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By the same publishers
NC's Outer Banks boasts one of
America's Best Beaches
story and pictures by Renee
26 miles from the North Carolina mainland lies an island
where time stands still.
mansions mar Ocracoke's 15 miles of unspoiled beaches, home
to seabirds and sea turtles, wild ponies-and some of the
best fishing along the Atlantic coast.
after year, "Dr. Beach" (actually Dr. Stephen Leatherman,
director of Florida International University's coastal research
lab) declared Ocracoke one of the top 10 beaches in the
United States, based on its natural beauty, lack of pollution
and visitor-friendly features. In 2007, he awarded it top
ranking: Best Beach in the United States.
known fact: once Dr.
Beach names a location a number one "best beach"
it is no longer in the running for future lists. It remains
a "best beach" forever, but does not appear in
the annual listings.]
The Travel Channel, in its March 2006 show "Best Beaches"
also named Ocracoke's shores the best beach in America,
beating out every stretch of sand in Hawaii, California,
Florida and even the U.S. Virgin Islands.
the publicity raised Ocracoke's profile-and bragging rights-but
has done little to change the island's laid back character.
This is a destination isolated from the bustle of other
beach resorts with no mini golf, no fast food, no restaurant
row rush hour.
is one of Ocracoke's splendors. You cannot drive to this
island; you must fly in by small plane, or come by boat.
Carolina Ferry System connects Ocracoke to Hatteras
in the north, Swan Quarter to the east and Cedar Island,
near Beaufort, to the south.
your car, if you like, but once you settle down in Ocracoke
Village, the only town on the island, you may just leave
it parked. Transportation down the village's tree-shaded
lanes is best accomplished by bicycle, and several places
around town rent bikes by the day or week.
is definitely the place to vacation if you want to get away,"
says Jackie Myers, general manager of Ocracoke
Island Realty. "Our visitors are more laid back,
less stressed out than you find at other beaches."
company handles more than 300 rental properties on the island,
ranging from simple cottages to sound-front houses with
docks and hot tubs.
don't have oceanfront houses on Ocracoke," Myers says. "There's
no construction at all on the beach."
population in Ocracoke hovers around 800, but in the summer
season that swells to about 15,000, mostly weekly renters.
commercial and residential development clusters at the south
end of Ocracoke, near the ferry docks to Cedar Island and
Swan Quarter. The National Park Service manages the rest
of the island as part of Cape
Hatteras National Seashore.
for a park service campground and some wild ponies, the
miles of dunes and marshes are largely uninhabited, shaped
by wind and water.
activities focus on the water. Four-wheel drive vehicles
can navigate a number of roads which lead to the beach,
where surf fishing is a popular activity along with shelling.
consider the fishing in these waters some of the finest
in the world, with both the ocean and Pamlico Sound easily
accessible. The large charter fishing fleet docked in the
village's harbor can reach the Gulf Stream and its big game
fish more quickly than from any other port in the Outer
may not have a movie theater, but there's plenty to do between
leisurely breakfasts and lazy sunsets. Outfitters on the
island teach surfing, lead kayak tours and take visitors
for a high-flying tour of the harbor via parasail.
popular day excursion goes across the inlet to Portsmouth,
once a thriving village but now a ghost town preserved by
the National Park Service as part of Cape Lookout National
Boat Tours run a shuttle boat from Ocracoke harbor
to the Portsmouth dock, a trip enlivened by the captain's
local yarns told in an authentic Orcracoke brogue, a unique
dialect studied by N.C. State University.
Austin, whose family goes back many generations on the island,
also offers tours to nearby brown pelican rookeries.
many visitors choose to spend their vacation days strolling
the village's shady lanes, discovering galleries, shops
and restaurants half-hidden among moss-hung live oaks.
the tree line rises the white column of the Ocracoke
Light. Built in 1823, it is the oldest lighthouse
still operating in North Carolina.
its history, Ocracoke hosted many colorful characters looking
for a quiet getaway.
the pirate was one, but here his luck ran out. Just outside
the harbor lies Teach's Hole, site of his final, fatal battle
with the British.
of the best places to get in touch with the old pirate's
spirit is aboard the schooner
Windfall. Capt. Rob Temple sails his 57-foot
vessel, flying Blackbeard's pirate flag of a skeleton and
a bleeding heart, out of Ocracoke harbor on a daily sunset
cruise May through October.
As the sun slides down into Pamlico Sound, Temple tells
many tales about Blackbeard, including the story of a mysterious
goblet said to be made from the pirate's skull. National
Geographic came to Ocracoke looking for Blackbeard lore
and ended up featuring Temple's tales in its July 2006 issue
and on its website.
captain, a North Carolina native himself, says he understands
the attraction that brought Blackbeard and so many others
back to the island: "Once you get away, all you think about
is coming back."
published in NC Magazine
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