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Outer Banks/Crystal Coast, North Carolina

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Did You Know … ?

  • The site of the Wright Brothers’ first flight (1903) is Kill Devil Hills (no longer part of Kitty Hawk).
  • The pirate Blackbeard’s ship, Queen Anne’s Revenge, rests under water three miles from Beaufort.
  • The winner of the first Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament (1957) received a red wagon full of silver dollars.
  • The Ocracoke Boy Scout Troop #290, using Spanish mustangs, is America’s only mounted troop.
  • In 1908, the world’s first passenger flight occurred at Kitty Hawk (Orville Wright, pilot; Charles Furnas, passenger).

Moving along

The Outer Banks and the Crystal Coast are strings of barrier islands that roughly parallel North Carolina’s Atlantic coast. And these are destinations on the move, literally.

Barrier islands are narrow, low-lying landforms separated from but paralleling coastlines. They are constantly moving and being reshaped by storms, ocean currents, sea level changes, waves and wind. Historically, North Carolina’s barrier islands have moved toward the mainland as parts of the shore have eroded. Island relocation is a slow process; the shifting of sand dunes is more obvious.

These rugged islands were largely ignored until vacationers discovered their appeal by the early 20th century. Today, they are prime destinations for anglers and divers. They also are known for Spanish mustangs, descendants of horses brought 500 years ago by Spanish explorers. There are four equine groups, some still roaming freely.

The Outer Banks also are famed for Roanoke Island, site of the English colony that vanished (1587), and for Kitty Hawk, indelibly associated with the Wright Brothers’ first flight (1903).

The Outer Banks, running north to south, include the Northern Beaches, Roanoke Island and Hatteras. The Northern Beaches, actually a long peninsula aka Bodie Island, is the site of beaches and towns (Duck, Southern Shores, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head), plus Jockey’s Ridge State Park, noted for tall sand dunes. Hatteras is home to the Hatteras National Seashore and additional towns.

The next island south of the Outer Banks is the Cape Lookout National Seashore, counted as part of the Crystal Coast. The rest of the Crystal Coast runs east to west, which translates into south-facing islands and coastal towns warmed by the Gulf Stream.

Emerald Isle, Pine Knoll Shores and Atlantic Beach are towns on the longest south-facing island, with Shackleford Banks (haven for mustangs) and Harkers Island to the east. Two Crystal Coast towns, Morehead City and Beaufort, are on the mainland behind these barrier islands. Morehead City, a major fishing center, hosts the Big Rock Blue Marlin Fishing Tournament. Beaufort, founded in 1709, boasts a 12-block historic district.

Visitors can drive onto some of the islands but must use ferries for some.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Climb any of three lighthouses: Cape Hatteras Lighthouse or the Bodie Island Lighthouse at the Hatteras National Seashore, or the Cape Lookout Lighthouse on the Cape Lookout National Seashore. The first two may be climbed under a full moon, too. The National Park Service warns that all climbs are strenuous.
  • Adopt a wild horse, and this really means taking on a horse, not symbolic adoption by making a donation.
  • Join a guided kayaking or canoeing excursion that lets you zigzag through the Crystal Coast’s inlets and waterways. More ambitiously, paddling tours range up to eight-day expeditions along the North Carolina coast.
  • Make the Crystal Coast your diving destination, especially if shipwrecks are of interest. The area is dubbed the Graveyard of the Atlantic because there are so many vessels to be seen in these waters. Also, sign on for an underwater photography clinic.
  • Get on a surfboard or kiteboard, or go parasailing, or take to a stand-up paddle board, on Ocracoke Island at the southern end of the Outer Banks.
  • Be competitive: Enter the lists for the Gordie McAdams Speckled Trout Surf Fishing Tournament (all fishing on foot) or the famed Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament. There is another just for women, the Keli Wagner Lady Angler Tournament.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Ride the sand dunes at Jockey’s Ridge State Park at Nags Head in the Outer Banks. The dunes, with peaks of more than 90 feet, are the tallest dunes on the East Coast.
  • On the Crystal Coast, take a ghost tour at the fort in Fort Macon State Park.
  • Take an off-road wild horse tour that will let you get reasonably close to the Spanish mustangs — the ones that are still living wild — for observation and photography. Such tours are available at Corolla in the Outer Banks.
  • Do your bird-watching at Cape Lookout National Seashore or elsewhere on the Crystal Coast. Spot the birds while walking a nature trail or from the water aboard a kayak or anything that floats.
  • With your family, participate in the Boat in a Day program at the Harvey W. Smith Watercraft Center in Beaufort. This means building a six-foot boat, called the Harkers Island skiff, to take home.
  • Charter a boat and sail the waters of the Crystal Coast. Take lessons as needed, an option for all skill levels.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Get tickets to the outdoor drama, “The Lost Colony,” which explores the mysteries of the 1587 disappearance of all residents of the Roanoke colony, which included the first English child born in the New World, Virginia Dare.
  • At the Corolla Wild Horse Museum, ride a tame mustang.
  • Attend the Dec. 17 celebration of the Wright Brothers’ first flight at Kill Devil Hills. And, in consideration of area history, also head to Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, which preserves known portions of England’s first New World settlement, the famed lost colony of Roanoke.
  • Overnight in a Victorian bed and breakfast.
  • Try your hand at crabbing at Corolla toward the northern reaches of the Outer Banks. Or, at various points in the barrier islands, try fishing right from the beach (i.e., surf fishing), or join a scheduled fishing excursion into deeper waters in hopes of a bigger catch.
  • Take a guided walking tour, or a tour in a double-decker bus, of Beaufort’s historic city center.

Additional Resources

For information, consult Visit North Carolina at www.visitnc.com