- Associated Press - Wednesday, June 1, 2016

MYRTLE BEACH, S.C. (AP) - Condo towers with ocean views. King Kong hanging off a mini-Empire State Building. A zipline, escape room and helicopter rides.

Myrtle Beach is all of this and more. But just a few miles from the city’s busy boardwalk and roadside attractions, a different type of thrill awaits.

Here, the Waccamaw River meanders through a cypress swamp in a wildlife refuge. Spanish moss drapes the trees, turtles sun themselves on stones and spider lily plants bloom with bright white flowers.

Spend a few hours kayaking the calm waters and who knows what you might encounter. A dragonfly could land on your arm. A water snake could slither by. A bright yellow bird might pierce the quiet with a loud call as it flits from tree to tree, but good luck pronouncing its name: prothonotary warbler.

Duck your head if a low-hanging branch comes up too fast to paddle around, and move to the side if the modern world intrudes: Motorboats turn up on the waterway too.

I did a two-hour kayak trip here with a group of friends, booking through the Black River Outdoors Center. Our guide, Mandy Johnson, was brilliant at spotting wildlife and generous with her knowledge. And her love of the natural world was infectious: We smiled as she picked a flailing white moth out of the water and let it cling to her hat until its wings dried.

The kayak outing was one of many excursions I took on a five-day getaway to the Myrtle Beach area. But while I enjoyed the destination’s other pleasures - including brunch at the Tupelo Honey restaurant and a visit to Fat Harold’s, a North Myrtle Beach club famous for the swing dance known as the Carolina shag - the kayak trip stands apart.

See, exciting activities are easy to come by in a place like Myrtle Beach - not to mention restaurants, bars, fireworks and shopping. What’s harder to find is tranquility. But there it was, in a kayak.

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If You Go…

BLACK RIVER OUTDOORS CENTER: Myrtle Beach, South Carolina; https://www.blackriveroutdoors.com/ or 843-546-4840. Two-hour kayak ecotour, $40. Four- and six-hour tours and fishing trips also available.

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