Betsy’s “ferryfull” adventures – Outer Banks, NC
Leaving Virginia behind, we were looking forward to our next destination – the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Our friends Joe and Judy (who are North Carolinians) gave us heaps of information about the Outer Banks. But what and where exactly are the Outer Banks? Referred to as OBX by locals – it’s a long string of narrow barrier islands that run along most of the North Carolina coastline. Over 130 miles long, it arcs into the Atlantic Ocean like a taut bow, forming many beautiful pristine beaches.
We made two stops on the OBX, one at Kitty Hawk and the second at Buxton. To get back onto the mainland, Betsy had to take two ferry rides. First, a 40-minute free ferry transported us from Hatteras Village to Ocracoke Island. The second was for a reasonable fee and took over two hours to go from Ocracoke Island to Cedar Island. But I am getting ahead of myself a bit here. Let me tell you about the fun things we did after reading Judy’s excellent suggestions.
She didn’t have to tell us to take long walks on the beaches – we figured that out all by ourselves!
Of course, our major goal in the Kitty Hawk area was to visit the site where air travel was born. The Wright Brothers National Memorial encompasses more than 400 acres and marks the spot where brothers Orville and Wilbur Wright made their first four powered flights. And lucky for us, we had just seen the actual plane they built while at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum in DC.
We climbed a hill to a 60-foot granite monument which is perched atop the 90-foot-tall Kill Devil Hill. It commemorates the achievements of the Wright brothers, who conducted many of their glider tests on the massive shifting dune that was later stabilized. Then we drove around a loop to a display of bronze statues that re-enacted the first flight. While there, I asked first flight photographer John T. Daniels to take a picture of me. He was very accommodating, but sort of a quiet chap 🙂
As if our morning walk on the beach and hike up Kill Devil Hill were not enough, we continued to Jockey’s Ridge State Park and climbed sand dunes topping out at 80 feet. The park boasts that the dunes here are the tallest natural sand-dune system in the eastern United States. Upon reaching the top, we were rewarded with unparalleled views of the central Outer Banks and the surrounding area.
Our days here were spent catching the sunrise in the morning while walking on the beach, and enjoying watching the surfers, fishermen and hundreds of shorebirds. We listened to and watched the relentless swells of the Atlantic Ocean pawing away at the beach. Oh yeah, life is a beach indeed. Do we have to leave?
We watched an endless parade of pelicans gliding inches above the water and swooping down on their prey, while other shorebirds scurried along the beach looking for food…
…and the unobstructed sunrises were just gorgeous. Yes, I got many pictures of them each morning!
From Kitty Hawk we move just 60 miles further south to enjoy more beaches along the OBX. We also checked out a few historical sites along the way. We believe this is a great time to be here – the “shoulder season” – as the summer tourists (and their noisy little brats) have already gone back home.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore covers all of the coastline from Nags Head to Ocracoke, seventy four (74) miles of unpopulated, unspoiled, and always open beaches. Cape Hatteras Campground would have been a great place to park Betsy, but it had already closed for the season.
Instead, we parked Betsy at Cape Woods RV Park in Buxton (Steve’s review is here). We found the iconic Cape Hatteras Lighthouse a few miles away. At 208′ tall, it is distinguished as the tallest brick lighthouse in the nation. Its unique diagonal black and white striped pattern really make it stand out. Folks can climb to the top during tourist season, but it too had already been closed for the winter.
Beach erosion forced the relocation of this venerable landmark in 1999. The lighthouse was moved 2,900 feet to its new location, the tallest brick structure in the U.S. to ever be moved.
Moving on to Ocracoke Island, we discovered it’s well known for wildlife attractions, especially its herd of ponies. The ponies are called the “Banker” horses of Ocracoke, believed to be descendants of Spanish Mustangs that were unloaded in 1585. Physically, the Ocracoke ponies are different from others – they have a different number of vertebrae and ribs, as well as a distinct shape, posture, color, size, and weight – that sets them apart. The park service has been taking care of the herd since 1960, and only seventeen remain.
The highlight on Ocracoke Island is the Ocracoke Lighthouse, the oldest (1823) and shortest (75 feet tall) operating lighthouse in North Carolina. It is one of four that dot the main stretch of North Carolina’s Outer Banks. Over the centuries, some 1,500 ships have perished in this area, earning the Outer Banks the moniker “Graveyard of the Atlantic”.
At this time of year, thousands of migrating birds can be seen resting on the great Atlantic byway.
On our way back to the mainland, Betsy was prepped for a long day of ferry rides – not one but two in a single day. We always unhook the car and remove the tow bar when going on ferries, to avoid possibly dragging our hitch and to be more maneuverable on the vessel. The first ride was easy and comfortable, as there weren’t too many folks going from Hatteras to Ocracoke Island.
The second ferry was a little different, for there were many more cars and RVs taking the 2+ hour ride from Ocracoke Island to the mainland, disembarking at Cedar Island.
It was a long day of ferry riding and driving – fortunately the forecasted high winds did not materialize. We experienced a slight rocking and rolling on the ferries, but not enough to bother our tummies. We loved the Outer Banks and plan to come back in the future to spend more time. We learned that the best time to go is late summer to early fall, because everything is still open and the huge crowds have already departed. But we still came at a good time – the weather was mostly nice and we had the beaches pretty much to ourselves.