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North Carolina’s Outer Banks


Last summer, I planned my first trip to a beach resort along the Outer Banks, North Carolina.  Many of my friends have been vacationing there every summer for years and admitted they’d go nowhere else.  So when a friend of mine asked if we’d like to vacation together and recommended the Outer Banks, I jumped at the chance.
 
The Outer Banks is so famous that it has its own acronym, OBX.  This fragile string of sandbars and barrier islands stretches 80 miles from the town of Corolla near the Virginia border to Ocracoke Island, home of Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout National Seashores.  Rooted off the coast of North Carolina, these fragile islands have survived the power of wind and sea for thousands of years. The Outer Banks is home to approximately 15,000 people year round, but in the summer, the population swells to over 200,000.
 

My friend and I decided take our families to Duck, North Carolina, located along the Northern Shores of the Outer Banks.  The town, named for the numerous waterfowl and birds of prey that stop there during their annual migration, is advertised as a place to bring families. 

The town of Duck is small with groups of quaint little shops and restaurants, limited development, and advertisements inviting us to see the wild-horse refuges by all-terrain vehicle, take surf lessons, or go sea kayaking.  Though beaches along the Northern Shores have become home to upscale resorts, multi-million dollar homes and exquisite housing communities in the northern-most town of Corolla, Duck’s beaches are lined with huge modest homes, some of which can host up to twenty-four people.  And it is not uncommon to meet up with a family who is having their annual reunion there.
 
When we turned up the avenue towards our rental home, we were struck by the beauty and wonderful aroma of the maritime forests that surrounded each home.  These forests hosted short fir trees and many bunnies that were busy running about. I noticed that all the rental homes or condos were located either ocean front or within a short walk of the beach.  I was also delighted to learn that our rental property was walking distance from downtown Duck.
 
As we pulled into the driveway, we saw a palatial-size house complete with wrap-around porch and two bench swings that faced north and east.  There was also a Jacuzzi and the house was surrounded by beautiful foliage and the gentle odor of fir trees. 
 
The house had everything we could ever need, including a room with bunk beds for the kids, a master suite with a king-sized beds, two bedrooms with queen-size beds, a washer and dryer, and a den area with a large television.  Our kitchen was equipped with a coffee maker, blender, toaster, microwave, and several sets of dishes, pots and pans, utensils and other amenities.
 
Many visitors to Duck follow their children to the beach as early as 7 a.m. With coffee mug in hand, they saunter down the quiet street while the bunnies scurry between the trees.  Thankful that my son was not old enough to hit the beach that early, I decided to follow the paved bike path that runs along the length of many of the shopping villages in town to buy coffee and bagels for breakfast.

While jogging into town, I noticed I was not alone. Not only did I meet up with some resident deer who were making their way across the road, but many vacationers were already out riding bicycles, pushing strollers, running, or walking. I passed the Four Seasons Hotel, several shopping centers that housed seafood restaurants like Fishbones Sunset Grill, specialty stores such as Try My Nuts – Nut Company, and quaint boutiques. I was astonished to see that this small town could offer everything from high-end shopping to easy dining on the ocean. 

Many shops offer rental items such as surfboards, tandem bikes, sea kayaks, and in-line skates. To my astonishment, one place even caters strictly to babies, offering bouncy seats, exersaucers, and baby joggers for only a few dollars a day.
 
My jog took me to a Euro-like coffee shop called Cravings, where I promptly got my caffeine fix and bought breakfast for everyone else.  While there, I took some extra time to slip my credit card into the payment machine that operated the online service for this one-computer Internet café and drank my cup of Joe while catching up on emails. After finishing my coffee and spending $3.00 for a half-hour on the computer, I headed back to the house with bagels in hand.
 
When we hit the beach, we could see miles upon miles of cream-colored sand. Clearly, the biggest event on the beach next to sun-bathing was sand-castling. Almost all of the parents and children were erecting many different designs of castles, complete with moats and drawbridges.  Older kids were throwing frisbees and others were soaking up the Southern sun.  The ocean presented us with gentle waves so that even the smallest children could withstand the impact of the water as the white caps rolled in.

The History of the Northern Shores

Both Duck and its northern neighbor, Corolla, were fishing communities a century ago.  Each community was not only isolated, but also completely self-sufficient.  The villagers fished and farmed for a living, building their houses and schools out of materials salvaged from old shipwrecks and buildings. 

In the 1940’s and 50’s, many villagers left the Northern Outer Banks to look for work in urban areas, and by the 1970’s homes began to crop up as vacationers began to build second homes along the beautiful shorelines.  In 1984, Route 12, the only access road to the Northern Shores of the Outer Banks, was extended north towards the border of Virginia.  Today, Duck and Corolla are mostly residential and contain villages that serve as the commercial hubs of the area with shops, restaurants and activities such as wildlife tours, kayak trips, parasailing and even surfing.
 
Though expansive mansions now dress up the landscape along Corolla’s coast, wild horses still roam the undeveloped countryside. Corolla is the home to the famous Sanderling Resort Hotel, where I got one of the best massages I have ever had in their exclusive spa.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore
 
On a day trip south to the more populated towns of Nags Head, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills, and Hatteras Island, which hosts the beautiful Cape Hatteras National Seashore, we discovered plenty of golf courses, shopping malls, and family restaurants. Inland from the central and southern beaches, we discovered a variety of amusements and historical locations, such as the Roanoke Island Festival Park, which hosts dozens of cultural events and activities year-round.
 
Though we only visited the northern end of Cape Hatteras National Seashore, we witnessed its beautiful display sand dunes, marshes, and woodlands. The Seashore, a national park that is protected from commercialization and development, covers and area of 45 square miles. The Seashore is known to be the largest stretch of undeveloped seashore on the East Coast. The Seashore is home to the famous Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.  At 208 feet, it stands as the tallest brick lighthouse in the country.

We spent our final days of our vacation bringing the kids to the beach and visiting downtown Duck to try out different restaurants. When the week was over, we packed our things and got an early start. Like many shore locations, this one’s weekly turn-over between renters can create a lot of traffic. But it’s worth the wait, for a destination that is one-of-a kind.
 
FACT BOX

Getting to the Outer Banks: Driving directions, ferry schedules, online maps, and other travel details are available from our Outer Banks transportation directory. http://www.outerbanks.com/transportation/
 
Planning a special destination wedding? Check out the Outer Banks Wedding Association, which offers more than 100 wedding-related businesses that provide services to couples considering the North Carolina Outer Banks as a premiere wedding destination. The Association offers a number of wedding-planning resources designed to make your special day one you will remember forever.  Brides-to-be can order a free copy of Outer Banks Bride Magazine to begin their journey to a wonderful wedding. Visit http://www.outerbanksweddingassoc.org/
 
Explore the luxurious spa located about 10 minutes north of downtown Duck at the famous Sanderling Resort in Corolla. (Be sure to have a massage while you’re there.)
 
Like Maps? Visit: http://www.nc-outerbanks.com/map7.html
 
For more information about the Outer Banks, visit: http://www.visitob.com/ or http://www.outerbanks.com/

For More information about Cape Hatteras, visit:
http://www.nps.gov/caha/capehatteras.htm

Alix J. Shutello is a freelance writer living in Virginia, USA.

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