Winter at the Outer Banks – 1
The last post was in the summer and I am neglecting this haunt for the same reasons – laziness, writers’ block, etc. What better way than to restart it with another travel post 🙂 This new year’s day found me driving down I-95 from NYC to our new city – Richmond in Virginia. So far the winter in the US has not been so harsh. That prompted me to plan a beach trip in our long weekend of Jan-16. My family is still in India and I wanted a break from the relocation hassles of the past 2 weeks. My friend suggested the Pearl of the Outer Banks Ocracoke. OBX or Outer Banks of North Carolina is the popular beach destination for the capital beltway folks (all those in Washington DC).
We did not really mind that the weather forecast was real low and the beach might not be a great idea in the low 40s/high 30s. We just wanted to use our last long weekend for a while. In the last 2 days, we rent a car and book stay at the Seaside Inn of Hatteras (the tip of the little island), primarily for their good deals. After reading up a few pages on the OBX site, I figure out 3 days will not be enough to do all their attractions. We go to the rental place early on the Saturday and we get a free upgrade to a 4 Wheel Drive, which proves very useful later incidentally. We hit the I-64 east to Norfolk beach and have a leisurely drive until the car sounds an alarm for low fuel. We refuel somewhere before Hampton – it had been a typical VA drive (large roads, plenty of green, 70mph limits, aircraft traffic enforcement warning signs) and go through a tunnel to get scenic views off Chesapeake bay. Also we bye-pass the typical route (Chesapeake Expressway) to a scenic drive on NC-17. Luckily we get some fast food before we enter this stretch. This looks like the farm stretch – there were hardly any cars – big large flat fields. We are finally out of the city and its strip malls. Slowly we enter NC and inch towards the coast. We cross the magnificent Wright Memorial Bridge and stop at the visitor center for a quick break, just as we enter the Croatan Highway. We later realize that this is not the beach drive. NC-12 goes close to the beach, with awesome beach houses / vacation homes on both sides.
Our only attraction of the day is the Wright Brothers memorial, the site of the First Flight (the slogan of North Carolina) at Kitty Hawk. We walk up the memorial and the field where the memories are preserved. One profound plaque catches our eyes – 100 years ago, the great Orville Wright said, “Isn’t it astounding that these secrets have been preserved for all of those years just so we can discover them?” A NPS guide explains the hard work that went behind the First Flight in a dramatic way. This gives us a great opportunity to ponder over the ubiquity of flight and how challenging it was just 100 years back 🙂 The rest of the 50+ mile drive is slow along NC-12 amidst the myriad vacation homes. The Oregon Inlet bridge is amazing and offers wonderful views of the ocean and the sound. We stop for a while and take a lot of pictures with my friend’s advanced camera. It soon gets dark and we pick some rations for the next day or two. We reach the charming Seaside Inn pretty late at 6.30pm and are pleasantly surprised by the quaint historic rooms and the affable hosts.
We dine at the only open Breakwater restaurant – our first disappointment of the day. We were hoping to have great seafood, but hardly anything was open when we went in spite of it being a long weekend. This proves to be our story of the next day as well. The evening had become so cold so we don’t venture to the beach. Just some late night chat about our lives! We get ready early and have our complimentary continental breakfast – hot muffins, fruits, etc. I walk to the Ocean through one of the beach accesses. I peek into one of the vacation homes – they are mostly similar – 3 or 4 storeys, with plenty of ventilation and a pool. It is hard for me to think why they need a pool when the biggest pool is just across. Well, that’s the way of the rich, I suspect and America is such a wasteful nation 😦 Also, I have seen better beaches in Cape Cod ( my first national seashore). We make our way to the Hatteras ferry point, where we just miss the free hourly ferry to Ocracoke. So we drive for the first time on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore with the 4WD. It is slightly tricky to maneuver the sands and it feels as if the sands control the ride, but we enjoy it very much. It is a short ride to the farther end of the ocean on the island, but we need to be back for our Ocracoke ferry at 10am.
We have high hopes for our time on the Ocracoke island. After all, it is the end of the OBX and there are a lot of tales about the lighthouses and pirates. We are also craving for Thai food. Another guest at the hotel had recommended a Thai eatery. We drive about 15 miles from the ferry landing to the Ocracoke village. Funnily there was almost nothing open as it is a Sunday. Every place is deserted. We visit the hyped Ocracoke lighthouse, our only attraction in the island. We are famished and discover quickly unfortunately that no restaurant is open except for one. We grab some bites there and decide to do one more 4WD in the island before heading back. That is a long stretch with mostly us out on the ocean. We struggle at one exit and fear we might be stranded without fuel. Luckily, the next exit is simple and we board the Hatteras ferry back at 1pm after stopping briefly to view the wild ponies on the island. Our search for a good eatery continues in Hatteras and we find nothing. We see the other attraction Cape Hatteras lighthouse and grab some burgers at Hatterasman close to the inn. Again, it is the only open place. We concede defeat in our quest for good seafood and call it a day. We rest by the fireplace for a long time, reading a book about Hatteras, which talks about BlackBeard, the pirate, who was killed in Ocracoke. We exchange stories with the host of the inn Chris before we retire to our room.