WELCOME TO THE OUTER BANKS!
The North Carolina Outer Banks are a 90-mile stretch of beautiful barrier islands, only one of which is our favorite Hatteras Island. On the east side of these islands are white sandy beaches and the clear blue Atlantic Ocean. On the west side are brackish water sounds stretching as far as the eye can see. Some towns along the Outer Banks offer robust commercial areas full of shops, galleries and restaurants, while the villages farther off the mainland offer remote solitude. The wind and waves that created these islands also afford visitors some of the best water and kite sport locations in the world, along with panoramic sunny skies and constant cooling breezes perfect for any outdoor activity. Hang gliding, strolling and biking, shipwreck scuba exploration, lighthouse discovery and much more can be found here, all against a picturesque coastal backdrop. The unspoiled landscape of the Outer Banks is limitless and breathtaking. Inhabited for thousands of years, this beautiful stretch of islands has a rich heritage to study. Legends and history are deeply-rooted in these parts with The Outer Banks Historical Society keeping paperwork and pictures available to the public. The Wright Brothers Museum, the wild horses of Corolla and the Lost Colony are just a few of the day trip attractions. So much adventure and relaxation is waiting to be discovered here on the North Carolina Outer Banks, you just have to find it.
The local Outer Banks weather is generally mild with seasonal temperatures that seldom dip below freezing or rise above 80 degrees. Summertime visitors will enjoy the warmest months, although many off-season vacationers agree that the spring and fall months are perfectly delightful times to visit as well. Outer Banks weather can also change within minutes, and it’s not unusual for a summer thunderstorm to quickly pass through a region along the Outer Banks on an otherwise sunny day. Visitors should pay close attention to the daily forecast, and should plan their beach days accordingly.
For more information on Outer Banks weather, including local hurricanes, visit our website often to see the forecast for your upcoming Hatteras Island vacation!
OUTER BANKS HISTORY
Explore the rich past of Hatteras Island, North Carolina and learn all about the Outer Banks history. From pirates to shipwrecks you’ll no doubt learn a fun and interesting fact or two about this beautiful coastal state.
North Carolina’s Outer Banks are a unique part of the long chain of barrier islands stretching from Virginia to the Dry Tortugas in the Gulf of Mexico. Over many long years, giant sand dunes have built up with constant wind pressures changing the landscape on a daily basis. Now with the area’s modern roads, bridges and ferry boats, visitors today could never imagine what the islands were like in the early days, but the history of the Outer Banks goes back to the first days when our country was new. Early American settlers, pirates, the first powered flight and the first wireless telegraph are just a few of the many stories of the Outer Banks – a land steeped in tradition and history.
The Lost Colony
History of the first Englishmen settlers arriving in America began when Sir Walter Raleigh, along with John White and 116 colonists, landed on Hattorask (Hatteras) Island on June 22, 1587. They found the island low, unprotected, almost barren of trees — not suitable to establish a colony. They then sailed up the Pamlico Sound to Roanoke Island, an inland island protected by outer barrier islands to set up their new home. There were large oak forests and plenty of natural cover, fresh water ponds and tillable land, much different than that on Hatteras. It was also home for a friendly tribe of Croatan Indians.
John White sailed back to England for more supplies, telling those he left behind that he would be back within the year, but was delayed for almost three years due the war between England and Spain. When he returned, there was no trace of the Colony, except for two words carved in a tree, “CRO” and “CROATOAN.” He left without knowing what had happened to his friends and so began the story of The Lost Colony.
Some scholars think Indians killed the colonists, while others think the English settlers moved farther inland to better farm land. Others suggest that they may have died of starvation, but no one knows for certain. However, ongoing archaeological efforts reveal new clues with every research excavation. We may soon know what became of the colonists, but as of today, it remains one of the most intriguing mysteries in early American history.
Among the first visitors to the barrier islands that stretched from the Virginia Capes to Georgia during the period from 1500s to 1725 were pirates and former privateers who had been under the protection of the British Crown. The privateers decided that any ship with cargo was fair game, which included the British. It was easy to become a pirate as one Stede Bonnet, a wealthy landowner turned pirate, found out. Get a fast ship, a destitute crew that would do anything, and go "a-pirating."
The ships going back to Europe were usually lightly armed, slow and laden with gold and silver–well worth the pirates’ efforts. Capturing a Spanish ship taking treasures from Central and South America back to Spain could make a crew rich for life. The route back to Spain passed close to the eastern coastline, and the small barrier islands offered great protection for pirate ships lying in wait for their next prize. The waters were too shallow for heavy draft vessels to navigate, and the pirates’ lighter ships, usually a sloop or cutter, were relatively safe from the heavy British Man-O-Wars. At one time there were more than two thousand pirate ships operating off the east coast. The use of smaller, faster boats with large crews made the slow galleons of the British and Spanish no match for the pirate ships.
The shallow bays were also handy for careening a ship because barnacles and sea worms would cover the hull below the water line in a short time. They would sail into the mud banks on a high tide, and as the tide fell, the ship would keel over. This exposed one side under the waterline, allowing the crew to scrape off the barnacles and pour tar and creosote on the exposed wood. It took several weeks to treat an entire ship.
The most famous of all pirates, Blackbeard, was a frequent visitor to the Outer Banks and considered the Devil by most seafaring men. He was a large man, very muscular, with long black hair and beard braided and tied with colorful bows. Just before he boarded a prize, he inserted slow burning matches in the bows giving off wisps of smoke. He dressed in black from his cocked hat to his tall leather boots and wore a pistol, dagger and heavy cutlass on his belt, with a bandolier holding six cocked pistols on his chest. He would appear on deck with a cutlass in one hand, a pistol in the other and smoke curling from under his hat and his dark eyes flashing.
Early history of the Outer Banks tells of the people that lived there, from explorers to the early pirates, many of which were drawn by the wreckage that littered the beaches and surrounding bays. They were hearty, self-sufficient, private and comfortable with the isolation on the islands. Living in the most dangerous part of the new world was very trying. With insufficient shelter from the raging storms and no fresh water except what they were able to catch in canvas catch basins and store in barrels, times were tough. Daily battles with the elements of heavy tides and surf and the threat of frequent storms kept the residents always just a step away from death.
Sinking Ships and Settling the Outer Banks
The ocean area surrounding Cape Hatteras Point, known as the Diamond Shoals, were especially dangerous because of the warm Gulf Stream current from the south and cold Labrador Current from the north meeting here. This created shifting sandbars, frequent wind and rainstorms, high seas and dangerous currents that would drive an ill-informed sailing ship onto the shoals or carry an unwary fisherman out to sea. The loss of more than 5000 ships and an unknown number of human lives since record keeping began in 1526 earned this coastline the nickname the Graveyard of the Atlantic. Among the better known shipwrecks was the USS Monitor, a participant in the famous Battle of Hampton Roads during the American Civil War. The Monitor sank on December 31, 1862 off Cape Hatteras.
Low, sandy islands stretched for many miles along the Carolina coast, uninhabited except for scavengers, or salvagers, as some were known, drawn by the frequent shipwrecks on the treacherous shoals. The miles of beaches and tall dunes were littered with ship wreckage, boxes, crates and barrels of merchandise, rum, whisky, sugar, gold, silver, furniture and more. Occasionally, bodies of hapless sailors washed up on the beach. The salvagers or scavengers built small shacks mostly on the mainland side of the islands away from the heavy surf and tidal overwash. There were plenty of building supplies such as timbers, lumber, dunnage and sail canvas from the ship wreckage to protect them from the elements. What they couldn’t use, they traded to the mainlanders or passing ships that frequented the small ports. Soon small settlements appeared on the high ground as more people came to live on the islands, drawn by the lure of treasures on the beach, theirs for the taking.
Many stories of heroic actions by the villagers are told today about saving many men and women from shipwrecks, sometimes in storms and heavy surf. They were hardy people used to living in a lonely and desolate land, surviving by their wits and depending on one another, ready to help if needed. Staring death in the face became a daily thing. The Outer Banks was not a place for the weak or fainthearted.
Their diet was mostly fish, shellfish and water fowl, all plentiful in the surrounding bays and inlets. At first, cattle and pigs were scarce but soon small herds which included “banks” ponies could be spotted in the marshes around the islands. They supplemented their existence with salvage goods, which they took over to the mainland to barter for clothes, flour, oil and some meat products. They had no use for money, something almost unknown on the Outer Banks.
Because of the isolation, the workers lived with their families in nearby hamlets. It was a lonely life, often interrupted by Nor’Easters and hurricanes. Frequent over washes during extreme high tides destroyed many of the early homes and even carried some-with their residents inside–out to sea or into the bays, but the “Bankers,” as they came to be known, persevered. They just moved to higher ground and built again.
Small villages began to spring up all along the banks to support the various government activities such as building lighthouses, manning the life stations, weather stations and post offices. Other jobs followed, including running supply boats back and forth to the mainland, fishing, and building specially designed boats to take the heavy surf and offshore currents that would sink an ordinary boat. This was the beginning of the Hatteras design, now used by many large boat builders.
Building the Lighthouses
The maritime industry ship owners urged the government to do something to protect ships and sailors in the treacherous waters off of Hatteras Island. Congress approved a lighthouse on Cape Hatteras and lifesaving stations. Others would follow up and down the long chain of islands.
For the first time, many workers were needed for a major project when the first light house was built. Construction started in 1796 and was operational in 1802. It proved to be very ineffective because it was too low and the light was too weak. It was refitted with a better light and raised 60 feet in 1854.
As money became available, others followed for a total of five lighthouses as far north as Corolla. The government also established lifesaving stations up and down the islands, which provided work for many people and brought many of the family names that remain on the Island today.
Tourism was Born
Shortly after the Civil War, tourists from New York began to arrive to hunt duck and geese. This area is the winter grounds for Snow & Canadian geese, swans, ducks and many varieties of smaller water birds. To support this new industry, hotels, rooming houses and cafes were built, and locals worked as hunting guides and provided water transportation. Roads and bridges had to be built across the sand dunes and inlets separating the islands, thus providing year round employment for the Bankers.
At first tourism was just a trickle, but as the word spread about this wonderful place called the Outer Banks, of big fish that didn’t get away, of the miles and miles of long white beaches, millions of birds, large schools of dolphin, and a place unlike anywhere else on the east coast, tourists began to show up from the mainland, anxious to visit this utopia.
The Wright Place for the First Powered Flight
On December 17, 1903, Wilbur and Orville Wright flew the first heavier-than-air powered flight from a small spot on the Outer Banks called Kill Devil Hill. Four flights followed, and the whole world now knew about a place called Kitty Hawk. Millions would travel to here in later years just to visit this spot.
At first, private ferries traveled between the islands, carrying passengers, mail and supplies from the mainland and picking up fresh fish, shellfish and other products to bring back to the mainland market. Eventually, with the dedication of the Wright Memorial, the small shallow inlets were filled in, bridges were built over the deeper ones and roads were built throughout the islands. It still required some effort to travel to Hatteras Island, and it was not until 1963 that a bridge was built across Oregon Inlet.
Now, the islands were accessible from one end to another: from the north by the new Bonner Bridge and from the south, scheduled ferries from the mainland transported cars and visitors to and from Hatteras where they could continue up the island chain.
Today, visitors to the Outer Banks enjoy things that were once considered impossible.
To visit the Outer Banks is a thrilling experience. One can live in luxury or camp out on miles of white sandy beaches. You can dine on hotdogs and hamburgers or the finest gourmet dinner and authentic local specialties. Take a charter boat out to the deep water fishing ground where an elusive 800-pound Marlin awaits your hook or search for buried treasure in the surf. Walk out on one of the many fishing piers that dot the coastline and watch for sea life or maybe wet a hook. Perhaps you would like to scuba dive around one of the thousands of wrecks that dot the ocean floor. Maybe a quiet day at the spa or a week in an oceanfront private luxury home is more your style.
If history is your thing, visit the various museums showing everything from old ships to recovered objects from the sea floor, local wildlife and more. The Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and Museum, the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum, and the Frisco Native American Museum & Natural History Center are just a few of the interesting and highly educational museums located here on Hatteras Island.
Nothing is impossible on the Outer Banks. You’ll want to come back time after time, because one can never cover all there is to do in one visit.
Who knows, you might contribute to the history of the Banks.
OUTER BANKS DAY TRIPS
Although a favorite characteristic of Hatteras Island is its remoteness, it still provides quick access to our neighbors for easy Outer Banks day trips to experience many of the areas attractions. A scenic hour or so drive north on Highway 12 takes you to the bigger coastal towns like Nags Head and Manteo, and a leisurely 40-minute ferry ride south takes you to Ocracoke Island. No matter what your favorite coastal activity is, you can find it here.
Currituck Beach Lighthouse & Gift Shop
1101 Corolla Village Road
Corolla, NC 27927
The Currituck Beach Lighthouse stands 158 feet above the dunes, with a first order fresnel lens flashing its first beacon on December 1, 1875. Located in Corolla, NC, it was built to fill the last remaining dark spot of the NC coast between Bodie Island to the south and Cape Henry, VA to the north. To distinguish it from other regional lighthouses, it was left unpainted in natural red brick.
There are 214 winding steps to get to the top of this red brick lighthouse in Corolla. It was built in 1873 and the beacon reaches 158 into the air. At the top, climbers can catch their breath and take in the outstanding views or read about the history of the lighthouse.
This Currituck Beach Lighthouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is open from 10:00 am to 5:00 daily Easter through Thanksgiving. During the winter months, it is closed for restoration and maintenance. Admission to the grounds is free, as is parking. For ages 8 and up, there is a fee to climb the lighthouse.
The on site gift shop carries a nice selection of books, Outer Banks souvenirs and lighthouses.
The Corolla Wild Horse Museum at The Historic Corolla Schoolhouse
1126 Schoolhouse Lane
Corolla, NC 27927
The Whalehead Club at Currituck Heritage Park
1100 Club Road
Corolla, NC 27927
Built in the mid-1920s, The Whalehead Club continues to stand as one of the most spectacular landmarks on the NC Outer Banks. It is listed in the National Register of Historic Places. A guided tour acquaints you with the history, architecture and folklore of this historic landmark.
Mr. and Mrs. E.C. Knight built their private residence, now known as the Whalehead Club, along the Atlantic flyway to enjoy their passion for waterfowl hunting. The restored museum is the finest representation of art nouveau architecture in the state. An exhibit in the downstairs gallery features the house’s original furnishings.
Kill Devil Hills
Wright Brothers National Memorial
800 Colington Road
Kill Devil Hills, NC 27948
The first successful sustained powered flights in a heavier-than-air machine were made here by Wilbur and Orville Wright on December 17, 1903. A 60-foot granite monument dedicated in 1932, is perched atop 90-foot tall Kill Devil Hill commemorating the achievement of these two visionaries from Dayton, Ohio.
The Visitor Center features full-scale reproductions of the Wright 1903 Powered Flyer and interpretive presentations. A centennial pavilion boasts an exhibit hall with permanent and special exhibits, including a replica of the 1902 Glider and multipurpose auditorium.
A visit should include touring the museum exhibits, participating in a ranger conducted program, touring the reconstructed camp buildings and first flight trail area, and a climb up Kill Devil Hill to view the memorial pylon.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
1401 National Park Drive
Manteo, NC 27954
Three Visitor Centers are located throughout the Outer Banks to provide visitor information about Cape Hatteras National Seashore. For Bodie Island information, call 252-441-5711; for Hatteras Island information, call 252-995-4474; and for Ocracoke Island information, call 252-928-4531. The Visitor Centers can provide information about area activities and attractions, including the Ocracoke Lighthouse, Bodie Island Lighthouse and Cape Hatteras Lighthouse.
Fort Raleigh National Historic Site
1401 National Park Drive
Manteo, NC 27954
This 513 acre park was built in remembrance of the 116 men, women, and children who disappeared here in the first English attempt at colonization of the New World. The settlement was the birthplace of Virginia Dare, first child of English parents born in America before the colony’s strange disappearance.
Sir Walter Raleigh’s explorers and colonists attempted to found settlements here on the North end of Roanoke Island in 1585. Home to the Waterside Theatre, where you’ll find The Lost Colony, a symphonic outdoor drama. You’ll also find a visitor’s center, interpretive programs, bookstore and nature trail. Location: Off Hwy. 64/264, on the north end of Roanoke Island.
Hours: Daily 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. – September through May; Daily 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. – June through August. Admission is free.
Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse
207 Queen Elizabeth Avenue
Manteo, NC 27954
The Outer Banks’ newest attraction. Dedicated on September 25, 2004, the lighthouse contains exhibits highlighting Roanoke Island’s maritime heritage, including a history of the Marshes Lighthouse and its keepers. The original screw-pile lighthouse was located in Croatan Sound on the west side of Roanoke Island. Built in 1877, it was decommissioned by the US Coast Guard in 1955.
The Freedmen’s Colony of Roanoke Island
1401 National Park Drive
Manteo, NC 27954
The Roanoke Island Freedmen’s Colony is recognized as a historic National Underground Railroad Network to Freedom Site. A marker was erected in 2001 to designate the site of a permanent colony on Roanoke Island between 1862 and 1867. Most of its 3,000 residents had been slaves three years earlier in northeastern North Carolina. A path through the woods north of Fort Raleigh leads visitors to a commemorative park along Croatan Sound.
The Lost Colony
1409 National Park Drive
Manteo, NC 27954
The Lost Colony (73rd Anniversary Season) offers a compelling drama has something the entire family can enjoy: lavish costumes, daring action, special effects, delightful comedy, music and dance. This is an absolute must-do event providing a uniquely Outer Banks experience.
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paul Green’s The Lost Colony recounts the exciting events leading to the disappearance of the English colonists who settled here over 400 years ago. The breathtaking beauty of open-air Waterside Theatre sets the stage for an unforgettable night.
The Lost Colony’s production season includes Children’s Theatre, Broadway musicals, and other events. Children 11 and under are free on Mon. & Fri. and half price on Sat. with a full-price adult. Attend pre-show Backstage Tours at 7 p.m. on performance nights, reservations required.
Bodie Island Lighthouse
10005 Old Oregon Inlet Road
Nags Head, NC 27959
The Bodie Island Light, encircled by two black and three white bands, stands 150 feet high. Equipped with a first-order Fresnel lens, it flashes its 160,000 candlepower beacon 19 miles over the ocean. Originally built in 1847, the lighthouse was rebuilt with improvements in 1859. The name Bodie was originally spelled Body and is still pronounced body.
Ocracoke Island Lighthouse
1 Loop Road
Ocracoke, NC 27960
The lighthouse stands 75 feet tall. Its diameter narrows from 25 feet at the base to 12 feet at its peak. The walls are solid brick, 12 feet thick at the bottom tapering to two feet at the top. An octagonal lantern crowns the tower and houses the light beacon. The lighthouse was cemented and whitewashed in 1868, giving it the appearance it has today.
The Ocracoke light is the oldest operating lighthouse in North Carolina, and the second oldest operating lighthouse in the nation. The lighthouse has a fourth-order Fresnel lens. The lighthouse is not open for climbing, the site can be visited daily.