How often do we plan a trip, pack our stuff, run out the door, race to our destination, load our boat, paddle within a specified time period, and then race home ignoring a place or places that we wouldn’t mind seeing if we just had the time? Well this year, on this particular trip, I decided to make a slight detour and take a little extra time, one whole day to be exact, to explore a small geographical area of the United States called the Outer Banks of North Carolina.
So first off, let me state for the record that my destination was a great little kayak symposium in Swansboro, North Carolina hosted at Barrier Island Kayaks (BIK). This is an annual sea kayak symposium comprised of participants from around the United States and coaches from across the pond with a variety of course offerings. More on the symposium and its host Lamar Hudgens, owner of BIK, in a future post.
With my disclaimer said, the 12 hour drive to Swansboro turned into a 14 hour drive to Nags Head (a.k.a. the Outer Banks of North Carolina). In the scheme of things Nags Head is nowhere near Swansboro. It is, in fact, about five driving hours further to the northeast. Thanks to today’s smartphone technonlogy I was able to Google two possible campgrounds before reaching Nags Head. The first one was a KOA located in the Cape Hatteras area. The other one was part of the National Park Service and was located at Oregon Inlet. Since the following day’s plans were not etched in stone and given that Oregon Inlet is about midway between the Currituck Lighthouse and the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, I figured it would be a good choice. Arriving well after sunset, I pulled into a dark campground and selected a site. What can I say about the campground except that you could hear the roar of the sea, smell the ocean, and feel the sea breeze. It seemed like the ocean was just on the other side of the sand dune from my camp site.
Since I have not camped outside of Florida for some time, I forgot about what time sunrise occurs relative to one’s longitude. Let’s just say 5:00 a.m. is early. So with the sun coming up I felt it was time to hop over the dune and explore the seashore.
Alright so it is about three dunes away (about 1/8 of a mile), but well worth the sandy hike. If you are a camper, put this one on your destination list. While it is a no frills site, you won’t be disappointed. One note of caution, the campground does not take reservations.
So after a brief look at the map the plan was shaping up as follows: Check out of the campground at 7:00 a.m., go south the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse, and walk it. Then drive back to Currituck Lighthouse, located at the northern end of the Outer Banks, and walk it. Arrive at BIK in Swansboro by 6:00 p.m. Note to self….. this isn’t possible given the driving time involved!!! There is something to be said about old fashioned paper maps and the information on them. Looking carefully at the map I discovered there are ferry routes between the islands. It turns out North Carolina has a ferry system that interconnects the coastal areas with the mainland. Sweet!! All I need now is a ferry schedule and a little luck.
So with this new information and the realization that the arrival time of 6:00 p.m. was not going to work no matter what I did, the itenary has been changed. So the first thing is to check out of the campground by 7:00 a.m. and then head north to the Currituck Lighthouse in Corolla, North Carolina. Walk the grounds, climb to the top, snap a few photos, and head for Bodie Lighthouse. Walk the grounds at Bodie, and then head for the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Walk the grounds at Cape Hatteras, climb to the top, photos, and then like a school kid trying to catch the bus on the first day of class, set off to catch the ferry that runs between Ocracoke and Cedar Island.
There are only two crossing times that I can use for this ferry, one at 3:30 p.m. and the other at 6:00 p.m. Failure to make one of these means being stuck on Ocracoke and not arriving in time for the start of the symposium. However in order to make this crossing it is also necessary to make the ferry crossing between Cape Hatteras and Ocracoke. So given the expected drive time of 40 minutes for the island of Ocracoke and an expected crossing time of 45 minutes between Cape Hatteras and Ocracoke, time management takes over with the realization that I have to make the ferry at Cape Hatteras no later than 1:30 p.m.!! Not a problem except the Currituck Lighthouse doesn’t open for business until 9:00 a.m. Just an F.Y.I. for travelers, you can make reservations for any ferry, which I might add is highly recommended. However, you need to check in at least 30 minutes ahead of schedule or you forefit your reservation.
So having visited three lighthouses, driven past the Wright Brother’s Monument, and caught the first ferry to Ocracoke at 1:00 p.m. , I am now hustling for the next ferry to Cedar Island. Unfortunately in the process of getting to the second ferry, I forgot about the Ocracoke Lighthouse. If you are looking for this lighthouse it moves depending on what map you are using! The lighthouse is located in the Ocracoke Village, which is located by the Ocracoke Island Vistitor Center.
I made the ferry with time to spare, so I played tourist and explored the shops surrounding the marina.
What an incredible one day adventure. Great history mixed with boom tourist towns, oasis beach communities, huge towering rental communities, and the emptiness of the Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge. It would be easy to pick any town or area in the Outer Banks to spend days exploring, not to mention paddling, as each is both beautiful and unique.
So on your next adventure, take a little time to explore what’s around the bend and you may discover a great destination for a future trip. As always, don’t forget to update your float plan or for that matter your travel plans if you stray too far off course.
Happy paddling and travels!!!!! – Chad