By Julie Bielenberg
“The Outer Banks is a 100-mile long strip of land, often no more than a quarter-mile wide, squeezed between the ocean and intercoastal waterways. Most people rent vacation homes for long summer weekends to enjoy the relaxing beach atmosphere. The flora and fauna is quite unique due to the huge estuary. There are lighthouses to explore and historical sites, such as Kitty Hawk—birth of flight—and Ocracoke Island, a lovely walking village.” —Scott Scheff, my brother and traveler of the Outer Banks.
With this information in hand, and knowing the Outer Banks was the first English colony in what became America (my mother, the never-retired 6th grade teacher informed me), we ventured out to Manteo, located between the Outer Banks and the Carolina mainland. The colorfully lined streets with bookstores, clothing and local crafts was alluring and relaxing. Darling houses could be found just on the other side of the shops.
We stopped for lunch at Poor Richard’s Sandwich Shop to inquire about this coastal gateway ourselves. Steeped in shipping and fishing history, we learned that the Outer Banks is now a destination resort with the majority of the islands devoted to beach rentals for the warm season. Spring Break draws the college crowds, Easter Weekend the families, and summer, everything in between: golf, 4×4, water sports, sound activities, beach combing, endless sand castle building, clam bakes and hang gliding. Nearly any combination of air, water and beach activity welcomes visitors.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore
The drive along Cape Hatteras National Seashore—America’s first national seashore established in 1953, encompassing 30, 000 acres and 70 miles of coast—was simply romantic. It was nearly deserted this time of the year, and winds were gently blowing the sand drifts across the highway, only to be plowed and moved the day after, and after, and after.
This area is also known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic.” Because the legendary storms, shoals and treacherous currents led to shipwrecks, they now entice beach comers and combers and provide tourist and historical resources. For me, it meant incredible beach hunting for my collection that I knew my editor couldn’t wait to see and smell. (I try to immediately put my ocean, lake and sea gems in a sealed glass container to maintain their aromas.)
Cape Hatteras’ lighthouses are glorious and worthy of a sunrise walk, and in winter, you can view many migrating waterfowl in the area. And, with an abundance of wings, you know the fishing must be excellent. Some claim that this park has some of the best beach-accessible fishing on the entire Eastern Seaboard—and some of the best surfing, as well. Those boats go down for no reason.
The area offers no fast food, no franchises, and is all mom-and-pop-owned. It’s also the No. 1 spot in the U.S. to learn kite boarding—those killer waves! But, most come here for the undeveloped beaches and the rare opportunity to visit both the ocean and the intercoastal waterways in a matter of a few hundred feet at some points.
My mother and I drove to meet local sea glass artist and historian, Betty Kungle, at the Studio 12 Art Gallery to explore the local art studio and to learn where to get the best pieces of sea glass. We headed out with Betty to the small town of Avon on a Cape Hatteras beach, determined to put our feet in the sand and hunt for gems.
The wind whistled, the waves whipped, and our feet were probably white from the wind chills of winter, but I found my treasures, and more. An old rope from a boat anchor had washed ashore, a piece of coal from a ship that I knew my son Hank would treasure and shells so colorful, I didn’t care if my suitcase could pass the 50-pound weight limit. Once our pockets and bags were full, we said farewell to the sea spirit and drove among the sunset to The Inn on Pamlico Sound.
The Inn was a complete change from all our other coastal resting stops. It was a modern, European boutique hotel with gorgeous lines and spaces. We were the only guests that Thursday evening and enjoyed two king rooms with whirlpool tubs and private decks for my mom and I to photograph the birds, beach and have our last drink together before we flew back to our respective homes.
Dinner was followed five steps from our rooms through a wooden door to a small bar at Café Pamlico. We promptly asked for the best spot in their four-season room and relished the coastal cuisine and stories of our trip and future trips together. It’s rare that a restaurant can embody the spirit of a mother and daughter happily enjoying the waves and shore and tranquility of no social media, children or work. But this warm local restaurant turned into full-seating by night’s end and understood the mood and pricelessness to the moment. It was a special place, even for the residents.
See more of Julie’s adventures in North Carolina.
Julie Bielenberg is a Denver-based writer. She contributes over 50 stories per year to various outlets including: AAA, Cowboys & Indians, Colorado Homes & Lifestyles, Denver Life, Mountain Magazine, Mile High Mamas, Colorado Meetings + Events, Mountain Meetings + Events, and many more. She is the State’s number one agro-tourism writer, covering more ground and events and publishing in more outlets than any other Coloradoan. She travels in search of fields, farms, families and more. Sometimes . . . she finds herself in often uncovered, or understated locales.
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