28/3/17. On Monday morning, in much improved weather,we set off on the last 100 or so miles to the North Carolina coast and a chain of barrier islands known as the Outer Banks or OBX. The first, Roanoke Island, is not actually one of the barrier islands as it is sheltered from the Atlantic by another, Hatteras. We stopped at the small town of Manteo, named after a former native american chief who was friendly to Sir Walter Raleigh, and had a very pleasant time wandering around the quaint old streets and buildings. The town was founded by Raleigh, or at least some colonists who he brought from the UK. There was a replica of his ship (we wouldn’t fancy crossing the ocean in anything so tiny – give us a huge cruise liner with massive stabilisers any day of the week!) and a street named after him.
Then it was onto the barrier islands proper which are a National Seashore, in the care of the National Park Service. To be perfectly frank it was a little disappointing as neither the ocean nor the sound on the other side were visible for much of the way. The sand dunes were nice enough but were enhanced by the occasional view of the water, and the houses in the small towns all looked rather nice, many having small “towers” which were reminiscent of the lighthouses fot which this part of the coast is well known.
The Labrador Current meets the Gulf Stream just offshore and this makes for rough seas, apparently, which have led to many shipwrecks over the years. It was also a favourite place for U Boats to hunt in WW2.
We visited the Hatteras lighthouse which is the second tallest brick built lighthouse in North America (or was it the world?) Because the Atlantic is eroding the east coast of the islands and depositing the sand on the western side, they are creeping towards the mainland. By the 1990s the lighthouse, which had been built a safe distance from the sea, was in danger of being engulfed by the waves, so they moved it! It was separated from its foundations, lifted up and placed on rollers which ran along 7 rails, and in three days it was about half a mile inland!
The campgrounds that are part of the National Seashore/Park do not open until April so we camped in a private one – at an extortionate cost. The book rate was $32 + tax (which rises to $50 from late May to September) for a tent site without water or electricity on the site itself. Thankfully we had been given a voucher when we visited a tourist information office which entitled us to a 15% discount but it was still over $28 when the taxes were added in! The site was beautiful, being right on the shore and we even had a beaver washing itself to entertain us in the evening. Shame the restrooms were filthy!
On Tuesday we made our way south via two ferries. The first of these ran every hour and was free, on a “first come, first served basis”. We missed the 9 o’clock sailing and so we were second in line for the next one with a ¾ hour wait. We were astonished to find that the trip took an hour but when we set off it became clear why. The ferries use the sound side of the islands (understandably because it is like a millpond compared to the ocean side) but this is very shallow and the route is a roundabout one following the dredged channel. At one pount we slowed to a stop to allow a ferry coming the other way to pass through a particularly narrow stretch (ithe channel is marked by buoys so even landlubbers like us can work out where we should be going).
The second ferry required (or at least recommended – we heard both) reservations and only ran 3 times a day – early morning, lunchtime and late afternoon so we wanted to be sure of making our online reservation on the 1 pm sailing with check in ½ hour before. We made it comfortably and set about trying to top up Stephen’s caffeine levels. This was not as straightforward as it sounds as most places were still on low season trading hours – which appeared to mean midday opening or not at all!
Eventually we found an ice cream shop that also served coffee and Christine fed her hot chocolate “habit” having decided that $6 was too steep a price to pay for the milkshake that she actually fancied.