I put-in with my wife at ramp at Sounds Side Park in Surf City. We paddled onto the Intercoastal Waterway (ICW). I chose this location based on advice from the folks at Herring Surf Shop, who advised against launching in the salt marsh because of low water. It was high tide.
We paddled to the right (north) under the bridge and stayed to the right of the channel. This side was all marsh and undeveloped. Twice we attempted to leave the main channel and go into the marsh. Both times we turned around due to low water.
Back in the channel, we saw osprey, great blue heron, great egrets, gulls and mullets (jumping fish). Motor boat traffic was low, mostly jets skis. We enjoyed the sunshine and watched as thunder clouds rolled in. We paddled two and a half miles down and back. As we paddled back, we saw lightning in the background. We had a great time.
We paddled 16 and 17 foot sea kayaks.
We stayed in a beach house in North Topsail Beach. But, this is a beach town so there are plenty of rentals nearby.
As you come across the Roland Street bridge from the mainland to Topsail Island, look for the Sound Side Park sign on the right and turn in there. Follow around to the boat ramp.
I relied on the advice of people at Herring Surf Shop. There are several outfitters and surf shops that rent and conduct Kayak Tours on the Island. Most will give you great advice on local places to kayak.