Travel

Charleston’s New Museum Focused on Black History Is a Moving Must-See

The powerful exhibits and groundbreaking genealogy library sit on land that was once America's largest slave port.

Photo by Greg Noire, courtesy of International African American Museum
Photo by Greg Noire, courtesy of International African American Museum
Photo by Greg Noire, courtesy of International African American Museum

After more than two decades of planning and preparation, Charleston’s International African American Museum will finally open its doors to the public on June 27. Set at the site of the former Gadsen’s Wharf-where almost half of the enslaved Africans entered this country-the new institution is a deeply moving look at the historical and cultural impact of slavery.

The museum is made up of 12 permanent exhibitions that share untold stories of African Americans through a variety of educational, artistic, and immersive displays. Highlights include a digital table map that provides a geographic understanding of African-American history in South Carolina, as well as an immense LED installation that focuses on Black Atlantic interconnections.

Photo by Devon Sayers
Photo by Devon Sayers
Photo by Devon Sayers

There’s also a 3,000-square-foot rotating exhibit space, which will house an exhibit called Follow the North Star that explores the theme of literal and figurative mobility throughout African American history for the museum’s launch.

Another attraction that sets this historic space apart is the groundbreaking Center for Family History, an extensive genealogy library with digital versions of historical photos, marriage and military records, and other archival resources for anyone looking to uncover information about their heritage that may have otherwise been lost in history.

Photo by Devon Sayers
Photo by Devon Sayers
Photo by Devon Sayers

About 13 feet below the museum, visitors will be able to see the historic wharf, which is now home to the African Ancestors Memorial Garden. The area is accented by Canary Island palms and art installations like the Tide Tribute, a visceral presentation of the transatlantic slave trade’s inhumane conditions, and the men, women and children sentenced to a life of bondage in the United States.

If you’re traveling to see this archival behemoth next week, you’ll want to know where to stay, what to eat, and what other things you should do in Charleston. So when you’re not at the IAAM, here’s some fun things to do around the area.

Drive time:

About 4 hours and 45 minutes from Atlanta, Georgia

More things to do in Charleston

One museum just isn’t enough for your trip to Charleston-you have to hit up the South Carolina Museum as well. Since your days will be filled exploring the museum halls, head to Music Farm or The Commodore for unforgettable live performances when the sun sets on this historic coastal area. If you’re still looking for a dose of history after dark, Nightly Spirits is an evening walking tour through historic downtown Charleston.

Where to stay in Charleston

Less than a mile from the International African American Museum, there are several locations for you to lay your head once the day’s activities are done. Hotel Emeline, The Spectator Hotel, and Market Pavilion are all stylish properties with varying Southern-style design details.

Restaurants in Charleston to fuel up for the drive

Charleston is known for its second-to-none cuisine, so you’d be hard pressed not to hit up some of their amazing restaurants. Head to the iconic Leon’s Oyster Shop for their namesake raw bar items or have a heartier meal of the famous whole hog pork sandwich and a slate of sides at the original location of Rodney Scott’s BBQ. If it’s soul food you’re after, look no further than Bertha’s Kitchen, an institution that’s been slinging soul food since 1981. In the morning, stop by Early Bird Diner or Millers All Day for greasy spoon classics before hitting the road.Want more Thrillist? Follow us on InstagramTikTokTwitterFacebookPinterest, and YouTube.

Okla Jones is an Atlanta-based journalist who writes about food, fine arts, and entertainment. His work also appears in ESSENCE, Creative Loafing Atlanta, and Consequence of Sound. Follow him on Instagram at @coolhandoak.

Travel

Ditch your Phone for ‘Dome Life’ in this Pastoral Paradise Outside Port Macquarie 

A responsible, sustainable travel choice for escaping big city life for a few days.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

The urge to get as far away as possible from the incessant noise and pressures of ‘big city life’ has witnessed increasingly more of us turn to off-grid adventures for our holidays: Booking.com polled travellers at the start of 2023 and 55% of us wanted to spend our holidays ‘off-grid’.  Achieving total disconnection from the unyielding demands of our digitised lives via some kind of off-grid nature time—soft or adventurous—is positioned not only as a holiday but, indeed, a necessity for our mental health. 

Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, an accommodation collection of geodesic domes dotted across a lush rural property in Greater Port Macquarie (a few hours’ drive from Sydney, NSW), offers a travel experience that is truly ‘off-grid’. In the figurative ‘wellness travel’ sense of the word, and literally, they run on their own independent power supply—bolstered by solar—and rely not on the town grid. 

Ten minutes before you arrive at the gates for a stay at Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, your phone goes into ‘SOS ONLY’. Apple Maps gives up, and you’re pushed out of your comfort zone, driving down unsealed roads in the dark, dodging dozens of dozing cows. Then, you must ditch your car altogether and hoist yourself into an open-air, all-terrain 4WD with gargantuan wheels. It’s great fun being driven through muddy gullies in this buggy; you feel like Laura Dern and Jeff Goldblum in Jurassic Park.  As your buggy pulls in front of your personal Nature Dome, it’s not far off that “Welcome…to Jurassic Park” jaw-dropping moment—your futuristic-looking home is completely engulfed by thriving native bushland; beyond the outdoor campfire lie expansive hills and valleys of green farmland, dotted with sheep and trees. You’re almost waiting to see a roaming brachiosaurus glide past, munching on a towering gum tree…instead, a few inquisitive llamas trot past your Dome to check out their new visitor. 

To fully capture the awe of inhabiting a geodesic dome for a few days, a little history of these futuristic-looking spherical structures helps. Consisting of interlocking triangular skeletal struts supported by (often transparent) light walls, geodesic domes were developed in the 20th century by American engineer and architect R. Buckminster Fuller, and were used for arenas. Smaller incarnations have evolved into a ‘future-proof’ form of modern housing: domes are able to withstand harsh elements due to the stability provided by the durable materials of their construction and their large surface area to volume ratio (which helps minimize wind impact and prevents the structure from collapsing). As housing, they’re also hugely energy efficient – their curved shape helps to conserve heat and reduce energy costs, making them less susceptible to temperature changes outside. The ample light let in by their panels further reduces the need for artificial power. 

Due to their low environmental impact, they’re an ideal sustainable travel choice. Of course, Tom’s Creek Nature Domes’ owner-operators, Cardia and Lee Forsyth, know all this, which is why they have set up their one-of-a-kind Nature Domes experience for the modern traveller. It’s also no surprise to learn that owner Lee is an electrical engineer—experienced in renewable energy—and that he designed the whole set-up. As well as the off-grid power supply, rainwater tanks are used, and the outdoor hot tub is heated by a wood fire—your campfire heats up your tub water via a large metal coil. Like most places in regional Australia, the nights get cold – but rather than blast a heater, the Domes provide you with hot water bottles, warm blankets, lush robes and heavy curtains to ward off the chill.

nature domes port macquarie
Photo: Nature Domes

You’ll need to be self-sufficient during your stay at the Domes, bringing your own food. Support local businesses and stock up in the town of Wauchope on your drive-in (and grab some pastries and coffee at Baked Culture while you’re at it). There’s a stovetop, fridge (stocked as per a mini bar), BBQs, lanterns and mozzie coils, and you can even order DIY S’More packs for fireside fun. The interiors of the Domes have a cosy, stylish fit-out, with a modern bathroom (and a proper flushing toilet—none of that drop bush toilet stuff). As there’s no mobile reception, pack a good book or make the most of treasures that lie waiting to be discovered at every turn: a bed chest full of board games, a cupboard crammed with retro DVDs, a stargazing telescope (the skies are ablaze come night time). Many of these activities are ideal for couples, but there’s plenty on offer for solo travellers, such as yoga mats, locally-made face masks and bath bombs for hot tub soaks. 

It’s these thoughtful human touches that reinforce the benefit of making a responsible travel choice by booking local and giving your money to a tourism operator in the Greater Port Macquarie Region, such as Tom’s Creek Nature Domes. The owners are still working on the property following the setbacks of COVID-19, and flooding in the region —a new series of Domes designed with families and groups in mind is under construction, along with an open-air, barn-style dining hall and garden stage. Once ready, the venue will be ideal for wedding celebrations, with wedding parties able to book out the property. They’ve already got one couple—who honeymooned at the Domes—ready and waiting. Just need to train up the llamas for ring-bearer duties! 

An abundance of favourite moments come to mind from my two-night stay at Tom’s Creek: sipping champagne and gourmet picnicking at the top of a hill on a giant swing under a tree, with a bird’s eye view of the entire property (the ‘Mountain Top picnic’ is a must-do activity add on during your stay), lying on a deckchair at night wrapped in a blanket gazing up at starry constellations and eating hot melted marshmallows, to revelling in the joys of travellers before me, scrawled on notes in a jar of wishes left by the telescope (you’re encouraged to write your own to add to the jar). But I’ll leave you with a gratitude journal entry I made while staying there. I will preface this by saying that I don’t actually keep a gratitude journal, but Tom’s Creek Nature Domes is just the kind of place that makes you want to start one. And so, waking up on my second morning at Tom’s —lacking any 4G bars to facilitate my bad habit of a morning Instagram scroll—I finally opened up a notebook and made my first journal entry:

‘I am grateful to wake up after a deep sleep and breathe in the biggest breaths of this clean air, purified by nature and scented with eucalyptus and rain. I am grateful for this steaming hot coffee brewed on a fire. I feel accomplished at having made myself. I am grateful for the skittish sheep that made me laugh as I enjoyed a long nature walk at dawn and the animated billy goats and friendly llamas overlooking my shoulder as I write this: agreeable company for any solo traveller. I’m grateful for total peace, absolute stillness.” 

Off-grid holiday status: unlocked.

Where: Tom’s Creek Nature Domes, Port Macquarie, 2001 Toms Creek Rd
Price: $450 per night, book at the Natura Domes website.

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