Getting Away From It All in Ocracoke, North Carolina

Peaceful Ocracoke

Peaceful OcracokeWho hasn’t had the urge – and perhaps even felt the absolute need – to get away from it all? This is an occasional series about great getaways, whether near to home, or miles away,

A chain of narrow barrier islands – the Outer Banks – lies off the coast of North Carolina, with Ocracoke being the southernmost island. Getting there is no easy matter, as the island is accessible only by boat or air. If you or one of your friends is not a private pilot, then the trip is rather long, but as the miles flow by, you start to disconnect.

We started out from Alexandria, Virginia, driving south on I-95. A good part of the trip took us through Virginia, and shortly after the huge naval installation at Virginia Beach we headed towards Great Bridge/Nags Head on the Caratoke Highway, lush vegetation marking our entry into North Carolina. As we continued along the Caratoke Highway, we passed tiny towns, each with their white-painted church and yards fronting the highway. Crossing the Wright Brothers Memorial Bridge to the Outer Banks, we passed Kill Devil Hills near the town of Kitty Hawk where the Wright brothers made their historic flight. We were now on much narrower roads, and passing through one beach enclave after another, the brightly painted houses, many on stilts, outlined against the sand and the sky.

By the time we reached Hatteras, we already had the feeling of being far away from the Washington DC metropolitan area. We boarded the free ferry for the last leg of our trip to Ocracoke Island. The island is owned by the National Park Services, and other than the town of Ocracoke itself (1 square mile) the island is an undeveloped paradise of sand, dunes, beach vegetation and wildlife. By the time we checked into our hotel, it was evening. Going out to have a bite to eat, we discovered that restaurants in Ocracoke turn off the lights and lock the door at 9pm. Luckily a sports bar was open, and we had a delicious seafood dinner.

So, what makes Ocracoke a great place for getting away from it all? Although hotels and vacation rentals have all the creature comforts, including hi-speed internet connections, the place otherwise seems to be a stuck somewhere back in the mid-20th century. There’s no McDonald, no Starbucks, no chain stores of any sort. Other than walking, the easiest way to get around is by bike or, for those feeling a bit lazy, golf cart. There is no commercial district; little shops are tucked in amongst the houses that often sit behind white picket fences.

And then there is the beach, “the most beautiful beach in America.” On one side, there is the Atlantic Ocean, and on the other, the sound that separates the island from the North Carolina coast. Pristine white sand beaches stretch for miles, untouched by souvenir stands, shops and ambulant vendors. This is a place for surf fishermen, kite-flyers, sand castle builders and playing in the surf. Some parts of the beach are open to off-road vehicles. We explored the sound side by kayak, gliding silently through the wetlands, marshes and marine estuaries, home to 400 species of birds, as well as turtles, shellfish and other wildlife.

You’ve heard of slow-food? Well, this is a slow-holiday, where taking the time to watch the sun set, the sky aglow with pink and purple hues, is a fell-time activity.