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North Carolina Travel Guide
Ocracoke Island

Ocracoke Island is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore, which is a string of barrier islands that protect the bays and waterways of eastern North Carolina. The entire island, with the exception of the village, is owned by the U.S. National Park Service, and is a protected wildlife area. The island is a narrow 16 miles long, with the eastern side being a long sandy beach facing the Atlantic and the western side facing Pamlico Sound. The island can be reached by ferries, private boat and private plane. You can click on the thumbnails to see the actual photos, or, even better, read the text and then go back and start at the first and click through to the end.

OcracokeThe first step in getting to Ocracoke is the ferry from Cedar Island or Swan Quarter. Both trips are about two-and-a-half-hours long, and, unlike the Greek ferries, a little boring. No disco. No restaurant. No cabins. They're more like a floating tollbooth. But it is easy to meet people, since there's not much to look at besides an occasional seagull, and you have something in common with everyone on board: You're all going to Ocracoke.

You arrive in the village of Ocracoke, which surrounds a beautiful harbor called Silver Lake. When you get off the ferry, it's a little crazy, with cars, trucks, bikes, motorcycles and pedestrians all massed together. But the road clears up pretty quickly.

I love ferry boats and for me I wonder how can you be bored in a place with a dozen ferries a day? But if ferries don't turn you on, there are fishing trips for tuna, mahi-mahi and a variety of other fish on full- and half-day charters. You can even rent boats with outboard engines.

Ocracoke Island, NCOcracoke gets its share of visitors in the summer, but we came in the beginning of October when the weather is still warm enough to swim and even eat outdoors.... Usually. Not for us though. A freak cold spell hit the day after we arrived that made it too chilly to do anything but take pictures. It was sunny though, so it could have been worse. Ocracoke is still a working fishing village, and has the feeling of a community, not a resort. The Ocracoke Community Store is like an old-time general store except that they have foods that will keep gourmets and natural-foods enthusiasts if not enthusiastic, at least relatively happy. They also rent videos. There are a variety of shops in the village, including Books To Be Red Bookstore with a selection of books about the North Carolina coast, crafts and other interests. There are several art galleries, gift shops and a great coffee shop called Ocracoke Coffee Company that somehow bleary-eyed visitors are able to find wandering the streets of the village early in the morning. Ocracoke Coffee Company started brewing coffee in June 1996, but folks started sitting on their front porch long before then.  Originally, the home belonged to long time residents Iva and Monford (affectionately known as Monk) Garrish. Even back then the front porch had a special alluring energy that would attract people to sit down, sip some lemonade, and tell stories.  Iva was well known for baking hot milk cakes and sharing her strawberry candy with anyone who came for a visit.  Monk was legendary for sharing stories while working on his big vegetable garden or opening up clams for dinner. (from their website)

Ocracoke Island, NCIt is not the kind of place where you go to party. In Ocracoke, your entertainment can be a trip to the store for beer or snacks or sitting on your balcony watching the ferries come and go. (Or watching TV.) There is also live music at the famous Howard's Pub and at some of the restaurants and cafes on the waterfront. Raw oysters on the half-shell is just one dish on an enormous seafood menu. This large restaurant on the edge of town has a view of the Atlantic and a view of sunsets over the Pamlico Sound, and is as festive an establishment as you will find in NC. It's open 365 days a year and has 200 varieties of beer.

At the Deepwater Theater the traditional and roots-based original group Molasses Creek performs. Award winners from Garrison Keillor's “Prairie Home Companion,” Molasses Creek has recorded 13 albums over the past 20 years. In June the island hosts the Ocrafolk Festival featuring folk music, storytellers, and even famed mime-artist Jef and Chapel Hill artist Clyde Jones. Before our trip to Ocracoke, Amarandi's friend Natti Spagatti had never eaten a shrimp. The Pelican Restaurant had a happy-hour shrimp special that we couldn't resist. Ten cents a shrimp from 3 to 5 pm. There are at least 15 other restaurants in the village. The Pelican is gone but it has been replaced by Dajio, which is an acronym reflecting the owners seemingly lifelong goal of living and running their own business on Ocracoke after 12 years as owners of an award winning and nationally recognized restaurant in Lexington, Kentucky. They have an extensive menu of seafood and pasta, burgers and sandwiches, using only the freshest local ingredients, and they have continued the happy hour shrimp specials from 3 to 5 pm. They also have live music.

Ocracoke LighthouseIf Ocracoke has an Acropolis or an Eiffel Tower, this is it. The famous Ocracoke Lighthouse is the shortest lighthouse in the Outer Banks. It's also the oldest, built in 1823. This is probably the main tourist attraction on the island, and a visit here will take up a good fifteen minutes of your holiday. Across the inlet from Ocracoke is the deserted village of Portsmith, which can be reached by private ferry from the Silver Lake harbor. Ocracoke is also known as the place where Blackbeard, the notorious pirate was finally killed by the British Navy in 1718.

The British Cemetery is a small plot of land that contains the graves of sailors from the HMS Bedfordshire , which was torpedoed and sunk by a German sub on May 11, 1942. Every year this date is commemorated with a ceremony.

Wild Ocracoke poniesThere are several theories about the wild Ocracoke ponies. Some say they came ashore with English colonists who ran aground in 1585. Others say they came from Spanish shipwrecks. Still others claim they were left here by strange beings from another planet. Wherever they came from, they're still here, though now they're in pens six miles south of town. Within town there are other creatures that most likely you don't see in your home town, in fact maybe you have only seen them in the zoo. Pelicans, for example are to Ocracoke as squirrels are to Carrboro or pigeons are to New York. At first you see one and get really excited but after while you see them so often that you don't even notice them any more.

Beach at Ocracoke, NCBeaches are usually not this empty. But even in the summer you can find some privacy, since there's a lot of shore and not enough people to fill it. Like most North Carolina beach communities, there are houses to rent all season long. Houses on the canals on the sound shore seem like the best places to stay. You don't have to leave the yard to go fishing. You don't even need a car. You can walk just about anywhere in the village, and you can rent bikes at Island Outfitters and Island Rentals and also at The Slushy Stand. Many people stay in the hotels along the waterfront.  By the way, the value of property on Ocracoke has doubled and tripled since 1995. Ocracoke, an island with only about 700 residents, pays 40 percent of the taxes for a county of more than 5,000. Ocracoke has no mayor and no local government to speak of. A suitable motto for the island might be, "No taxation without representation."

The ferry connecting Ocracoke to Cape Hatteras only takes 15 minutes, and it's free. From there you can continue up the coast and back to the mainland.

The annual Ocrafolk Music and Storytelling Festival is held in the heart of Ocracoke Village in June.  This free festival features musicians, storytellers, artisans, and the culture of Ocracoke Island and Eastern Carolina.  In addition to weekend performances, events include a Friday night community potluck and fundraising auction at the Ocracoke Community Center, Saturday night traditional Ocracoke square dance, Sunday morning gospel sing, boat building, and wonderful seafood!  Performers include storyteller Donald Davis, and musical groups Molasses Creek, Coyote, Noah Paley, Martin Garrish, the Barnraisers, and Bob Zentz.   The Ocrafolk Festival is a non-profit event housed under the Ocracoke Preservation Society. 

Click to see my Ocracoke Photos

See also: Wilmington, Outerbanks, Wrightsville, Kure Beach, Southport 

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