Taking It To The Bank - Wintering at a summer getawayMay 19, 2017 07:34AM ● By Kevin
Kitty Hawk Pier at sunset is a glorious setting. It was reopened in 2008 following a devastating hurricane. Photo by Glenn V. Ostle.
Ever dream of strolling along deserted beaches, dining without crowds in rustic local restaurants, and enjoying your own private view of some of nature’s most glorious sunrises and sunsets?
If so, then consider visiting a popular summer destination...in the winter. All it takes is a slight adjustment in expectations, as well as to your wardrobe, such as swapping those swim trunks for warm coats and gloves.
Last Christmas, we were at loose ends and decided on something different, driving 6 1/2 hours from our home in Charlotte, North Carolina, to the Outer Banks―or OBX as the locals call it―a rare place of windswept dunes and beaches, fascinating history, and lots of surf, sand and swaying sea oats. We were curious to see what it’s like having the place to ourselves.
OBX Top to Bottom
The Outer Banks is a thin chain of barrier islands curving like a string of pearls around North Carolina’s eastern coast. It runs 130 miles from the quaint cities of Duck and Corolla in the north to historic Hatteras and Ocracoke islands in the south (where Blackbeard the pirate once operated). It is only accessible by car at two points, or by one of the largest ferry systems in the U.S. Some ferries are seasonal, so check ahead.
As it is difficult to see all the charms of the Outer Banks in a single visit, we decide on our trip to focus on the northern part and book a suite at the Hampton Inn and Suites in Corolla. This gave us access to a number of iconic sites open year round, most notably the Wright Brothers National Monument in Kitty Hawk.
Then there’s the Donal C. O’Brien Sanctuary and Audubon Center, 2,600 acres of marsh, upland maritime forest and sandy beaches that features a 2.5-mile nature trail. And it was only a short drive to the 420-acre Jockey’s Ridge State Park with the largest natural living sand dune on the East Coast. Here you can fly kites, learn to hang glide, or just traverse the 384-foot boardwalk.
Along Currituck Sound, the red brick Currituck lighthouse towers above historic Corolla Park. While the lighthouse is closed for the winter, the park is also home to Whalehead, a beautifully restored 1920s-era Art Nouveau-style mansion, as well as the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education.
Descendants of Spanish colonial mustangs roam free in the 7,000-acre Currituck National Wildlife Refuge north of the paved section of Route 12 in Corolla. While the horses aren’t usually found on the beaches during winter, off-road safaris help locate them. Note that there are strict instructions for driving on the 20 miles of sandy beaches.
Bundled up against the ever-present wind, we spend our days strolling empty beaches on the ocean side, and along the Sound. Migratory birds and ospreys fly overhead, as OBX is along the Atlantic Flyway and is a haven for more than 265 species.
Driving about an hour south we visit Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge on Cape Hatteras Island, where thousands of ducks, tundra swans, Canada geese and other marine birds feed, float and squabble on still waters. Nearby is the horizontally striped Bodie (pronounced “body”) Island lighthouse.
One consideration in winter is that many stores and restaurants operate seasonally. We had stocked our hotel room, but had fun looking for open places. One day we were fortunate to find a Duck Donuts shop open for only a few hours. If you’ve not had one of these cooked-to-order donuts, expect a treat. One of our favorite finds was the Duck Deli―in the city of Duck (duh)―that offers up excellent casual fare.
One concern in the beginning was Christmas dinner. Fortunately, the Life Saving Station in the Sanderling Resort lives up to its name, offering an excellent and upscale 4-course meal. A room filled with well-dressed diners seems a little surreal compared to our more casual and solitary days.
Making our way back to the Hampton Inn, a brilliant sunset blazes across the Sound. We make plans to once again rise early to hopefully find those colors returning in a sunrise growing from the sea to greet a new day.
This could very well be the start of a beautiful winter tradition.
Discover OBX at outerbanks.org.Written by Glenn Ostle, a photo journalist and regular contributor to TOTI Media living in Charlotte, North Carolina.