Island.

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Bike and hike Lowcountry terrain

Stand up paddle board yoga is one of many ways that nature lovers can soak up Amelia Island’s stunning natural beauty through active pursuits. Another is joining the eco bike hike at Omni Amelia Island Resort, an oceanfront golf resort that sprawls across 1,350 acres of maritime forest.

The fast-paced, 7-mile ride guided by naturalist Brandie Brooks is ideal for fit adult cyclists capable of crushing it up tough hills while tentacles of Spanish moss reach down from centuries-old oak trees, brushing riders’ shoulders as they speed past.

The environment here is more like the Lowcountry wetlands of Georgia or South Carolina than the rest of Florida. Those expecting a palm tree-studded terrain will be surprised that giant live oaks are more prolific.

The grandaddy of them all is the Landmark Oak, so massive that each gnarled branch is the size of a mature tree. The 400-year-old behemoth has been around since the Timucua Indians inhabited the island.

Near a tidal marsh teeming with tall cord grass, riders park their bikes for the hike portion of the bike hike, which takes place along the brackish waters of an estuarine marsh, where small fiddler crabs scuttle underfoot.

The biologically rich coastal wetlands are not just a beautiful place to visit, but an important ecosystem. “It’s a nursery, and a lot of young animals rely on it for those beginning stages of life,” said Brooks.

The calm water is relatively sheltered, protecting juvenile creatures from large predators found in open waters. Hikers sometimes see manatees, the gentle giants of the sea, and dolphins teaching their young how to fish.

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Tricolored herons can be spotted on Amelia Island, Florida. Courtesy of Wesley K.H. Teo

Credit: Wesley K.H. Teo

Tricolored herons can be spotted on Amelia Island, Florida. 
Courtesy of Wesley K.H. Teo

Credit: Wesley K.H. Teo

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Tricolored herons can be spotted on Amelia Island, Florida. Courtesy of Wesley K.H. Teo

Credit: Wesley K.H. Teo

Credit: Wesley K.H. Teo

Take a birding excursion

Amelia Island is a bird sanctuary where ospreys — magnificent raptors with a 72-inch wingspan — feed. Seeing one dive dramatically into the water and grasp a fish with its spiky talons before flying triumphantly back to its nest is a jackpot moment for bird watchers.

Those who want to see more of Amelia Island’s feathered wildlife can grab their binoculars and join a two-hour birding excursion at Big Talbot Island State Park led by a naturalist from The Ritz-Carlton Amelia Island.

The undeveloped barrier island is home to about 200 species, including native and migratory birds from birds of prey like bald eagles to delicate sandpipers.

Guide Jenna Biggs says some wading birds can be sneaky when it comes to catching their next meal at Spoonbill Pond, a boundless buffet of crustaceans, insects and tiny fish.

“Reddish egrets and tricolored herons use their wings like an umbrella to create shade that fools small fish into getting too close. It’s an easy meal.”

If bird watchers are lucky, they may observe the large, flamboyant, pink-plumed roseate spoonbills that give the pond its name.

Amelia Island is the quiet, uncrowded side of the Sunshine State — an oasis where the wonder of the living world takes precedence over the manmade attractions.

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Amelia Island, Florida, is known for beautiful sunsets. Courtesy of Wesley K.H. Teo

Credit: Wesley K.H. Teo

Amelia Island, Florida, is known for beautiful sunsets. 
Courtesy of Wesley K.H. Teo

Credit: Wesley K.H. Teo

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Amelia Island, Florida, is known for beautiful sunsets. Courtesy of Wesley K.H. Teo

Credit: Wesley K.H. Teo

Credit: Wesley K.H. Teo

Attain a blissful state

Back at my SUP yoga class, the instructor guided the class through increasingly difficult poses. Just as my confidence reached a peak, I attempted a tree pose, which requires standing on one foot with palms together in front of the heart. I found myself underwater before I knew what happened.

I flopped back on the board as gracefully as a hooked fish dumped on a boat deck, but no matter. The water was refreshing.

During savasana, the final resting pose where the class lies on the board in a state of complete physical and mental stillness, I was truly in the moment, conscious of the water lapping at my paddleboard and the shrill call of shorebirds in the distance. I felt the heat of the sun drying my soggy clothes and a pleasant breeze caressing my feet.

I wasn’t thinking about buying milk or gassing up the car. For years, this state of well-being eluded me in the yoga studio, but drifting on a paddleboard in tranquil water, I reached a semi-transcendent state that made me eager to repeat the experience.


IF YOU GO

Amelia Island is 330 miles southeast of Atlanta via Interstate-75. Direct flights are available from Atlanta to Jacksonville, Florida, which is about 40 miles southwest of Amelia Island.

Activities

Kayak Amelia. SUP yoga classes $30. 13030 Heckscher Drive, Jacksonville, Florida. 904-251-0016, www.kayakamelia.com

Eco bike hike. $35. Omni Amelia Island Resort, 39 Beach Lagoon Road, Fernandina Beach, Florida. 904-261-6161, www.omnihotels.com/hotels/amelia-island

Birding excursion. $110. The Ritz -Carlton Amelia Island, 4750 Amelia Island Parkway, Amelia Island, Florida. 904-277-1087, www.ritzcarlton.com

Accommodations

Sea Cottages of Amelia. New sea cottages are nestled beneath a sprawling tree canopy less than two blocks from Seaside Beach. $99-$129. 2528 Sadler Road, Fernandina Beach, Florida. 904-598-9558, www.seacottagesofamelia.com

Omni Amelia Island Resort. $314 and up. 39 Beach Lagoon Road, Fernandina Beach. 904-261-6161, www.omnihotels.com/hotels/amelia-island

Dining

España Restaurant & Tapas. Casual restaurant serving Spanish specialties including paella. Entrees $21-$36. 22 S. 4th St., Fernandina Beach, Florida. 904-261-7700, www.espanadowntown.net

Joe’s 2nd Street Bistro. Upscale restaurant serving steaks, seafood and more. Entrees $17-$34. 14 S. 2nd St., Fernandina Beach, Florida. 904-321-2558, www.joesbistro.com

Mocama Beer Company. New brewery and tap room serving a variety of locally made beers. 629 S. 8th St., Fernandina Beach, Florida. 904-456-9088, www.mocama.com

Visitor Information

Amelia Island CVB. 102 Centre St., Fernandina Beach, Florida. 904-277-0717, www.ameliaisland.com