The Outer Banks of North Carolina
The long strip of islands, known as the Outer Banks of North Carolina, is accessible by bridge on the northern end, middle and ferry to the south. Wide, unspoiled and uncluttered ocean beaches span the ocean villages of (from north to south) Corolla, Duck, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, Nags Head, Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Hatteras, Buxton and Ocracoke Island.
Currituck County's northern beaches around Corolla have been described by USA Weekend as ''one of the 10 best undiscovered beaches on the East Coast.'' The northernmost accessible town on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, Corolla has seen rapid development over the past ten years. Up until 1984, when the state extended Highway 12 north from the Dare County line, the town was a sleepy seaside village. Today, multimillion dollar Outer Banks Vacation Home Rentals dwarf the village proper and make Corolla one of the most desirable upscale vacation destinations in the country. Ironically, it was the opening of the road and the ensuing traffic that eventually led to the relocation of one of Corolla's most famous attractions, the wild ponies. .
At the center of the village is the Whalehead Club and Currituck Lighthouse complex. Millionaire industrialists built the Whalehead Club in the 1920's as a base for waterfowl hunting expeditions to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Today, the Club is being restored to its original glory and serves as a waterfowl museum.
Next door, the red brick Currituck lighthouse towers over the landscape. The northernmost of the Outer Banks of North Carolina lighthouses, the 180-foot structure is open for climbing in the summer months and features a small museum and the restored light keeper’s house.
On December 1, 1875, the beacon of the Currituck Beach Lighthouse filled the remaining ''dark spot'' on the Outer Banks of North Carolina coast between the Cape Henry light to the north and Bodie Island to the south. To distinguish Currituck Beach from other regional lighthouses its exterior remains unpainted and gives today's visitor a sense of the multitude of bricks used to form the structure. Automated in 1939, the night beacon still flashes at 20-second intervals to warn ships hugging the chain of barrier islands along the coast.
The Lighthouse Keepers' House, a Victorian ''stick style'' dwelling, was constructed from pre-cut and labeled materials which were shipped on a barge to the Outer Banks of North Carolina and assembled on site. In 1876, when the Keepers' House was completed, two keepers and their families shared the duplex in the isolated seaside setting. The keepers were removed in 1939 after the Lighthouse was automated and attendants were no longer needed to clean the lenses, trim the wicks, fuel the lamp, and wind the clockwork mechanism which rotated the beacon. The house and grounds were leased to Outer Banks Conservationists, Inc. in 1980 for purposes of historic preservation.
Today, the grounds and walkways of the Lighthouse compound in the Outer Banks of North Carolina are rejuvenated and the restoration of the double Keepers' House is nearly complete. The house is officially opened to the public annually, by appointment, during the first two weeks of November. Other historic structures located within the compound include louvered cisterns, a two-hole privy, storage building, and the single Keepers' House, which now functions as a Museum Shop.
The Currituck Beach Lighthouse is known as a first order lighthouse in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, which means it has the largest of seven Fresnel lens sizes. The original source of light was a U. S. mineral oil lamp consisting of five concentric wicks; the largest was 4 inches in diameter.
Before the advent of electricity, a mechanical means was required to rotate the huge lenses that made the light appear to flash. A system of weights suspended from a line powered a clockwork mechanism beneath the lantern --much like the workings of a grandfather clock. The keeper cranked the weights up by hand every two and a half hours.
Like other lighthouses on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, this one still serves as an aid to navigation. Today a 1000-watt bulb comes on automatically every evening at dusk and ceases at dawn. With a 20-second flash cycle (on for 3 seconds, off for 17 seconds), the light can be seen for 18 nautical miles. The distinctive sequence enables the lighthouse not only to warn mariners but also to help identify their locations
Named for the sheer numbers of waterfowl that once flocked here during migratory seasons, Duck has experienced exponential growth over the past ten years. Duck is a thriving year-round town in the Outer Banks of North Carolina, as well as vacation destination. Characterized by quaint boutiques, fine dining, and a variety of water sports both on the sound and in the ocean, Duck is rapidly becoming one of the most popular beach destinations in the country.
At the north end of the town, the Army Research Pier is a fascinating attraction worth an afternoon tour. The facility was created to study the dynamic processes of the barrier islands which make up the Outer Banks of North Carolina. Over the years, a wealth of data gathered during hurricanes and Nor'easters have helped planners and builders better understand the impact of wind, water, and waves on coastal construction.
Once a remote area, Kitty Hawk has grown into a summer resort area and provides some of the best beach recreation on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
When Orville Wright stepped ashore in Kitty Hawk Village in the fall of 1900, he probably knew that he and his brother were destined to make history as the pioneers of flight. They had chosen this remote fishing village on the Outer Banks of North Carolina partly for privacy from prying eyes. Three years later, they would break the bonds of earth for the first time in their heavier than air flying machine.
From that moment forward, Kitty Hawk would forever be associated with the Wright Brothers as the birthplace of aviation - although the actual flight took place four miles south from the base of Kill Devil Hill. Today, the once-tiny sound side village is one of the largest townships on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. On the ocean-side, thousands of rental homes, restaurants and shops are part of the development that has characterized the northern Outer Banks from Nags Head to Corolla.
But along the Albemarle Sound, the village remains a treat for those who choose to take a drive off the beaten path. Shaded lanes wind along the marshes. Quaint clapboard cottages and fishing boats line a series of canals that lead to the open waters of the Sound. And life takes on a more leisurely pace that is reminiscent of the way people used to live in the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Kill Devil Hills
Not to be confused with nearby Kill Devil Hill of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, where the Memorial Pylon stands, Kill Devil Hills is the largest incorporated municipality in Dare County.
Kill Devil Hills is the Outer Banks of North Carolina’s oldest township, established in 1952. But the landmark that lends the town its distinctive name has been around much longer. mountains over 100 feet high. These dunes stretched from sound to sea, from Corolla south to Nags Head. Kill Devil Hill was one of the larger of the dunes, and stories about how the monolith got its name are varied and colorful; the generally accepted one is that it is named for ''Kill Devil,'' a brand of rum found washed ashore during the colonial period.
Whatever the origins of its name, the dune was the site of the Wright Brothers first heavier-than-air flight in 1903, which placed Kill Devil Hills forever in the history books. In the 1930s, workers planted hearty grasses on the dune to prevent it from continually shifting and the
constructed the impressive Wright Brothers Memorial which is visible for miles along the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Today, Kill Devil Hills is one of the most popular vacation destinations on the Outer Banks. With thousands of rental homes, great restaurants, sports and activities, and shopping, Kill Devil Hills is at the center of an Outer Banks, North Carolina vacation.
When many people refer to the Outer Banks, they use the term ''Nags Head'' to generically describe the area. The truth of the matter is that Nags Head was first a physical location on a map, then a township, and finally, the most recognizable of all the northern Outer Banks, North Carolina vacation destinations.
Early maps of the Outer Banks of North Carolina show Nags Head as a promontory of land characterized by high sand dunes visible from miles at sea. Tales of land pirates that lured ships ashore in stormy weather may be the possible origin of the town's name. Or it may have been carried across the sea by English explorers who were reminded of a similar location of the English coast, a high point on the Scilly Islands, the last sight of old England that the earlier explorers were to see on their voyage to the New World.
We'll never know the true origin, but legend and lore insists that early 18th century ''Bankers,'' realizing how profitable piracy was for sea-going scoundrels such as Blackbeard, developed their own unique method as land-based pirates. Horses with lanterns tied to their necks were walked up and down the beach at night. Merchant skippers in the off-shore waters would mistakenly think the lights were of other ships closer to shore. They would then change course and run aground, with the Bankers pillaging their cargo.
Around 1830, Nags Head became known as a plush resort area and remains so today, with a wealth of activities nearby to please a variety of tastes. Jockey's Ridge is the last vestige of the giant moving sand dunes that once towered over the beaches and greeted the first explorers. Surrounding Jockey's Ridge State Park, thousands of vacation homes beckon travelers of a different sort to the wide sandy beaches and relaxed atmosphere of an Outer Banks of North Carolina vacation. Modern day Bankers no longer need a lantern tied around a horse to lure visitors. With plenty of beaches and world-record fishing, golfing and shopping to nature trails, wildlife refuges, shipwreck remains and historic sites, its all here!
Rodanthe, Waves and Salvo
Rodanthe is situated about 10 miles south of the Oregon Inlet Bridge, adjacent to the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. Waves lies directly between Rodanthe and Salvo. Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge located on the north end of Hatteras Island, the refuge was established in 1938 as a sanctuary for waterfowl. The area is a birdwatcher's paradise. More than 400 species of birds have been spotted in or around the Outer Banks of North Carolina at different times of the year. The refuge has a visitor's center, where information is available on guided and self-guided tours, and there are hiking trails and observation platforms.
In Rodanthe, historians will enjoy visiting the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station (reenactments of Lifesaving drills are performed from May through October). This lifesaving station was built in 1874, and for some 70 years, the brave men of the U.S. Lifesaving Service, the forerunner of the Coast Guard, guarded the island's northern coast, battling raging seas to save sailors who were shipwrecked in storms. It is one of the most famous of the Outer Banks of North Carolina stations and is the only one open to the public. The grounds are open all year, and the building is open during the summer months.
In this area of the Outer Banks of North Carolina, families can enjoy a Waterfall Park, fishing pier and numerous water sports, including parasailing, kayaking and windsurfing. Waves is the site of a popular public windsurfing launch area, four-wheel-drive access to the beach and a sound side park Service "day use area" with picnic tables, barbecue grills and a great beach with a windsurfing launch area may be found just south of Salvo.
Avon and Buxton
As you travel further south on Highway 12, you'll reach Avon. Avon has gained popularity as a vacation destination as the sport of windsurfing has grown, and shops have expanded to offering lessons and rental equipment. Other family activities include miniature golf, pier or beach fishing, parasailing or banana tube rides, sport wall climbing, kayaking and even nightly entertainment (during the summer) in some restaurants. In between the villages of Avon and Buxton, you'll find Canadian Hole, one of the most famous windsurfing spots on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. The Canadian Hole is the most popular and well known windsurfing spot on Hatteras Island. The site is named for the many visitors from Canada who flock to the island to ride the wind in the Pamlico Sound.
The village of Buxton is best-known as the home of the famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. This lighthouse with its black and white spiral pattern is the most famous and most photographed landmark on the Outer Banks of North Carolina. And at 208 feet, it is the tallest lighthouse in the United States. The present lighthouse was built in 1870 and still serves the purpose of warning sailors of the treacherous Diamond Shoals. In 1999, the lighthouse made a historic move inland, farther out of the reach of the ever-encroaching Atlantic. Hatteras Island, part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, is a small barrier island between the Atlantic Ocean and Pamlico Sound, off the eastern coast of North Carolina, rich in wildlife, history, mild temperatures, beautiful scenery and great vacation opportunities.
Hatteras and Frisco
Frisco, just south of Buxton, is the least developed village on the island in terms of "tourist" activities. However, it is home to unique art galleries, the island's only air strip, and executive-style golf course, as well as the Native American Museum. As with many of the other areas on the Outer Banks of North Carolina, families can enjoy windsurfing, kayaking and fishing off the pier or beach in Frisco.
If you travel about 12 miles south of Buxton, you'll reach Hatteras. Hatteras is the southernmost village on Hatteras Island. This village is probably best-known for its world-famous offshore fishing fleet of the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
Another popular family activity is to take the free Hatteras Inlet Ferry from Hatteras to explore the quaint fishing village of Ocracoke Island. Just south of the ferry dock on Hatteras Island is the site of the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. This showcase of the local maritime history of Outer Banks of North Carolina is a cooperative effort by the state of North Carolina, the National Park Service and interested residents of Hatteras Island.
Just to the southwest of Hatteras is the small island of Ocracoke. The island is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, and takes up about 15 miles of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. It has just one village at the western tip. Ocracoke village is built around the historic and picturesque Silver Lake, a harbor that is filled with sailboats in the summer and fishing boats in the winter. The village's narrow streets and sandy lanes are lined with old, gnarled live oak trees. There are several visitor attractions on the island, including the Ocracoke lighthouse and the famous Ocracoke ponies, the spirited descendants of horses that are thought to have been survivors of shipwrecks or left behind by early explorers