After two hours in the pristine wilderness of Honey Island Swamp, I believe my blood pressure dropped double digits.
The tour from Dr. Wagner’s is one of several on the large and surreal Honey Island Swamp located in Slidell, La. We glided effortlessly deep into the swamp. Our tour group saw everything that was billed from gators to birds and other swamp critters going through their day-to-day. Spending an afternoon in a swamp in southeastern Louisiana was as far from my day-to-day as I could imagine. And I couldn’t wait to step on board.
I was thinking it surely was a departure for Hugh Jackman, too. He took the tour the season before. Or Ron Perlman, who also rode with Captain Jack through the “water forest” filled with bald cypress. The cypress is a symbol of swamps and the state tree of Louisiana. These giants rise from the murky waters dressed by plumes of feathery foliage. The trees play a vial role in wetland ecology.
It’s quiet out there
Unlike many pontoons, there are no seats along the railing on the tour craft. Passengers sit in the center of the boat, with a line of sight over the aisle and beyond the enclosed railing. Alligators, we were told, always are hungry and can leap high out of the water. Sufficiently sobered at the horror of such a thought, I settled in and crossed my arms, just to be sure.
Honey Island Swamp is the least altered, most pristine swamp in the state of Louisiana. We were told it appears much as it did hundreds of years ago. I have no way of knowing, but it might as well be the planet Mars to me.
It is one of the most quiet places I have ever been. Not the kind of quiet where you fall asleep, but the quiet that makes you pay attention to ambient sounds, to listen harder. Once adjusted, I was in tune with the sound of the small wake coming from the boat and some far-off chatter in the tree tops. Few of the passengers were talking; I think we were all busy listening and looking.
The water appears to be without current. Unlike lakes and rivers in the Midwest, it is flat and presents itself in an array of deep green and, in certain areas, when the rays of sun streak through the tree tops, yellow.
We heard explanations of Louisiana swamp ecology, its history and the role it plays in the area. You can fish in the swamp, but not line fish. If a shore dinner is on your menu, there’s plenty of variety, from freshwater drum and buffalo fish to the more familiar, such as bluegill and largemouth bass. Remember, it is Louisiana, so there are thousands of pounds of crawfish gathered from these waters every year.
Swapping swamp stories
Of the light-hearted stories that we were told, I like the one about Honey Island being named for the honeybees that made their home on a nearby island — at least that is how I would explain it. In Slidell, the locals are much more poetic, referring to the island as a “tract of bottomland laying between the East and West Pearl Rivers.”
One swamp resident that you don’t hear coming is the alligator. We were told there are more than 1 million alligators in the state. Alligators recognize some sounds and these were mimicked by our guide, which brought one of the creatures close to the boat. As a reward, he first tossed in a marshmallow and later, with another gator, offered a hot dog on a very, very long stick.
We weren’t on the water when the sun set, but I could imagine it melting into the shadows of the cypress trees with their dark, damp knees and soft, feathered branches. Eerie for sure. Maybe even creepy but surely a sight to see when visiting the Honey Island Swamp.
GO! Destination: Slidell, Louisiana
Dr. Wagner’s Honey Island Swamp Tours has a history on the swamp; the tour company opened in 1982 and is certified by the U.S. Coast Guard. Check out the schedule for eco-tours and step onto a small boat for a personalized, narrated, nature tour. A hotel pick-up service is available. Visit honeyislandswamp.com.
Louisiana Northshore St. Tammany Parish Tourist Commission offers lots of soft adventure options on the north side of Lake Pontchartrain and New Orleans, Louisiana. The area boasts 80,000 acres of green spaces and waterways including Honey Island Swamp. Visit louisiananorthshore.com for information about lodging, dining and shopping.