Ocracoke Island is one of the barrier islands that lie off the coast of North Carolina. Few people, even native North Carolinians, have visited there because it is reachable only via boat, ferry or plane. Easily located on any map or in Google satellite view, Ocracoke holds treasures for tourists willing to venture off the beaten path.
Ocracoke Island boasts sweeping panoramic views of the Atlantic Ocean framed by protective dunes and miles of pristine beach. In 2007, Dr. Beach ranked Ocracoke as number one on his annual America’s Best Beach list. Little commercialization has spoiled Ocracoke. There are no fast-food restaurants, no hotel chains and most of the beach areas are precisely that: miles of uninterrupted sand, ocean and sky. Quaint, comfortable inns and guest cottages, along with locally run specialty restaurants, accommodate visitors to the island without detracting from the village’s charm. Fresh, local seafood and cuisine not to be missed.
Visiting Ocracoke is like going back in time. Visitors reaching Ocracoke via the Cedar Island Ferry, east of Morehead City and Beaufort, after a two-hour ferry ride, catch their first glimpse of Ocracoke from the waters of Pamlico Sound. A water tower, lighthouse and scattered buildings await them as the ferry pulls into Silver Lake, a circular bay filled with fishing boats, sailboats and small pleasure craft. Gulls and other sea birds circle overhead. Tourists are immediately struck by the charm of the cottages and small inns, reminiscent of the 1950s and 1960s.
Upon leaving the ferry, drivers discover there is one small passageway into and through Ocracoke Village. Highway 12 begins at the entrance to the ferry’s parking lot and remains a small ribbon of paved road that winds quickly through the village and, just a few miles up the road, into a long, barren stretch bordered by the Pamlico Sound on the left and the Atlantic Ocean on the right. On the way to the Hatteras Island ferry, automobile traffic rolls through the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, a commerce-free, nature-filled preserve that is nothing, if not spectacular. Primitive beach camping, swimming, fishing and nature activities are allowed here. Facilities are clean and comfortable.
Wild ponies still roam the island, although for their safety, preservationists have erected pens and fences to better care for their needs. A pony viewing station is conveniently located where observers can take photographs, climb a viewing stand and read more about the famous wild ponies of Ocracoke Island.
Getting around at Ocracoke is an adventure of its own. One doesn’t have to be on the island for more than fifteen minutes before he wants to ditch the car. Ocracoke is a pedestrian’s dream. Most people park the car and walk. Shops and restaurants on the island lie within a short walk of individual cottages or village inns. Bicycles are the rule of the day and are available for rent throughout the village, as are bikes retrofitted with devices for those with children in tow. Golf cart rentals have become popular as well as scooters. During the summer months, families on bikes enjoy relaxing vacations away from their faster-paced lives in places far beyond Ocracoke.
According to the National Park Service, Ocracoke Lighthouse remains the second-oldest lighthouse still operating in the United States. Built in 1823, it is visible throughout the village and provides photo opportunities from both land and sea vantage points. For lighthouse lovers, a visit to Ocracoke just to stand beneath this lighthouse is reason enough to visit Ocracoke.
Reasons to visit Ocracoke Island, North Carolina abound. The simplest, most compelling for this North Carolina native, remains just to get away from the hustle and bustle of civilization for Ocracoke is, in every way, where the sidewalk, or highway, ends.
Cape Hatteras National Seashore