by Barbara Ann Weibel of Hole In The Donut
While Cape Hatteras National Park may be best known for the statuesque, candy-striped lighthouse that is the tallest brick beacon in the country, its beaches are equally as impressive. From the sandy hook that forms the “elbow” of Hatteras Island, past the point where the lighthouse once stood, and along mile after mile of sea-oat studded dunes, the pristine beaches of Cape Hatteras National Park stretch as far as the eye can see. The Atlantic waters are deep blue, but are not as cold as other areas along the Eastern seaboard, for it is here that the Gulf Stream makes its closest approach to the coast of the U.S.
The park’s long, sandy stretches are prized by sun worshipers. Most sunbathers choose to stay close to the park facilities, spreading their towels on the small point that was the former home of the lighthouse, before it was moved inland some years ago. Other who seek more seclusion need only wander just a short distance down the beach.
In addition to more traditional beach activities, water sports of all kinds abound at Cape Hatteras. The point is still a favorite spot with surfers, since waves consistently break off of an old jetty that was built to impede beach erosion.
The Outer Banks is also one of the premiere surf casting destinations in the U.S., and because Cape Hatteras allows driving on the beach, it is also a favorite location for fishermen who set up their rods, reels, coolers, canopies, and chairs and settle in for the day. During several annual surf casting contests, fishermen drive their SUV’s onto the beach and line up bumper-to-bumper, trying to hook the biggest puppy drum, sea trout, flounder, grouper, or sea bass of the weekend.
In addition to surfing and surf fishing, Cape Hatteras is an ideal location for numerous other water sports. Atop the waves, enthusiasts can try their hand at sea kayaking, kite boarding, body boarding, parasailing, and sail boarding. And because the waters along the North Carolina are known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” some of the best wreck diving in the U.S. can be found at or near Cape Hatteras.
When visitors have had their fill of sun, sea, and sand, they can hike over the dunes to visit the lightkeeper’s cottage or climb the lighthouse. The view from the top is both stunning and amazing; from the ground most people are unaware how narrow the Outer Banks really are, but from the top the fragility of these barrier islands is all too evident. In some places, barely a quarter mile of shifting sand separates the surging ocean from the shallow inland waters of the Sound. Since these sands are constantly moved north and west by the action of the wind and waves, it is little wonder that the lighthouse had to be moved inland to keep it from falling into the ocean.
Cape Hatteras National Park is located at the midway point of Hatteras Island in the village of Buxton. There is no entrance fee to the park, nor to use the beaches, however a small fee is charged to climb the lighthouse.
Photos courtesy of Barbara Ann Weibel