Reporting, Recording and Relaying - But Always Telling It As I See It

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Day Trip - Ocracoke, NC

The Hatteras to Ocracoke ferry zigzags up the last, thin remnants of Hatteras Island before a brief jaunt through the inlet. A few minutes later, it tucks itself into the docks on Ocracoke and disgorges the twenty or so vehicles in an expedient and efficient manner. The caravan proceeds south on Highway 12 like camels across a desert, taking its occupants down the slither of blacktop that slices through the narrow island with the Pamlico Sound on the right and the Atlantic Ocean on the left. The thirteen mile drive to the village is punctuated by a few beach turnoffs, a campground, an airstrip and the famed but now corralled Ocracoke ponies. The ponies, former Spanish wild mustangs, managed to roam the island freely for upwards of 200 years before Highway 12 was paved. After this, the National Park Service penned the ponies in 1959. If your interest is in seeing what basically amounts to farm horses, it is worth the stop and free of charge.

At islands end, the tiny but vibrant village of Ocracoke greets visitors with small and quant shops that range from touristy to island trendy; OBX t-shirts are sold next to locally made jewelry. The village meanders in a crescent around Silver Lake Harbor which channels through “The Ditch” into Pamlico Sound. The harbor is home to fishing charters, parasailing and wave runner rentals. The narrow main street (still Highway 12) and several side, tree lined roads (with great monikers like Back Road and Lighthouse Road) offer limited parking but plenty of small village charm that encourages you to get out and walk.

The islands most famous and notorious tourist, Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard was killed near the island in November 1718. Not to miss a marketing chance of a lifetime, the village boasts a Blackbeard Lodge, Edward’s Of Ocracoke, Pirates Quay Condo Hotel and Teach’s Hole Blackbeard Exhibit to name a few. Skull and cross bone flags are, needless to say, readily available.

A short walk up the aptly named British Cemetery Road leads to, you guessed it, the British Cemetery. In May of 1942, the HMS Bedfordshire was torpedoed by a German U-Boat off the coast with all hands lost. Four British Sailors, 2 identified and 2 not, washed up on shore and were interned at this small, well kept cemetery on Ocracoke beneath the British flag.

The 75 foot tall Ocracoke lighthouse, perched just southwest of the village proper was constructed in 1823 for a little under $12,000. Its white exterior is due to its coating of lime, salt, Spanish whiting (a type of chalk), rice, glue and boiling water. The lighthouse is the 2nd oldest in the United States and the oldest in North Carolina. Though it currently rests on private property, a boardwalk slips through the grounds next to the lighthouse keepers former residence and provides a close up view of the lighthouse and adjacent buildings.

Situated on Silver Lake Harbor is the Jolly Roger Restaurant, an outdoor eatery complete with sea gulls and docked boats. With a nice selection of micro-brew beers, my wife, two boys and I settled into a table and I ordered the 22oz Fat Tire Ale. The seafood is so fresh that the Bluefish sandwich advertised as the daily special had in fact not yet been brought in from the boat. Local mahi (not long ago still called the eco-unfriendky dolphin) was duly substitute and my wife pounced, though she was disappointed that there was only beer and wine served. I ordered the fish tacos which tasted of the sea and were augmented with wasabi mayonnaise. At $60 for the four of us for everything including a side order of hushpuppies, we were full and happy visitors.

We clipped along north back to the ferry dock and fed a few seagulls while we waited the ten minutes or so for the next batch of tourists to debark, then eased the van onto the deck for the 45 minute ride back to Hatteras. Ocracoke does not offer great adventure and thankfully it does not have go-cart tracks or splashy restaurants. It does possess island charm uncharacteristic of much of the east coast. Its gentle mix of tourist shtick and laid back, southern elegance makes it the perfect destination for a day trip from the outer banks.

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