Ocracoke Island, on the outer banks of North Carolina, is a wonderful place to get away from it all.
Visiting Ocracoke Island, NC is like taking a trip back in time. The quaint island is isolated from the mainland with access from ferries at Hatteras Island, Cedar Island, and Swam Quarter or by airplane or private boat.
This island is disconnected from the mainland by the spirit as well as geography. If you can’t slow down here, you’ve got your foot locked on the accelerator.
Ocracoke’s unique character is a function not only of its long isolation but recent development pattern. Since the 1940s, the National Park Service has owned all of the islands except for the 1000 acres that comprise the original village. Consequently, the island has been spared the postwar strip development that plagues most coastal resort development, including Cape Hatteras just to the north.
Ocracoke is an old-fashioned village. If you like, you can park your car for the week and walk bicycle, or paddle everywhere you need to go. That’s living.
Fewer than 800 people live on the island year-round, and the residents are clustered in the southern harbor area in the village. Land north of the village is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and is undeveloped.
The village of Ocracoke includes classic beach houses, local restaurants, unique gift shops, small hotels, and bed and breakfasts best visited by foot or by bicycle.
Don’t expect to see chain operations on Ocracoke. Businesses are privately owned and operated. Owners and employees are friendly and charm with smiles and ocean brogue. They’ll share a little island lore or history if asked.
Black Beard the Pirate
Some of the best stories on the island are about Blackbeard the Pirate. The infamous pirate was beheaded near Ocracoke by British naval officer Lt. Robert Maynard in 1718. The death of Blackbeard marked the end of major piracy in North Carolina, but Blackbeard’s legend lives on. Rumors abound that Blackbeard buried his treasure on Springer’s Point on Ocracoke Island; however, no one has ever uncovered his treasures.
Teach’s Hole Blackbeard Exhibit and Pirate Specialty Shop on Highway 12 provides background and history on the pirate, including exhibits, films, and a life-size model of the buccaneer.
Beautiful Uncrowded Beaches
The beaches of Ocracoke are considered some of the most beautiful in the nation. There are no boardwalks and t-shirt shacks – just white sand and breaking waves as far as the eye can see. All total, there are sixteen miles of unspoiled beaches.
Visitors can walk to the beach from the ferry or can drive further down the main road to the 4-wheel drive area. Vehicles can be driven and parked along isolated stretches of the Atlantic for a truly rustic day on the water.
No one is quite sure how the ponies came to inhabit the island of Ocracoke, although there are a number of theories. Some say they swam over from a shipwreck while others assert that they were brought to the “new world” by the Spaniards.
In the 1950s, the National Park Service rounded up the herds and placed them in a fenced pasture area where visitors can visit and see the wild ponies.
The Ocracoke lighthouse was built in 1823 and is one of the oldest standing lighthouses along the Atlantic shore and the second oldest operating lighthouse in the nation. (An earlier lighthouse, built in 1798, was destroyed by lightning in 1918.) The solid white lighthouse stands only seventy-five feet tall, and the light can be seen for 14 miles in good weather.
Visitors cannot go into the lighthouse; however, a wooden walkway off Lighthouse Road is a good spot to take photographs.
Location: Dare County, off the southwest tip of Hatteras Island, about 15 miles east of the mainland.
Access: NC DOT ferry, private boat, or airplane. Call 1-800-BYFERRY for reservations. Visit NCFerry.org for a map and schedule.
Size: About 16 miles long and half a mile wide.
Ownership: National Park Service. Ocracoke Island is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. Privately owned land is limited to the village of Ocracoke at the southern end of the island, totaling less than 1000 acres.