Beautiful Ocracoke Island. Have you had the chance to venture to this little piece of heaven?
My first visit was this past weekend, during my routine trip to the Outer Banks. For those of you who may be unfamiliar with OBX, it’s a group of islands located off the coast of North Carolina, known for family friendly beaches. I’ve been taking trips there for years, about once every 3 to 4 months. Why so often, you may ask? It’s only a 3 hour drive from my home in Virginia, and I’ll usually spend about 3 to 4 days there, which is a nice get away. Usually, I stay in Nags Head, which contains many restaurants, coffee shops and local beach shopping. Some other great spots of OBX are Kill Devil Hills, Hatteras, and Duck, just to name a few. I’m a big beachcomber and love shelling, so once I knew the best seashells were found on Ocracoke Island, I had to go there!
The first thing you should know about Ocracoke, is that you cannot travel there by vehicle alone, and must take the ferry. The ferry ride was once a quick 30 minute trip straight from Hatteras, however, over the years the hurricanes have washed away some of the land, which has caused the ferry trip to double in time due to shallow water. My visit was during the off-season, so this was no problem at all. Just sit back, and enjoy the ride! In speaking to the crew on the ferry, we discovered that Blackbeard the pirate, was known to frequent Ocracoke back in the late 1700s, as trade increased along the North Eastern coastline. We heard old ghost stories of Blackbeard’s ghost inhabiting Ocracoke after sunset and scaring tourists. Some even think his treasure is hidden there! The best time to learn more about this history of the island is in October, when they hold the annual “Blackbeard’s Pirate Jamboree” (we just missed this during our last visit).
Now, to get to the good part. Seashells, seashells, and more seashells! There are over a hundred different varieties of shells in Ocracoke alone! If you’re a shell collector like me, then you know that one of the most coveted shells on the East Coast is the Scotch Bonnet. Well, the Scotch Bonnet just so happens to be the state shell of North Carolina, and Ocracoke contains hundreds of them daily. I was so excited to find a beautiful, pink Scotch Bonnet!
In addition to these, I couldn’t count how many conch and whelk species we found in a wide variety of colors. You won’t find most of these north of NC. Of all of the beautiful items we found, I was amazed to pick up an actual coconut. Yes, you heard me, a COCONUT in North Carolina! I call it “Old Man of the Sea” because of the funny face it had.
The best shelling is found on the North end of the island, but you can find sand dollars on the South Point. I’ve found them in the past in Georgia and California, but I had no clue I could find them in OBX. Here’s a funny story. During this trip, I did not physically find and pick up a sand dollar myself, but I did get one. What you must know is that the South Point can/should only be accessed by 4×4 vehicles, and that if you try to walk, you will find yourself walking a very long distance. With that being said, and without a 4×4 vehicle, my shell-loving soul over-powered my mind, and I began walking what I didn’t know was over 12 miles (there and back) to find these Sand Dollars. I took my husband and two friends along for this adventure, might I add. First, we walked about 1.5 miles down a long path that led to the beach. What we didn’t realize was that the Point was another 4 miles or so east. Perception is a funny thing. Since we could see the Point from where we were, it didn’t seem to be such a long distance, so we kept walking. On the journey, we had a young man drive past us in his jacked up Toyota, and said in a snarky tone, “Have a nice walk!”. He then proceeds to throw a Sand Dollar in front of me, as if he knew what we were out there searching for. What a jerk.
We didn’t actually end up finding any full Sand Dollars, just a few broken ones, and sore legs. Lesson learned. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t visit the Point, especially if you do have a 4×4 vehicle. I’ve heard you can find many of them if you go at the right time of day, before anyone else has had a chance to scoop them up! In the worst case scenario, I’ve heard the fishing is good also. We did manage to see a beautiful sunset on our way back, and miles of sand with a few pools from where the tide left. That area is also known to be home for many bird species, as Hatteras Island (next to Ocracoke) is a bird sanctuary, so we saw many.
Ocracoke is a quiet, quaint little town, and even in the summer season, the beaches are not too crowded. You will find a few local restaurants, great coffee shops (you must check out The Magic Bean), and a few small business shops. I cannot imagine going back to OBX without taking a day trip to Ocracoke. I keep dreaming about the miles and miles of countless seashells!
Where are some of your favorite shelling spots?