The sands of time. The Outer Banks (OBX) is a chain of barrier islands separating the Atlantic Ocean from the North Carolina mainland coast. Weather-worn towns with picturesque names like Kitty Hawk and Kill Devil Hills swell with summer visitors keen to explore this unique area. Summer is also the best time to dive this wreck-filled ribbon of coastline, which is also known as The Graveyard of the Atlantic. (Best suited to divers with some experience.)
DIVING IN THE OUTER BANKS
OBX is not a well-known diving destination, but divers familiar with the area are passionate about diving here. OBX has some of the highest biodiversity and density of marine life on the American East Coast, including populations of sand tiger sharks. Most dives are full-day boat trips and wreck sites (including WWI and WWII wrecks) tend to be slightly deeper than usual, around the 100-foot (30 m) mark. Currents can be feisty and visibility varied. Many sites are dived on the buddy system: a topside crew provides advice and support, but dives are self-guided.
DIVE SHOPS IN THE OUTER BANKS
Roanoke Island Dive Shop in Manteo is the most central to OBX. This is a small shop with extensive local knowledge and a loyal clientele.
THINGS TO DO IN THE OUTER BANKS
OBX is the place to be outdoors—swimming in the surf, strolling beaches that seem to stretch forever, flying a kite in Jockey’s Ridge State Park (the tallest living sand dune on the Atlantic coast), bird-watching at Pea Island National Wildlife Refuge, or climbing the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse to catch a view.
A visit to the Wright Brothers National Memorial, the site of the world’s first motor-operated flight. Don’t forget to turn your eyes skyward and marvel that you’re standing on the ground where flight began, as planes soar overhead. It makes the neck tingle.
BEST PLACE TO STAY IN THE OUTER BANKS
First Colony Inn, located a short walk to the beach, was built in 1932 and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. This cozy bed-and-breakfast is classic OBX style. Or go camping—there are four campgrounds in Cape Hatteras National Seashore. (Book early for summer!)
BEST RESTAURANT OR BAR IN THE OUTER BANKS
The Orange Blossom Bakery and Café on Hatteras is beloved for their signature pastry, Apple Uglies. These clumps of deep-fried dough are stuffed with apples and glazed with sugar.
TRAVEL ADVICE (INSIDER TIP)
The sound side of OBX is as beautiful and often quieter than the ocean side. Also, don’t tackle 4WD-only beaches unless you have the proper vehicle and know what you’re doing.
The North Carolina Aquarium on Roanoke Island’s onsite Sea Turtle Assistance and Rehabilitation (STAR) Center is a working hospital that is open to the public, who can watch staff in action and learn more about threats sea turtles face. (Six of the seven sea turtle species are classified as threatened to critically endangered, due to climate change, hunting, and pollution.) The Aquarium also has a cool kids’ area. At Operation Sea Turtle Rescue, kids don lab coats and take their (replica) turtle through a diagnostic center before treating it and placing it in the recovery pool. STAR works with their all-volunteer local partner, N.E.S.T. (Network for Endangered Sea Turtles) to rescue, release, and educate. Visits and donations welcome.