If our goal this summer was to spend as much time as possible at the beach, we are well on our way. This past weekend we traversed Atlantic Beach, Harker’s Island, and Beaufort, NC. This was one of my favorite seashore adventure yet – old cemeteries, ferries and lighthouses, wild horses and whale bones, and plenty of sun and sand.
We slept in Atlantic Beach at the Hampton Inn. This was a last-minute getaway, so we booked at a hotel rather than a vacation rental. The Hampton Inn turned out to be a good choice; the rooms are clean and spacious enough to fit 3 kids and two adults (the bathroom was a bit cramped), and my girls loved the evening treat of free cookies and popcorn, as well as the pool.
On day 1, we headed out early to catch the Island Express Ferry from Harker’s Island to Shackleford Banks and the Cape Lookout Lighthouse. This was a really phenomenal day trip, I can’t say enough good things about it. From Harker’s Island, we took a 15 minute boat ride to Shackleford Banks, where we were let off on the completely empty shore.
Shackleford Banks is uninhabited by people, but you’re surrounded by birds, sea life, and wild horses, and since we took the 8:45 ferry we were the only tourists. Our “ferry” on this first leg was actually a speedboat that was taking the lighthouse and visitor center employees to Cape Lookout. My husband, girls, niece, and I watched in a bit of disbelief as the boat sped away, leaving us to fend for ourselves (for an hour, at least) on our deserted island.
On Shackleford, we combed the beaches for seashells, watched the wild horses, and investigated hermit crabs, whelks, fish, and crabs. The swimming beach on the island is like an ocean swimming pool, completely clear and without waves. If you have a pair of goggles, you can dive down and really explore. Since there was a current, we stayed close by our girls while they swam. We spent 2 and a half hours on the island, but I would have happily doubled the length of our stay.
The ferry came to fetch us right on schedule, and transported us over to Cape Lookout. It’s a quick trip, about 10 minutes. The beach at Cape Lookout is really nice too – a lot of people anchor their boats right off the shoreline and spend the day swimming and picnicking. The first Cape Lookout Lighthouse was completed in 1812, and the new (current) lighthouse was completed and lighted in 1859. This entire area, Fort Macon and the Cape Lookout Lighthouse, were pivotal in battles during the Civil War. The history on the site can be found here.
Once we arrived back at Harker’s Island, we drove into Beaufort for a stroll around. We checked out the Beaufort Historic Site and the Old Burying Ground. This cemetery was established in the early 1700’s, and contains some really fascinating tombstones and stories. This really is one of the coolest cemeteries that I’ve ever toured; there’s the grave of a girl buried in a barrel of rum, a mass grave for the sailors who froze to death after the wreck of the Crissie Wright, and even the grave of an officer in His Majesty’s Navy who died in the port of Beaufort, and who was buried standing up in full uniform. The cemetery has a hauntingly majestic quality, and if ever there was a place was filled with old souls, this graveyard would be it.
Day 2 started with a sandy morning run and beach combing, and continued with just relaxing and enjoying the ocean. The seashells we found were pretty great- we stumbled across various whelk shells, sand dollars, lettered olives, and even a shark tooth! Here’s a good guide to sea shells online.
To end our visit, we ate a hearty lunch at The Crab’s Claw (try their steamer pots) and headed on our way back to Raleigh- not even a 3 hour drive. Yet another salty weekend refresher in the books.