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May 31, 2024

Ready Set, Explore!

Barry Kaufman

Photography By

Fusion of two dynamic adventure businesses broadens land and sea experiences

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Hilton Head Island’s success as a vacation destination comes down to one thing – the richly dynamic experience it offers. 

Sure, we might have a reputation as a “golf destination,” and we come by it honestly. But let’s not forget the allure of our maritime forests and marshes, and the miles of cycling pathways that traverse them. Let’s remember the draw of our endless waterways, the wildlife they nurture, and the secrets their tides reveal.

The point is, we are so much more than just golf and tennis. We are a destination that begs to be explored. In bringing together two aspects of his business portfolio, Jeremy Gonsalves has given visitors – and residents – an entirely new way to begin their exploration. 

Dakota Staff heads out with a group of island visitors in early May. Island Explorer departs from the dock in front of the Old Oyster Factory on Marshland Rd. 

Gonsalves, owner of Island Life Bike Rentals, purchased revered charter outfit Island Explorer this past February from Jim Harkins, one of the pioneering charter captains on the island. Both businesses represent a range of ways to discover the island’s many treasures. 

In bringing them together, Gonsalves envisions a new way to bring people that island life they can discover only through exploration.

“I purchased Island Explorer this past February with a personal goal to combine the businesses into an outfitter that creates an experience and builds lasting vacation memories,” he said. 

Merging the two entities into Island Life Bike Rentals and Dolphin Tours, Gonsalves is doing more than simply combining the offerings of two experiential businesses. He’s infusing the entire operation with a renewed sense of hospitality, born of his extensive experience in the industry. 

Adventure Awaits: from dolphin tours to sunset cruises and excursions to Daufuskie, Island Explorer combines the best of land and sea discoveries. 

“I went to school for hospitality management with a focus on outdoor recreation. When I came here, I saw an opportunity to use that knowledge and skillset to bring hospitality to the bike rental market,” Gonsalves said. 

That opportunity came in the form of a few smaller rental businesses that were looking to sell. Scattered across the south end, these shops gave Island Life Bike Rentals a solid foundation upon which to build. Scaling up carefully to ensure the level of service never faltered, Gonsalves grew that business from a few shops to a fleet of thousands of bicycles. 

And when the opportunity came up to expand beyond two-wheeled adventure by adding the celebrated Island Explorer to the mix, it was a natural next step. 

Meet the Team: Andrew Evans, Jeremy Gonsalves, Dakota Staff, Thaddeus Clark, Angela Mullis and John Minter,

“Growing up in Marshfield, Massachusetts, all of my friends had boats and we’d always be out fishing,” Gonsalves said. “And I worked at a boat yard when I was younger, so this has always been something I love doing. What I want to do is bring a little bit of that hospitality background to it and really focus on what the customer wants.”

Fortunately, his purchase didn’t net him just Island Explorer’s fleet of three skiffs, two 12-passenger boats and one 14-passenger boat. It also brought him an experienced crew whose dedication to creating great experiences matches his own.

Adventure Awaits: from dolphin tours to sunset cruises and excursions to Daufuskie, Island Explorer combines the best of land and sea discoveries. 

“Everybody that was employed by Jim Harkins stayed on,” Gonsalves said. “It is such an experienced, knowledgeable group. We’re not that run-of-the-mill operation piling 50 people on a boat. We’re a little bit different.”

Launching from the Old Oyster Factory on Broad Creek, Island Explorer enjoys one of the best berths on the island.

“It’s nice and quiet back there, and with the Old Oyster Factory right there, it makes for a great spot for people to have lunch before their trip or enjoy a sunset dinner afterwards,” Gonsalves said. 

While their launch provides a spectacular prologue or epilogue to an exploration, it’s the destinations that have made Island Explorer such a perfect match for Gonsalves’ vision of elevated exploration.

“The Vanishing Island is by far our most popular outing,” Gonsalves said. This three-hour trip heads up Broad Creek, spying dolphins, birds, the occasional manatee, and beautiful scenery along the way, until it arrives at a geological marvel of the island’s tides. 

“When you get out to the sound, there’s an island that exposes itself only for about an hour at low tide,” Gonsalves said. “We let everyone off the boat and they just get to explore and comb the sand for starfish, sand dollars, crabs, shells … and it’s such an experience doing all of this in the middle of Calibogue Sound.”

That’s just one of the myriad experiences on offer, from dolphin tours to sunset cruises and excursions to Daufuskie Island. In bringing together Island Life Bike Rentals and Island Explorer, Gonsalves combines the best of land and sea discoveries. 

And that exploration is just beginning.

“I think about what’s next daily,” Gonsalves said. “We’ll probably grow the fleet, but not by much. We want to keep that intimate experience. We may jump into kayak tours or stand-up paddleboarding next … but I don’t know where we’re going yet.”

Rest assured the next step will take visitors on another unforgettable journey.  

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