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The sweep of sand that comprises the outer banks of the state of North Carolina, is one of the most fragile yet beautiful in the U.S.A. The narrow sand bank acts like an eyebrow for the state's coast, separating the Atlantic Ocean from the mainland. For it's role, the area receives some of the most unpredictable weather on the eastern seaboard. Modern man has learned to live on, and yet preserve this delicate environment. His mark is everywhere. Although summer homes, with that architecture that is peculiar to the eastern seaboard, rise from dunes, 30,000 acres of Bank have been aside as the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Park. Public beaches invite folks to enjoy the rolling surf, yet the Atlantic is as unpredictable as ever. Lighthouses stand guard as they have for more than a century.
People have also been living on the Outer Banks, and in coastal areas for a very long time. There is much evidence of early Indian habitation. Good fishing and rich fauna provided the means for inhabitants to live, fish and hunt. It was this environment that brought the first English settlers to the area more than four hundred years ago.
Tranquil House Inn, in Manteo is a great place to stay while exploring the coast. Located in downtown Manteo, the facility is built in the classic Outer Banks 19th century inn style. Shallowbag Bay is at the facility's door step. Using bikes that are courtesy of the Inn, or by catching a double decker bus, you can enjoy all the attractions that make Roanoke Island one of the best vacation destinations on the eastern seaboard. After a busy day, supper in the Inn's "1587" Restaurant, overlooking the bay and Ice Plant Island, is a treat.
Historic Fort Raleigh, The Lost Colony Outdoor Drama, Elizabethan Gardens and North Carolina Aquarium are all located on Roanoke Island, as is Festival Park. You are also not far from Wright Brothers Memorial and only ten minutes drive, during the quieter season, from the Atlantic shore and Cape Hatteras National Seashore Park. For a more relaxed vacation, plan to visit the Outer Banks and environs during shoulder-season when it's less hectic. The area is loved "almost to death".
To understand the importance of Roanoke Island and area to U.S. history, the story of the lost colony must be told. In April 1585, Sir Walter Raleigh sent a fleet of seven ships under the command of Sir Richard Grenville to establish a military settlement. Upon Sir Francis Drake's arrival in 1586, a hasty decision was made that all should return to England. By mistake, three men were left behind. When in 1587, Raleigh again proposed a settlement consisting of families, a colony was established on Roanoke Island, under Governor John White. When White returned to England in 1587, he left behind his newborn granddaughter, Virginia Dare, first documented white child born in America, August 18, 1587 being her birth-date. Upon his return in 1590, White found no inhabitants, just the letters "Cro" carved on a post at the fort's entrance. Today, this settlement is known as the Lost Colony.
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site is located at the north end of Roanoke Island on the site of the original fort. The present day fortification is a reconstruction of the original. An outdoor theatrical venue, next to Fort Raleigh, presents the Story of the Lost Colony through drama, music and dance.
Close by, Elizabethan Gardens, designed by landscape architects M Umberto Innocenti and Richard Webel, are open year-round. The Gardens, with traditional statuary and formal walkways, are especially beautiful in the spring. The Aquarium, a short distance, away has exciting hands-on activities, shore-line wetlands and maritime forest environments, along with live exhibits featuring all things found in the waters of the Outer Bank.
Walk across the bridge in downtown Manteo to enjoy Festival Park, a unique salute to the birthplace of English-speaking colonization on the eastern coast of the U.S.A. The site consists of a number of attractions including a living-history settlement, the Roanoke Adventure Museum covering more than four hundred years of history, The film "Legend of Two Path that tells the story of the colonists arrival through the eyes of a Native American, an Art Gallery, Boardwalks, Museum Store and reconstruction of the vessel Elizabeth 11. This 69 foot long wooden sailing ship, docked at Ice Plant Island, was launched in 1984. The replica ship is a recreation of the type that would have sailed to North America in 1585.
Spend some time browsing the shops in downtown Manteo and take in the Maritime Museum, all within walking distance of Tranquil House Inn.
Seafood is a specialty and served in many restaurants. It's well worth the drive to the south end of Roanoke Island to visit the pretty fishing village of Wanchese, whose port is home to a commercial fishing fleet and the Wanchese Seafood Industrial Park.
I won't go into great detail but should mention that if you have vehicular problems, don't hesitate to call Pughs Car Care Centre in Manteo. They are great people to deal with! Hats off to the competent and friendly staff.
When leaving Roanoke Island, drive ten minutes east on #64 to the junction of #158 and #12. You can turn north on #158 to Nag's Head, Wright Memorial, Kill Devil Hills, Kitty Hawk, Duck, Pine Island and Corolla, home to Currituck, one of the four famous Outer Banks lighthouses. Currituck built c1875, stands 158 feet high and retains its original red brick exterior.
South on Highway #12 takes you toward Coquina Beach and the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Park that extends more than 70 miles from South Nags Head to Ocracoke Inlet. Areas in the 30,000 acres that comprise the National Seashore Park include natural and historical attractions, lighthouses, life saving stations, picnic, camping and seasonal interpretive programs.
BrodieIsland Lighthouse, is on Hwy #12, eight miles south of the junction of #158/64. This horizontally striped, black and white lighthouse stands 156 feet high and includes a Visitor Center & Museum. The light can be seen for 19 miles out to sea. Brodie Island Marshes are excellent for birding with sightings of many species of wading, shore and upland birds.
Small communities such as Rodanthe, Waves, Salve, Avon near Canadian Hole, Buxton, Frisco, and Hatteras hunker in the sands of the Outer Banks. Cape Hatteras Lighthouse , known as "America's Lighthouse", is the tallest in the U.S.A. It stands 208 feet high and is noted for its spiral stripes in black and white. The site also includes a Visitor Center & Museum.
A number of roads branch off #12 and lead to beaches and natural areas that are well worth exploring. The Outer Banks leaves impressions of sand dunes, typical seas and shore vegetation, miles of great beach, many sea and shore birds including flocks of pelicans. It also conjures up memories of the long, high bridge that spans Pimlico Sound at Oregon Inlet south of Coquina Beach. This bridge could be fun in a small car during a high wind. Some areas of the Outer Banks appear wall-to-wall with frame buildings, in old and new architectural designs, on "hurricane stilts"; atypical souvenir and t-shirt, crafts and sports shops. There are B.B.Q's and restaurants looking for your business too.
Beachcombing is a great occupation on the Outer Banks as many treasures wash up along the shoreline. Due to shallow weather-driven water and shifting sands, violent storms, uncharted shoals and powerful currents in coastal shipping lanes, the area, known as the Graveyard of the Atlantic, boasts more than 2,000 ships wrecked along its treacherous coast line. A number can be seen at low-tide. These include the Schooner Francis E. Waters, near Nags Head, lost October 1889; Schooner, G.A. Kohler, near Avon, lost August 1933; Schooner Altoona, near Cape Point, Buxton , lost 1878; Federal Transport Oriental near Oregon Inlet Bridge, lost 1862 and Schooner Laura A. Barnes, near Coquina Beach, June 1921. More recent wrecks include the Trawler Lois Joyce, near Oregon Inlet in December 1981.
It's necessary to take the free Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry to arrive at the southern end of the your motoring trip down the Outer Banks. During high and shoulder-season, expect a wait at Hatteras for the ferry. In very busy season, if you have reservations on the Ocracoke-Cedar Island Ferry - and they are highly recommended - be sure to plan your strategy well in advance. Arrive early at the Ferry terminal and be prepared to wait in line. The trip to Ocracoke is 40 minutes but we waited nearly two hours for a spot on the ferry, and were glad we stayed in line. The experience is all part of vacationing on the Outer Banks.
Arriving at the Ocracoke end, the drive down-island is approximately 16 miles. With the exception of the village of Ocracoke, this spit of sand is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Park. Among other things, the Park service maintains a 160 acre pony pen on the eastern end. Bankers Ponies, thought to be descended from Spanish mustangs, have called Ocracoke home for more than 200 years.
Ocracoke has a long Native American and European history. Recently the remains of a settlement fort were discovered. The notorious pirate, Blackbeard, called the area home and was slain there in 1718. Legend has it that Blackbeard's treasure is buried somewhere on the land spit. It is also the resting place for Royal Navy sailors, who were killed when their ship, HMS Bedfordshire, was torpedoed off-shore on May 14, 1942. All hands were lost but four bodies washed up near Ocracoke and given a proper burial. One is Stanley R. Craig, TEL and the other identified as Lt. Thomas Cunningham. Two remain unknown The cemetery is tended by the U.S. Coast Guard and marked with a plaque quoting Robert Brooke - "If I should die think only this of me, that there's some forever corner of a foreign field that is forever England".
Ocracoke is a laid-back village and is not yet over-run with development, although locals say that the "pressure is on". Islanders, a sturdy, independent lot, have seen their share of natural disasters, including the very destructive Hurricane of 1944. An elderly resident put the building of Hwy #12 at "hurricane status" by saying that the island hasn't been the same since the first formal highway was constructed down its spine a little more than thirty-five years ago when she was "not exactly a spring chicken".
The Community Store, on the harbor, still lists birthdays on an outside blackboard and is heated with a pot-bellied stove. Stock is eclectic and includes hurricane lamps that rub shoulders with canned artichoke hearts. Some great picture taking opportunities present themselves throughout the village.
The last lighthouse on the Outer Banks is the oldest operating in the state of North Carolina. Ocracoke light stands 75 feet high, was built in c1823 and its beam can be seen for 14 miles. It's exterior is cemented and white washed.
The Ferry from Ocracoke to Cedar Island is fee-based, and reservations are necessary to be guaranteed a spot on-board. You should be at the ferry dock one-half hour in advance of sailing. The trip is 22 miles and takes two and one-quarter hours to complete. Those in-the-know bring bread to feed the gulls, and a good book to read. Some take the opportunity to nap in their vehicles.
The sweeping eyelash of sand continues as Core Banks, the Cape Lookout National Seashore, but no highway disturbs the fragile environment. One final lighthouse is located at the south end of Core Banks at Cape Lookout, east of Shackleford Banks. You can drive on the land-side using Hwy #12 and 70 to explore villages such as Atlantic, Sea Level, Stacy, Davis, Williston, Smyra and Marshallberg before arriving at the historic ports of Beaufort and Morehead City near the popular Atlantic City beaches and shoreline.
IF YOU GO:
Manteo, NC 27954
P.O. Box 2045
Manteo, NC 27954
Manteo, NC 27954
Roanoke Island, NC 27954
Roanoke Island, NC 27954
Ocracoke, NC 26960
Cedar Island #1-800-856-0343
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