A Family Field Trip
Native Americans called it Wokokon. Pirates called it their favorite hiding place. And for 769 people, the small island of Ocracoke is now called home.
Look in any guidebook about the Outer Banks, North Carolina, and it’ll say Ocracoke is the most beautiful of all the Outer Bank islands. So on a recent trip to the region, our family along with some friends, embarked on a journey to find out if the guidebooks were right.
A Little History
Ocracoke island is the type of place from which legends are made. Treacherous waters and inaccessibility allowed the island to remain largely uninhabited until 1750, even though attempts to settle it were made as early as the 1500s. It seemed no one could tame the rough seas.
No one except the pirates.
At the height of it’s infamy, Ocracoke served as a pirates’ haven. It was the favorite stomping ground of Edward Teach, aka Blackbeard, and became the backdrop for his final battle and ultimately, his death.
Even today, getting to the remote island poses a bit of a challenge. It can only be accessed by ferry, private boat or private plane.
In the morning, our crew set off down the dune lined highway of NC 12 to reach a free public ferry that would get us over to Ocracoke. We passed cyclists, that house from the movie with Richard Gere in it and two light houses. After a long ride, we finally made it to the ferry dock.
And then we waited.
The guide books will tell you to allow for extra time at the ferry port. When we pulled right up to a lane and saw two ferries already loading, I figured we had hit the jackpot. Oh how wrong I was.
We ended up waiting about an hour and a half before we made it on. Now, there is a small shopping village conveniently located at the ferry port. However, I have to be honest, I wasn’t all that comfortable walking around or shopping because I had zero idea when our turn would come to board the ferry. My advice? Make sure you pack snacks and have something ready to entertain everyone in the car—games, apps, movies, etc.
As for the 40 minute ferry ride itself? Incredible.
Eat, See, Do
We arrived on Ocracoke hot, tired and in need of lunch. We found the municipal parking lot, parked and then headed on foot towards the town’s center. There wasn’t much in the way of sidewalks, which made the walk with four kids and a stroller a challenge. However, the cars are refreshingly courteous to pedestrians and will slow, and in most cases, stop for you.
We happened upon a restaurant called Dajio. The name is an acronym for Doug And Judy In Ocracoke. There was a wait, so we opted to sit in the nearly empty bar that was tended by one of the friendliest servers I’ve had the opportunity to run across.
I had the Dajio salad and it was divine. Oh smoked chorizo, you should top everything. The kids ordered chicken strips. Hands down, they were the best strips we’ve had. They tasted like real fried chicken, unlike the processed crumb-coated bricks that usually are reserved for children’s menus. How novel is that?
After lunch we walked around the town a bit. We hit a general store and loaded up on penny candy and Nehi. Then, we took a very short walk where we saw the lighthouse and were introduced to Nutrias, which, for the kids seemed to trump the lighthouse in terms of interest piqued. [What in the world are Nutrias? Watch Ted Gesing's 14 minute documentary that premiered at SXSW to find out.]
We ended our tour with a stop at the charming Slushy Stand where we ordered ice cream. It was hot and the kids and grown ups (or quite possibly, it was just me) were pretty fried. I considered the ice cream pretty much a necessity at this point.
After ice cream, we headed back to the ferry. The wait for the return trip was much shorter.
On the way back from Ocracoke, we made a stop at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. We could see the lighthouse from far away however, it wasn’t until we go out of the car that we fully appreciated it. To say it is impressive would be an understatement. The striking black and white painted monolithic form rests atop a pink base that screams to the world, “I am completely comfortable in my masculinity.”
We arrived after the lighthouse had closed, but during operating hours, visitors can climb 12 stories to take in a sweeping 360 degree view of Hatteras.
It was an amazing sight and I’d argue the highlight of our trip. The weather had cooled, the sun was just beginning to set, the kids ran around freely, playing games of tag while the rest of us looked on in awe. It was one of those moments in time that you know you’ll never forget.
After Hatteras, we stopped for dinner in Avon at a restaurant called The Mad Crabber. We were warmly greeted and the staff made arrangements for our group of nine to be seated right away. The serving ware and decor had a touch of no nonsense charm to it, but what sold me completely was our server. She was downright lovely. The kids adored her. We adored her. One got the feeling this was a genuine family friendly restaurant.
The kids fell asleep on the way home. We carried them into their rooms, got them dressed and said goodnight. Then we collapsed.
So how would I rate the day trip overall? Well, I’m definitely glad we went. There were some amazing moments of discovery sprinkled throughout the day. But, honestly? It was a mighty long day.
For more photos of our week in the Outer Banks, head on over to Dave’s blog.