TAK­ING IT TO THE BANKS

Win­ter­ing at a sum­mer get­away, de­light­ful Outer Banks, the Wright place

RSWLiving - - CONTENTS - BY GLENN V. OSTLE

Win­ter­ing at a sum­mer get­away, de­light­ful Outer Banks, the Wright Place

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 nearly seven 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 Me­mo­rial in Kill Devil Hills.

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 is 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 Beach 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

A rare place of windswept dunes and beaches, fas­ci­nat­ing his­tory and lots of surf.

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.

A 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 four-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.

De­scen­dants of Span­ish colonial mus­tangs roam free in the 7,000-acre Cur­rituck Na­tional Wildlife Refuge.

Kitty Hawk Pier at sun­set is a glo­ri­ous set­ting. It was re­opened in 2008 fol­low­ing a dev­as­tat­ing hur­ri­cane.

The panorama of land­scape and wildlife is un­matched along the Outer Banks, a thin chain of bar­rier is­lands curv­ing like a string of pearls around North Carolina’s east­ern coast.

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