Located at the extreme west end of State Road 586 in Dunedin, there’s a state park called Honeymoon Island, which draws more than 1.1 million visitors a year.
Beyond that, just a 20-minute ferryboat ride away, there’s another place called Caladesi Island — rated as America’s No. 1 Beach in 2008 by Stephen P. Leatherman, also known as Dr. Beach.
Both islands offer visitors plenty of opportunities to splash in the surf, search for shells and savor nature’s splendor. There are boating, fishing and kayaking options too for those who enjoy being out on the water. There also are places to buy refreshments and shady picnic areas to gather with family and friends.
Though quite different, both islands offer their own glimpse of paradise.
Caladesi Island, for instance, is secluded.
“You’re away from it all when you’re out there,” said Pete Krulder, park manager for Honeymoon Island State Park. “It is a very special place for a lot of people.”
Lots of tourists visit Caladesi because they’ve heard about its beach rating, Krulder said.
Honeymoon Island, on the other hand, draws substantial numbers of people from Florida, and from Tampa Bay in particular.
“We’re the most-visited state park in the state of Florida,” Krulder said. “We have folks who are in here twice a day. Caladesi is more of the occasional visitor. Honeymoon, you see the same visitor every day.”
The busiest times at Honeymoon Island State Park are from March until right after Labor Day, Krulder said. There also is an annual uptick when winter residents arrive.
Caladesi’s busy times mirror Honeymoon Island’s, though it tends to draw more snowbirds when the weather is nice, Krulder said. Caladesi gets a fair amount of boat traffic on a regular basis, too.
On a recent day at Honeymoon Island, the parking lot was filled with cars, mostly from Florida. But there also were cars from Ohio, Illinois, Vermont, New Jersey, Kentucky, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Connecticut, North Carolina and Arkansas.
The top draw on both islands is the beach. Both islands also boast excellent shelling and beautiful nature trails, Krulder said. And at Caladesi, there’s a marina.
There’s also a kayak trail that traverses through the mangroves.
“There are spots where you can barely paddle, it’s that narrow,” Krulder said.
“Both Honeymoon and Caladesi have some of the few remaining virgin slash pine forests in the state of Florida,” Krulder added, noting those forests have never been logged.
One tree, on the north end of Honeymoon Island’s nature trail was core dated in 2007, and discovered to be at least 185 years old, he said. That means the tree would have sprouted during the second term of President James Monroe, the nation’s fifth president.
Other interesting features along the Honeymoon Island nature trail include osprey, bald eagle and great-horned owl nests.
Wildlife on the islands includes raccoons, snakes and gopher tortoises. While the Eastern Diamondback rattlesnake has been known to slither there, snake sightings are uncommon, Krulder said.
Island visitors who enjoy local history may find it interesting to learn that Honeymoon and Caladesi islands were both once part of a larger land mass called Hog Island, named after the hogs that roamed freely there. A hurricane struck that island in 1921, splitting it in two. The resulting water passage between the two islands is called Hurricane Pass.
Hog Island took on a new persona through a promotional campaign by its owner at the time, Clinton Washburn. Washburn and Life magazine in 1939 had a contest for newlyweds, with winners receiving a two-week stay on what became known as Honeymoon Isle.
Little cottages were constructed to house the honeymooners, who were flown on and off of the island. The palm-frond honeymoon huts had appropriate names, such as “Lover’s Nook.”
Pictures from 1940 at the Rotary Centennial Nature Center on Honeymoon Island depict some of those couples, hamming it up for cameras.
Krulder recently received a scrapbook and other memorabilia from the daughter of a couple who honeymooned at the island. He plans to have a special case built to display it.
Caladesi Island, which became a state park in 1967, also has a colorful history.
Ancient ceremonial and burial mounds show Native Americans occupied the island long before Europeans arrived, according to a historic sign there.
After the Spanish conquest of La Florida in the 1500s, the island was used for seasonal encampments and fish ranches. Tall ships moored offshore, and soldiers and sailors came ashore to hunt, fish and camp, the sign says.
No one seems to know the origin for Caladesi Island’s name, Krulder said, but an entire book has been written about a homesteader who settled there in 1892.
In her book, “Yesteryear, I Lived in Paradise,” Myrtle Scharrer Betz describes the idyllic life of growing up on Caladesi Island, a place where her father, Henry Scharrer, built a house.
When Betz was growing up, Krulder said, “She rowed a boat from the south end of Caladesi Island to Main Street in Dunedin. They say she very rarely missed a day of school.”
The future of Honeymoon Island was threatened during the 1960s.
“There was an attempt to develop the island. What they wanted to do was make the island 10 times its natural size,” Krulder said.
A developer envisioned thousands of residents moving onto the island. That effort, however, was thwarted and officials from both Dunedin and the state began acquiring the land for Honeymoon Island State Park, which opened in 1981.
If you go …
WHAT: Honeymoon Island State Park
WHERE: 1 Causeway Blvd., at the extreme west end of State Road 586 in Dunedin
WHEN: 8 a.m. until sundown, 365 days a year.
COST: Ranges from $2 to $8 for vehicles up to 8 people, pedestrians and bicyclists; Sunset fee is $4 per vehicle, one hour before
INFO: Call (727) 469-5942
If you go …
The ferry for Caladesi Island departs from Honeymoon Island beginning at 10 a.m., with half-hour departures from mid-February through mid-September. Departures are hourly in other months.
The ferry cost, roundtrip, is $14 for adults, $7 for children up to 12, and free for kids 5 and younger.
Visitors are allowed up to a four-hour stay on Caladesi Island.
Published June 25, 2014
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