The Outer Banks

North Carolina

Sunday, 12 November 2006, Outer Banks, NC
When we drove out of the campground on Currituck Sound, we noticed how stunning the scenery was along the waterfront. On Tuesday afternoon, when we had driven in, the sky was overcast and the water was grey and choppy. But the next day it was sunny and the water was calm and brilliant blue. We were driving along the edge of the sound, but also on the other side were the waters of a very picturesque swamp, with some lovely foliage colour.
We were on our way to the Outer Banks of North Carolina, which is 100 miles of barrier islands joined to the mainland and each other by bridges and ferries. Much of the area is under the protection of the National Parks and designated the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Cape Hatteras stretches across three islands - Bodie, Hatteras and Ocracoke - and there are also 8 villages along the narrow highway 12. The villages are not part of the park and have a lot of holiday rental properties as well as businesses to support the tourist industry. It is possible for us to drive through this national preserve, and stay along the way, from Kitty Hawk in the north to Ocracoke in the south, utilising the Hatteras Inlet Ferry. There are also two wildlife refuges (one in Cape Hatteras and one on the mainland, but accessible from the Outer Banks), a State Park and the Wright Brothers National Memorial, which was our first stop.
We drove into fog on the way and it was still hanging around when we arrived at the site of the first powered flights, made by the Wright Brothers in December, 1903. I was surprised that I found it so interesting. I had never really thought much about the significance of this event, but during the visit there I began to understand that without the brothers' imagination, persistence and ability to 'think outside the square', we would have had to catch a boat to be here! It led me to be extremely thankful for the many times in my life that I have stepped on a plane and taken it for granted. The memorial shows clearly where the Wright brothers took their successful flights and there are reconstructed copies of their living quarters and hanger on the field also. We spent several hours at the Memorial, which included a very informative talk by one of the rangers - he explained, with the help of a fully functioning reproduction of the original plane the Wright Brothers flew, the significance of their discoveries about flight and how they put it into practice. He was a very interesting speaker, and presented the facts in a friendly, light-hearted manner. I definitely recommend a visit to this place to anyone visiting the Outer Banks.
Since all the National Parks campgrounds are 'closed for the season', we decided to look for a private campground in Rodanthe, which is on Hatteras Island. We had driven over one large bridge from the mainland at Point Harbor and there was a second one on this drive. Rodanthe is 38 miles from the Wright Brothers Memorial and the drive is quite interesting. The first sight is the Jockey's Ridge State Park which boasts the largest living sand dune on the east coast. Highway 12 drives right by it. A short distance past this is the turnoff to Roanoke Island, which we will come to visit later, followed closely by the entry to Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Then you pass the Bodie Island Lighthouse, with its distinctive black and white bands. There are a number of historic lighthouses along the Outer Banks and this one dates from 1872.
Our second bridge of the day joins Bodie Island to Hatteras Island and crosses the Oregon Inlet. The bridges are interesting in that they are predominantly set low, close to the water, but the centre of them is always raised high enough for boats to travel freely between the Sound and the Atlantic. There were many fishermen on the southern end of the bridge - this whole area is a very popular with serious fishermen. We could tell they were serious by the number and length of fishing rods in the rod holders which are usually on the front of their vehicles!
Until you reach Rodanthe, Hatteras Island is taken up by the Pea Island Wildlife Refuge. This refuge was established in 1938 primarily to protect the habitat for wintering or resting migratory birds. There must have been tens of thousands of birds on the water here. Arriving in Rodanthe we checked out a couple of campgrounds which were completely over the top with their prices, particularly as it is already the off-season and they didn't seem to be particularly full! We ended up in the Ocean Waves Campground which was run by very friendly people and seemed to be also full of friendly people - and it was about $30 per night instead of somewhere closer to $50! After a good night's sleep - we always like to test it out first - we paid for 2 more nights.
On Thursday we drove all the way back up the islands to the Nags Head area on Bodie Island to go shopping. They have quite a few shops selling t-shirts and swimwear at very great discounts. I was hoping to find a new swimsuit, but unfortunately as well as being cheap they were unappealing... We did buy a couple of things at the outlet centre, but mostly spent the day just looking.
On Friday we decided to drive to Roanoke Island and from there to the mainland to check out the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, which is basically a huge swamp with some wet forest. This Refuge was established in 1984 and is home to black bears, red wolves and alligators, as well as important being important habitat for migratory birds. We were told at the visitors centre that we may or may not see wildlife, but the big hint was if you see turtles, there are alligators nearby. Well we did end up seeing quite a lot of turtles, but the alligators, bears and wolves eluded us completely!
We stopped at Mateo on Roanoke Island to visit their lighthouse. This new lighthouse is a reconstruction of the old screwpile design, where a cottage for the lighthouse keeper was built over water and the beacon placed on the roof. We found Mateo to be a very pretty little town with a lovely waterfront. It was very peaceful just sitting in the sun overlooking the very blue water. I'm not sure how peaceful it might be in the height of the summer season, but we were once again benefiting from arriving in off-season - the campgrounds may be closed but the scenic areas are not at all busy.

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