Drive to the end of route 12 into the litlle village around Silver Lake Harbor. This great little fishing village is so cool, it's like stepping back in time. Filled with many small shops of all types like local artist and seafood restaurants and plenty of gift shops.
This lighthouse is the 2nd, the 1st was built and finished in 1803 by Dearborn who also built the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse at the same time. The 1st was struck by lightning in August 1818 which destroyed the tower & the keepers house. The new lighthouse that you see today was relocated to the banks near Silver Lake Harbor and completed in 1823. This lighthouse is one of the oldest in the Outer Banks of North Carolina and one of the oldest still active on the South Atlantic Coast. The tower is closed to the public but the ground are open.
The National Park Service maintains a herd of about 30 once-wild ponies, known as the Banker Ponies, in a 180-acre pasture located off NC 12, about 6 miles south of the Hatteras-Ocracoke ferry docks. You can park just by the side of the road and walk up to the pens to watch the ponies from a small observation platform. These Pony Pens are apparently one of the most popular attractions on Ocracoke Island, but although worth a brief stop while passing, I don’t think they are in themselves a significant reason to make the trip to Ocracoke, which for me has many more compelling attractions.
But these ponies have played a large role in the history of the island. At various times there were between 200 to 500 of them, all roaming freely on the island. Historians think they may have come with the Raleigh expeditions and were left on Roanoke Island. As an alternative you could chose to believe one of several legends about them, e.g. that the ancestors of the ponies found on the island today came from shipwrecked vessels in the so-called “Graveyard of the Atlantic”, or from Spanish explorers DeSoto or Cortez. Another tale indicates that a ship, the "Black Squall", was carrying a circus troupe and animals when it went down during a storm. All hands aboard and all but two horses perished.
For me the main charm of this little museum is that it exists! I always love to see the dedication that goes into the development of a small local museum like this – the acknowledgement of the past life of a community and its contribution towards shaping the present.
This particular museum benefits from being in a traditional island house – once the home of Coast Guard Capt. David Williams, this historic, two-story house was moved to its present location in 1989 and restored to its former early 19th century condition by the Ocracoke Preservation Society. The original wainscoting, floors, staircases, and wood-burning stove are still intact. Inside, you can visit a bedroom, living room, and kitchen which are furnished with period tables, chairs and ornaments etc., all donated by local families.
Exhibits also include a wonderful collection of photographs of island natives (don’t you just love to peer at old photos and imagine the lives of the ordinary men, women and children depicted in them?), and (less interesting for me I confess) items linked to the island’s seafaring traditions. Finally, anyone who shares my curiosity about language and the origins of words will enjoy discovering more about the island’s traditional brogue here.
Admission to the museum is free, and it’s open from Easter through to the end of November. In summer, hours are 10.00 – 5.00 Monday – Friday and 11.00 – 4.00 Saturday & Sunday. Off-season the hours are 11.00 - 4.00 Monday to Saturday (closed Sunday)
I'm sorry I have no photos of the museum itself - it was raining when we went there)
The best way to explore Ocracoke village is definitely on foot. The narrow, winding back lanes weren't meant for cars, and you’d miss a lot of you only pass through by car.
We particularly liked a little sandy lane called Fig Tree Lane. We spotted several crafts shops here, just tucked away in people’s houses, such as the one selling these rather wacky wooden signs. Howard Street is another lovely spot. It winds through one of the oldest and least-changed parts of the village. I was also pleased to see Sarah Lane on the south side of Silver Lake Harbour!
Wherever you go around Silver Lake Harbour you’ll get a view of the rather squat white lighthouse. In fact it’s the oldest, shortest and most southerly of the Outer Banks's four lighthouses, and is the second-oldest lighthouse in the nation.
The lighthouse was built in 1823 and stands 77.5 feet tall. The walls are 5 feet thick at the base and are made of brick, covered with white-washed mortar. It still operates, emitting one long flash every few seconds from a half-hour before sunset to a half-hour after sunrise. The beam from the beacon rotates 360 degrees and can be seen 14 miles out to sea.
The lighthouse is not open for tours or climbing, but volunteers occasionally staff it, offering historical talks and answering visitors' questions. You need to enquire about possible staffing times at the visitor centre, although I have to say we didn’t bother and instead simply contented ourselves with admiring it from a distance and making use of it as a feature of our harbour-side photos.
If you do want to visit, turn off NC 12 at the Island Inn and go about 800 yards down the two-lane street. You can park near a white picketed turnoff on the right and will need to walk the last few yards down the boardwalk to the lighthouse.
Across from the state campgrounds on NC 12, you can find a series of nature trails that take you through the woods on the soundside of the Island on a tour of all of the plant and animal life there is to be seen. Be warned, it is not uncommon to get a bug that tries to fly in your ear but nevertheless if you like nature (and can forgive it for trying to fly in your ear) try this path out. There are little plaques every couple of feet that explain the unique ecosystem on the island and the reasons that certain plants and animals have made it their home. On the soundside you can see the marshlands from this boardwalk.
I just love taking pictures of the dunes in the Outer Banks, Ocracoke is no exception! All the dunes are protected by the National Park Services, so take care were you step. This shot is at the north end of Ocracoke Island looking toward the south end of Hatteras Island.
Located in the fishing village of Ocracoke on one of the highest spots on the island of Ocracoke, this is the oldest operating lighthouse in North Carolina and is equipped with a fourth-order Fresnel lens.
The first Ocracoke lighthouse, a 54-foot wooden tower was built on the Ocracoke Inlet entrance in 1798. This was where Edward Teach, otherwise known as "Blackbeard the Pirate," lived at one time. The channel shifted, rendering the lighthouse ineffective, and it was destroyed by lightening in 1818.
It was replaced by a light vessel in the inlet in 1820, but by 1822 shifting sands made this useless, and Congress authorized the money to build the present tower which stands only 75 feet tall. Becaise it is the shortest lighthouse on the North Carolina Coast it can be only be seen for 14 miles.
The lantern room is a bit off-center and one side of the tower is steeper than the other though architectural plans show all details in line. The lighthouse was cemented and whitewashed in 1868, giving it the appearance it has today. Originally fueled by whale oil, it is now lit by automatic electric power. It is still an active lighthouse, and is not open to the public.
It has survived numerous hurricanes including the Hurricane of 1944. This hurricane flooded the entire island - some homes had 25-30 inches in them. Water lapped against the doorstep of the lighthouse and was seven inches deep in the keeper's house.
Silver Lake Harbour
Cockle Creek was dredged back in 1931 to create the pretty Silver Lake Harbour. This was a key factor in Ocracoke's development as host to a sizable fishing industry, and nowadays is equally important as the focal point of the village and a great lure for tourists. We found ourselves drifting towards the harbour several times a day – to have a meal or a drink at one of the waterside cafes and bars, to browse the shops, to take photos or simply to enjoy watching all the activity.
For something like $8 an hour for either one passenger or tandem kayaks and $35 a week one can rent kayaks. There is a stand on the corner of NC 12 and Silver Lake Rd. that operates out of Ride the Wind surf shop across the street. They will get you set up and you can launch right out into the harbor among the docks. They give you a laminated map of the harbor and surrounding area and suggest a good ride out into the sound and down towards the south end of the island, to Springer's point or Teach's hole. We tried it one year and it was a little rough because of the boats that were speeding past further from the shore but this last trip we paddled all the way to Teach's hole, got out on the shore and traipsed around looking for crabs and clams. They will probably warn you to avoid the entrance to the harbor at the top of the hour because of the ferrys from the mainland that will be docking.
The name of the boat I took was Miss Ocracoke. The guys, Captain Stevie and his ship's mate, David, were very cool. I even caught up with them later on in the week and they offered some of the fresh clams that they were grilling on a charcoal grill by the side of the road. Nice guys.
They will provide you also with a bucket and ice to keep your fish fresh until you get back to land. Plus, they will even clean and filet the fish for you.
They also offer Dolphin Cruises in the evenings which I've never done before but I'm sure it'd be fun.
My advice for this trip is to eat well before you go, bring snacks and water, especially water. And even if you get motion sickness it won't be so bad as long as they keep the boat in the sound. Otherwise, have fun. And tip the ship's mate.
All along NC 12 you will see places advertising deep sea fishing. Miss Ocracoke is the closest to the corner of NC 12 and Silver Lake Rd.
Ocrakoke was the most remote place we visited on the Outer Banks. There are no roads or bridges to the island of Okrakoke. You must take a ferry to reach the island. There are several ferry's. We took the one from Hatteras Island. Most of the ferry's on the Outer Banks are free. There is no charge to use the state run ferry from Hattarera to Ocrakoke.
There are only about 2 dozen horses left which have been corralled in a 180 acre spot about 7 mile north of Ocracoke Village. These horses are descendants of the horses used by the Coast Guard to patrol the beaches and by tone of he only mounted Boy Scout troups in America. In 1958 they were put in this area to protect them from passing cars on the newly built route 12.
This is one of a few historic sites that should not be missed on the island. And it will be hard to miss because the only taller landmark is the water tower.
This lighthouse is the 2nd to be built on Ocracoke and can be seen 14 miles out to sea. It was built in 1823. The first one was struck by lightning. You can't go up inside this one like you can at Hatteras but it's still pretty to view. It is the shortest lighthouse in NC at 75 feet. Parking is limited and you can only stay for about 5 minutes usually.