The Hatteras Heaven
This Outer Banks Barrier Island is a place for record waves, remarkable beauty and refuge.
A weekend getaway to Hatteras Island on North Carolina’s Outer Banks may be one of the most remarkable trips anyone can take.
Northern OBX, Kitty Hawk, Kill Devil Hills and Nags Head all have a lot going for them, but the real beauty and sense of what a barrier island is and how it exists with the sea begins at the crest of the Bonner Bridge as it crosses Oregon Inlet and connects the northern Outer Banks with Pea Island.
Pea Island, the northernmost part of Hatteras Island, is little more than a thread of sand holding back the Atlantic Ocean. The dunes to the east were constructed in the 1930s by the CCC (a Depression-era make work program) and are constantly being replenished to protect the road.
To the west, there are a series of ponds that are actually impoundments built in the early 20th century to attract waterfowl for the hunt clubs that populated the Outer Banks. There is a trail around one of the impoundments at the Pea Island Visitor Center about four miles south of the Bonner Bridge. It’s about a mile around and worth the effort, but wear mosquito repellant!
A little farther down the road there’s a strange bridge that looks like it was slapped together in a big hurry—and it was—but is actually very well built. The inlet it crosses did not exist until Hurricane Irene created it.
Do the Wave
Just north of the Hatteras Island town of Rodanthe, dotted with houses that appear after about 20 minutes of empty marshland, the highway goes through a series of shallow curves that form an S, which is how the S Curves got a name synonymous with some of the best surfing on the East Coast.
It isn’t just the waves—it’s the quality of the waves. When the conditions are right, from a little south of the Rodanthe Pier through the S Curves, long, straight barrels form. Surfers with a little more experience should plan on making this part of their itinerary.
Hatteras Island may be a slice of heaven for people who worship water sports, with amazing surf on the ocean side and worldclass kiteboarding conditions on the sound side. The area called Waves, just south of Rodanthe, is home to two of the largest kiteboarding operations on the Outer Banks—Real Watersports and Kitty Hawk Kites.
Both offer a full range of services including classes, and if there is a better place to learn kiteboarding, it hasn’t been reported. Because the very shallow Pamlico Sound, usually about 3- to 4-feet deep, is so open, there is almost always a breeze.
Light and Life
On the north end of Rodanthe, the Chicamacomico Lifesaving Station may be the best preserved and most complete site of its kind in the country. It is located in a subdivision called Mirlo Beach after a British tanker that sunk off the coast in WWI.
There are about 9 or 10 miles of open road between the northern villages and the community of Avon. Once upon a time Avon was known as Kinakeet, which explains the signs calling out Kinakeet Shores or Little Kinakeet.
Centrally located, it has become the commercial center of Hatteras Island. However, it began its life as a fishing village, and there are still remnants of that lifestyle left. Turn right (if you’re coming from the north) at the light at the intersection of NC12 and Harbor Road. Follow the road around and it leads to a small commercial fishing dock. It’s a short drive, but it goes right through the heart of what was Kinakeet, and there is a very clear sense of what the village would have looked like before commercial development took over. The fish market at the intersection gets a lot of its fish from those docks, so if seafood is on the menu, it is worth a visit.
The heart of Hatteras Island is the Hatteras Lighthouse, about 15 miles south of Avon in the village of Buxton, which visitors can climb for a rewarding view.
Just to the south of the lighthouse is Buxton Woods, the largest intact maritime forest on the East Coast, with a number of trails and even a dirt road running through it.
Frisco, adjacent to Buxton, houses the Frisco Native American Museum’s exhibits, short nature walk and occasional activities that make it an interesting stop along the way.
Hatteras Village, at the southern end of the island, boasts an eclectic blend of shops, art galleries, restaurants and the largest harbor on the island with a substantial fishing fleet—both commercial and recreational.
Especially in the fall and winter, the docks bustle when blue water fishing is at its peak.
This year on Sept. 15, people can get acquainted with Hatteras during A Day at the Docks, which celebrates the heritage of the area and the present day and includes a blessing of the fleet.
At the very tip of Hatteras Village is the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum—probably not a full-day museum but worth stopping in for some really interesting artifacts and exhibits.
Be sure to stay in the left lane when driving to the museum. Bear to the right, and you’ll end up in line for the Ocracoke Ferry—and that is a tale for another Outer Banks weekend.