Florida Guide > Accommodation
During our last trip to Orlando, I had a yen to be beside the sea. Having made the trip to the Gulf coast the previous trip, we elected, actually I decreed, we would be making a family trip to the Canaveral Coast this time.
The word Canaveral usually makes people think of space exploration, but the coastline just north of the Space Centre offers a whole different kind of space for your enjoyment. It was a welcome break from the frantic pace of life in central Orlando.
Our journey was relatively straight forward and took about 90 minutes, with a couple of stops for ‘gas’ and to check our tyre pressure. Whilst we were racing up the I4, a lovely old guy in a huge sedan waved furiously as me to wind down my window and shouted at me that our left rear was a little low. Fortunately everything was ok.
The coastline is on the eastern side of a huge 6.5 mile barrier island that runs from New Smyrna Beach in the north, to Cape Canaveral in the south. We were aiming for Apollo Beach, accessible from New Smyrna. This whole area is known as the Canaveral National Seashore and Merritt Island National Wildlife Refuge. It was set aside in the 1950s as a buffer zone for NASA and this has ensured its preservation. Bald eagles, pelicans, alligators, bromeliads and mangroves all now make their home here and numerous species of birds are attracted by the fish, oysters, shrimp and clams that live in the lagoon behind the protective island. You can also see otters, blue herons, snowy egrets and white ibises. 14 species of endangered and threatened wildlife are supported here, among them; sea turtles, manatees and peregrine falcons.
Entry to the park is via a Ranger’s Station. There is a small charge of $3 per adult, children go free. The Ranger issued us with a map and safety leaflet and recommended we visit the Information Centre, just a little way into the park, which showed a very informative video and had loads of information on the history of the area and the native fauna and flora.
The beaches are hidden behind a spine of dunes that run the length of the barrier island, protecting the interior from the wind and salt spray thrown up by the Atlantic that crashes and pounds the length of the steeply shelving beach. We decided to save Mosquito Lagoon for another trip and opted instead to relax on the deserted beach. Walking on the dunes is prohibited and the beaches may be accessed only by boardwalks that run from each of the 5 designated parking areas. Once you cross this barrier, a beautiful if lonely sight awaits you. Miles and miles of ecru coloured sand, which is actually tiny fragments of shells, worn smooth by the Atlantic Ocean, stretch into the distance and relentless waves crash against the shore, their first contact with land for many miles.
We spent a thoroughly enjoyable afternoon, watching the fishermen land their catches, cooling off in the surf and polishing off our picnic, whilst pelicans and eagles flew just a few feet above us. It was a great thrill to see pelicans diving for fish offshore, and an eagle set down on the boardwalk railing, in the vain hope that we might share our egg sandwiches! Feeding and touching of any wildlife in the park is prohibited. A few local residents joined us on the beach, perhaps wisely sitting on deck chairs rather than on the sand. The shells stick like glue and get everywhere!
There are no shower facilities or public phones and you can dismiss the chemical toilet provided in the parking areas, if you are wary of spiders! Lifeguards are on duty at certain beaches from Memorial Day through Labour Day, be very careful and make sure you do not swim alone. There is a very strong riptide and the surf itself will knock you off your feet. In addition, there are all kinds of biting and stinging things in the surf, including sharks and jellyfish. In this respect I would not recommend Apollo Beach as a swimming beach.
There is so much else to do here. Turtle Mound, Castle Windy and Seminole Rest are important American Indian archaeological sites. Seminole Rest dates back 4,000 years and is made of oyster and clam shells. It stands about 18 feet high. You can also visit the only house on the island, Eldora State House. If you fancy a bit of fishing, you will need a saltwater license as a non-resident.
If you’re looking for a day out from the hectic pace of life, I can definitely recommend a trip to the Canaveral Coast – bring your deck chair, we were still finding those shells 2 days later!
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