A September 2006 trip
to Outer Banks by moatway
Quote: September in the Outer Banks: sunny beaches, restaurants and interesting sites, a perfect holiday.
The northern section is split by highway 12 which goes north through Southern Shores to Corolla. In Corolla there is the Currituck Heritage Park with three separate attractions: the Whalehead Club (a mansion built in 1922), the Currituck lighthouse and the Wildlife Center. This section is the most newly developed section of the banks; summer homes, many of which are valued well in excess of one million dollars, are grouped in developments and public access to the beach is limited to Southern Shores.
The central section has two highways running down through it… route 158, known as the bypass, because it is a four-lane highway lined with shopping and restaurants but which avoids most of the residential beach area, and route 12, the Virginia Dare Trail which passes directly behind the beachfront cottages, most of which are older. This area is heavily built up and commercial, but between mileposts seven and eight on route 158, you’ll find the Wright Brothers National Memorial.
Traveling south on either route will bring you to highway 64/264 to Roanoke Island. On the northernmost part of Roanoke, you will find the wonderful Elizabethan Gardens as well as Fort Raleigh and the North Carolina Aquarium. In the town of Manteo, there is the Roanoke Island Festival Park where you’ll find the Elizabeth II and re-enactors who will take you back in time.
Instead of turning off to Roanoke, you can continue south to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The journey passes by the Bodie Island Lighthouse, through the beautiful Pea Island National Wildlife Reserve and its pristine, natural Atlantic shore. The drive from the Roanoke turnoff to Hatteras is 60 miles and passes through a wonderful natural environment which has a few, somewhat isolated, beach communities. At Buxton, there is North America’s tallest lighthouse, Cape Hatteras Light, and finally, in Hatteras you’ll find the ferry to unspoiled Okracoke.
Your biggest decision will be in which area to stay. The northern area is the newest, has great beaches and restaurants and would be my first choice. The central area has a lot of motel accommodation on the beach as well as everything else and there is lots of public beach access. Lovers of nature will choose Hatteras and one of its beach communities: Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, or Avon. You can have it all by staying at Southern Nags Head… it has the Cape Hatteras National Park behind it and the commercial area just to the north.
What’s a rental going to cost? Prices are all over the map. Off season in 2006 ran from September 2 to the middle of May 2007 (with the Christmas holiday exception). Prime season runs from the last week in June to the end of the first week in August. Then there is mid season, two weeks in June, two in August. The dates may differ from agency to agency, but using an example of a seven bedroom, six and one-half bathroom ocean view cottage on Hatteras, in-season was ., prime season ., mid-season ., off season with pool , winter no pool . Many of the summer homes are huge, but you can find reasonably priced three-bedroom accommodation or a one or two bedroom condo. Be careful in your selection, some summer homes in the Corolla area are accessible only by four-wheel SUV.
The state maintains visitor centers on the way into the Banks area. If you’re coming in from the north on Route 158, I do suggest a stop at the Aycock Brown Welcome Center. Having seen a lot of such places, I found this one well organized, helpful and just a step above.
Hotel | "Barrier Island Station Duck"
The resort offers a brief list of programming: bingo, a BBQ, a get-together, etc., and it offers a reasonable selection of amenities. There is a large free-form outdoor pool with kiddie pool near the beach access, an indoor pool with a games room, several tennis courts, and a scattering of charcoal BBQ pits about the property.
If you are beach-oriented, units in the 200, 800, 400 and 700 series buildings are closest to the beach access, all within 2 to 4 minutes. Units in the 100 and 500 series are farthest away, perhaps 5 to 7 minutes. Regardless of where you are, stairs may be an issue. It was possible to access our ground-floor unit without a stair, but long stairways are a feature of many units. Even the easiest access to the beach features about 20 stairs all told.
Our unit was 710 B, a one bedroom, and that is really the basis on which all our judgments were made. As with all resorts this size, the units are not all equal. Ours was ground floor with a patio and we found that we had some privacy issues as walkways skirted both the outside walls. Other units however, were virtual aeries with decks and plenty of privacy.
The unit itself was quite comfortable and very clean with 5 steps down from the front door to the living area. It was extremely compact… the kitchen was essentially a six foot counter on one wall of the living area with mini-bar, microwave and a bar sink. There were a two-burner portable unit and a deep electric frying pan for cooking and it all worked out. There were also a percolator, blender and toaster along with pots, pans and dishes. The rest of the living area had a dining table for four, a sofa-bed that sat three and a 17" television with VCR. The bedroom was quite large with a queen size bed, bed tables and a bureau. A washer-dryer were shared with the A unit.
It was an interesting set-up because 4 people could share the unit comfortably. There was an exterior door from the bedroom as well as the living room and both rooms had separate entrances to the bath. The only issue that I had was security as both exterior doors featured simple locksets… no dead-bolts or back-ups. Also, there was no room-safe. On the other hand, the resort is gated, so perhaps there is a feeling that a second lock on the exterior door is unnecessary.
It is not possible to rent a unit directly from this timeshare resort, but some brokers handle rentals… Sun Realty has a selection of good 200 series units.
Member Rating 3 out of 5 on October 11, 2006
Barrier Island Station
1245 Duck Road
Duck, North Carolina
Restaurant | "Fishbone's Sunset Grill and Raw Bar"
The menu is extensive. There is something for everyone; the portions are large-large and the service is so fast that it’s frightening. Oh yes, and the food is really good. The menu includes all the usual appetizers, from calamari to hot wings and potato skins ($4 to $10). There is a steamer serving Maine lobster, crab legs, clams and oysters, etc. For a mere $69.95, it’s possible to order the seafood feast: a 1.5-pound lobster, a dozen clams, a dozen oysters, a half pound of shrimp, and a half pound of snow crab legs. (Shouldn’t the perfect meal feature 3 pounds of seafood? Ouch!)
The list of dinner entrees is long and includes tuna, shrimp, seafood alfredo, crab cakes, lobster tails, and grouper. On the herd animal side, there was brie-stuffed filet, pork, filet mignon, sirloin, and surf and turf. Expect to pay between $19 and $25. Maine lobster was going for $25/pound, with the lobsters weighing in at 1.5 to 2 pounds. As an Atlantic Canadian, I found that a bit high, but they are brought in live and cooked on-site. Add to all of the above the various fried seafood dishes at about $18 and an extensive offering of sushi and you’re bound to find something that will amuse you.
We ordered clam chowder (spectacular at $4) and blackened mahimahi. The latter were served with a mountain of vegetables: a medley of zucchini, red peppers, etc. It was a big meal and very good, so no complaints about the food.
The atmosphere is a bit of tiki, unadorned tables from the restaurant supplies catalogue, decorative strip lighting, and white Christmas tree lights. There are a lot of ceiling fans, some grass matting, and a little artwork; there’s nothing elegant about it, but it is easy on the eyes. The bars are long; the Sunset serves all the usual things, plus huge drinks in dubious colours (I’ve always maintained that one should never drink anything that’s bright blue). The restaurant also regularly offers entertainment and karaoke.
It’s a great place for groups and for parents with kids. You can speak fairly loudly; after all, chances are that’s surf music coming out of the speakers, and if the people at the next table bother you, don’t worry—this restaurant really moves people along.
Fishbones Sunset Grill and Raw Bar
1264 Duck Rd.
Duck, North Carolina 27949
Restaurant | "The Blue Point Bar and Grill"
The chefs have boldly stated that their ambition is to do a few things well, so the menu is somewhat limited in its choices of southern regional cooking. The starters include she crab soup, baby back ribs, tuna crudo and sea scallops in the $9 to $12 range. Entrées include catfish, lump crab meat, pork chops, shrimp, beef tenderloin, crab cakes, tuna and flounder in the $25 to $30 range. Actually, describing the menu that way is a complete injustice, because all these dishes are very creative… and delicious.
We opted for the crab cakes and the beef tenderloin. Both were well presented and quite exceptional in every way. Side vegetables for the beef included shiitake mushrooms, potatoes and beans in a white sauce while the meat itself was perfection. Add a bottle of wine from a reasonably large selection, and it turned into a perfect evening.
If you choose an early dinner, or possibly lunch, you will have a view out over Carrituck Sound and enjoy a different kind of ambience coupled with great service and great food. The website is Blue Point/A>.
Member Rating 4 out of 5 on October 11, 2006
Blue Point Bar and Grill
1240 Duck Road
Duck, North Carolina 27949
It is a small room and seats clientele at four times during the evening: 6:00 and 6:30, 8:15 and 8:45. Reservations for the two sittings are highly recommended.
Going to Elizabeth’s is as though you have been invited to someone’s home or a small intimate cottage for dinner. There is a fireplace, bits of art, gleaming brass and copper, touches of crystal and beautifully set tables. The servers are impeccably trained; friendly without being familiar. (A service charge of 20% is automatically added to your tab for a wine dinner.)
There are two options at Elizabeth’s. You may browse the menu and make your selections à la carte (appetizers, soups, salads, seven or eight entrées). Menus are written daily; entrées range in price from $28 to $39. Selections may include mustard rubbed grilled pork tenderloin, pan seared sesame encrusted tuna, beef tenderloin au poivre or New Zealand rack of lamb. Alternatively, you may choose one of the two prix-fixe six-course wine dinners (offered at the eight o’clock sittings only). On this particular night the first offering (entrée choice of duck or halibut) was $90 per person or $60 without the wine. (Without the wine? I don’t think so.) The second offering was $125 per person and featured the beef tenderloin.
Briefly, our dinner included canapés with Champagne, BBQ shrimp with an Alsatian pinot blanc, lobster, scallop and brie bisque with French chardonnay, and a palate cleanser sorbet with a splash of sparkling wine. The duck entrée was served with a glass of Truchard 2000 Carneros merlot and the dinner ended with chocolate torte and coffee.
The beauty of the meal was, of course, the ability to experience a number of excellent wines without having to browse through the wine list which is 3 inches thick. It was all a marvelous experience and we recommend it highly. I think that I should add that this restaurant is not prepared to handle children and reservations are highly recommended. Elizabeth’s suggests that the best nights to arrive without reservations might be Saturday and Monday. For more information, go to Elizabeth’s.
Member Rating 5 out of 5 on October 11, 2006
Elizabeth's Cafe and Winery
1177 Duck Road
Duck, North Carolina
Attraction | "Fort Raleigh"
In 1586, those colonists returned to England. In 1587, another attempt at colonization was made, but this time with 89 men, 17 women, and 11 children under the leadership of John White. They were to settle on the Chesapeake, but landed on Roanoke and stayed. Unfortunately, relationships with the native population sank to a new low.
At the urging of the colonists, John White returned to England for provisions, but was unable to return to the colony due to war with Spain. When he finally returned three years later, he could find no trace of the colonists, who included his daughter and granddaughter, Virginia Dare, the first child born in the New World. It remains a mystery to this day.
Any visit to Fort Raleigh will begin in the Lindsay Warren Visitor Center. Inside you will find a narrative exhibit that time lines the rationale for colonization and Raleigh’s part in it through to the story of the lost colony. Across the hall, visitors pass through the Elizabethan Room, an attractive wood-paneled Tudor room that was once part of Heronden Hall in Kent. On the other side of the room is a theatre with a 17-minute film of the events of 1584-1587. The film is recommended viewing for an appreciation of events here.
From the center, there are paths through a wooded area, one of which leads to a primitive reconstruction of a moat and earth-berm fortification on the site of the original fort of 1586. The settlers’ houses, of which there is no trace, would have been built outside its walls. There isn’t much to see here; this is a story, almost a folk legend, really, of a tragedy that was the consequence of misunderstanding and culture clash.
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
1401 National Park Drive
Manteo, North Carolina 27954
The gardens (2006, adult: $8) are a wonderful place to pass time; a complete sensory experience as butterflies float from flower to flower and sunlight dapples the gardens through the trees. There is the impression of being on the grounds of an English great house as one passes through the Great Gate and enters a gift shop that looks like an Elizabethan orangery.
The garden is actually a series of gardens, or rooms, if you wish, each of which is themed. There is an herb garden, a fragrance walk and a rhododendron walk. There are formal gardens with low, boxwood hedges surrounding flowers and romantic gardens as trails wind through trees and shrubs. There is the Queen’s Rose Garden which features a Queen Elizabeth II rose, a gift from the monarch. It also features a Virginia Dare rose (Named for the first English child born in the New World.), a Lost Colony rose and a Sir Walter Raleigh rose.
Perhaps the most memorable feature is the sunken garden with its fountain, pool, and balustrade; it is dotted with statuary of mythological figures. In fact, the entire site is sprinkled with statuary and stone benches, some of which are older than the garden itself. There is also the Great Lawn. On an English estate it would be the park… a stretch of lawn dotted with massive live oaks, pines, and magnolia trees.
For the horticulturist or home gardener, the Elizabethan Gardens are a joy as most of the plants are labeled. For the rest of us, the gardens afford quiet contemplation and a pleasant walk through shaded laneways. It is a garden that one should really see in spring and summer as well, when it’s in full bloom. A most pleasurable experience.
3 miles north of Manteo on highway 64/264
Outer Banks, North Carolina 27954
Orville and Wilbur Wright were the sons of a religious leader. Their mother, college educated, ensured that their scientific and inquisitive edges were sharply honed. Fascinated by the idea of flight through toys and early European non-powered experiments, they decided to explore the possibilities.
Inside the visitor center, you will read the timeline of their work and see a replica of their 1902 glider. The original was flown a thousand times from the top of the sand dune where the monument stands today. Their longest flight was 622.5 feet in 26 seconds; it was through these experiments that they learned the basics of flight… how to ascend, descend, and turn. Why this dune in this place? They had set out to find a site that was wide open with an average wind speed of 15 to 20 mph; Kitty Hawk had the "steady breezes and sandy (treeless) slopes" for which they were looking. Their initial enquiries led them to think that the people of the Outer Banks would be more than welcoming… they would be helpful.
It’s a wonderful story, because success didn’t come easily. In successive trips to the area beginning in 1900, progress was slow; after all, they had to invent everything from the shape of the wing to the rudder. The story is told using the full scale replica of the original powered aircraft as a prop; the talk was the highlight of the visit. (A second talk takes visitors out to the actual site to discuss the events of December 17, 1903.)
What a day it must have been… the brothers’ camp of that year has been reconstructed where it originally stood and granite markers show the take-off and landing spots of each of the four flights made on the first day of powered flight. While the first flights were successful, only the fourth met the criteria of the Smithsonian Institute of what would entail a successful demonstration.
Overlooking the field sits the Wright Brothers Memorial. It is atop what was once a moving sand dune that would take three years to stabilize; the memorial would be finished in 1932. It wasn’t really necessary to add anything further to the site but recent additions are The First Flight Pavilion and the first flight sculpture. In the pavilion, you will find a replica of the 1900 camp and historical photographs which really put everything into context. Behind the monument, on a loop road, you will find a life-size sculpture of the event… an airplane and the seven men who were there that morning… it is a marvelous depiction.
We recommend the site highly, a good story well done.
Wright Brothers National Memorial
Mile Post 7.5 On U.s. Hwy 158
Kill Devil Hills, North Carolina 27948
Before traversing the bridge over the Oregon Inlet, a road turns right to the Bodie Island Lighthouse. The light house, with its unique horizontal stripes in black and white, is 156 feet tall, was completed in 1872, a twin to the Currituck Lighthouse, built on the same architectural plans with bricks from the same Baltimore brickyard. Next to it is the original lighthouse keeper’s house which now contains displays on lighthouses and a gift shop. Unlike Currituck, the Bodie Island Lighthouse is not accessible to the public as the interior ironwork has become too fragile to handle great numbers of people.
On the other side of the Oregon Inlet is the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. On one side of the road are accessible, pristine Atlantic beaches, while on the other, there is an interpretive center and a nature trail that leads out into a wetland. The trail is a pleasant walk, but if you really want to be an observer, you should bring binoculars or a telescope. Confused by the different wildfowl? The gift shop in the interpretive center has a fine selection of books for birders.
The drive south continues… barrens punctuated by the occasional beach community: Rodanthe, Waves, and Avon. There are a few beach accesses along the way, but very few. Finally, at Buxton, there is the turnoff for the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, North America’s tallest, at 208 feet. Admission for the lighthouse climb is $6 (2006) and children must be at least 42" tall to do it. Near the foot of the lighthouse there is a pleasant visitor center and gift shop. Many visitors to the light will recall that it was once moved from its original location on the beach… it must have been a massive engineering feat.
Continuing south toward the community of Hatteras, the visitor passes through Frisco, the site of the Native American Museum and Natural History Center. From Hatteras, it’s possible to take the free 40 minute ferry trip to Okracoke (no reservations). Bypassing the ferry terminal will take you to beautiful Hatteras Beach. Across from the beach, there is the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum. Open for three years, it is a work-in-progress; work progresses when the money is available. The main exhibition hall is still in the construction phase; nevertheless, it’s enjoyable. There are exhibits of Billy Mitchell’s 1923 demonstration of air power against ships, the Civil War in the Outer Banks and the sinking of the German U-Boat U-85 off the Carolina coast. The exhibit includes the submarine’s recovered enigma machine. The museum has artifacts from the wreck of the USS Huron and so on; it is worth visiting now and will be even more so when it is complete.
The road to Hatteras is all 2 lane, but it is a reasonably fast trip and the scenery, the Outer Banks little affected by development, is quite remarkable.
Begun in 1922, the mansion was built for Mr. and Mrs. E.C. Knight as a summer home from which they could indulge their love of duck hunting. (Ducks from Currituck Sound’s marshes were once considered a delicacy and were shipped to the cities of the north by the barrel.) Knight was the son of Edward Collings Knight Sr., who had made a fortune in sugar refining and railroads. He married Marie-Louise LaBel Bonet in 1922, 12 years after the death of his first wife.
The house features many arts and crafts, as well as Art Nouveau features, and architecturally, it’s influenced by many styles, primarily the tastes of the Knights. Mrs. Knight was originally from Quebec, and the house is somewhat reminiscent of a Quebec farm house...a giant Quebec farmhouse. The light fixtures are Tiffany and the walls are corduroy or matchstick design. Your tour, by audio guide, will take you through the basement and the first and second floors of a sparsely furnished dwelling beginning in the foyer and the dining room and then up the stairs.
On the second floor, there are a number of ensuite bedrooms for the Knights and their guests, most of whom would have stayed for some time, as the house would have been difficult to reach...there was no real road into Corolla until 1984. The third floor, which housed the servants, can be seen by reserving a place on the "Behind the Scenes" tour. Returning to the ground floor, the rest of the principle rooms are available for viewing. Below, in the basement, are exhibits on the construction and the history of the house and its owners.
When the Knights died, within weeks of each other in 1936, the house went to their granddaughters, who dismissed it as "a shack" and put it up for sale. Eventually (1940), a house that had cost $385,000 to build (over $4,000,000 today), was picked up by Ray Adams for $25,000. He had planned a development around the house which never materialized. After his death, the house fell into serious disrepair and was finally purchased by the county in 1992. Since then, millions of dollars have been poured into it; the visitor will find both an interesting home and an even more interesting story. (Admission 2006: $7)
Overlooking the Whalehead Club is the Currituck Lighthouse. Built in 1873 with a million bricks shipped from Baltimore (It was during the Reconstruction after the Civil War) and ironwork from Philadelphia, it stands 158 feet tall. For $6 (2006), it is possible to ascend the 214 steps to the top, from which you can appreciate the narrow width of the Banks sandwiched between the Atlantic and Currituck Sound.
The third attraction is The Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education(free admission). Inside there is an aquarium along with exhibits, artifacts, and displays related to the natural history of the area. Perhaps the center’s greatest attraction for visitors to the area is the number of educational programs that it offers. Many of them are just an hour long (or less) and cover topics as diverse as a "maritime forest walk" or "storm studies." Others take more time: decoy carving or kayaking, for example. The center’s programs are offered by the N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission. See wildlife.
Riverview, New Brunswick