Usually, in my opinion, the best time to go is August or super early September.
The sunsets during that time would make an artist weep- it is almost impossible to describe the beauty of the warm colors tangling together with the cool blues and purples of the ocean and sky.
After sitting out there on your deck with a glass of wine and your damp hair keeping your shoulders cool, you almost can’t believe there are things like war, poverty, or anything bad about the world. Nature may be red in tooth and claw but whether you believe in Heaven or not, you’ll feel like you found it in the peaceful beauty of the shoreline.
And as the sun dips and the colors fade to the velvety night, hundreds- no, thousands of stars slowly reveal themselves, looking down on you in a way that steals your breath. If you want to really get a good view, walk on to the beach when it gets fully dark. Especially if there’s no moon. Because the ocean and the sky become one huge navy blue abyss, and the huge protective dunes block out all of the lights from the homes, and you find yourself in a natural amphitheater, where you can hear nothing but the waves crashing and your own breathing.
Do watch out for fiddler crabs, they tend to get cranky when you trip over them.
The other really interesting thing about night time on the beach is that, if you get a full moon, you may have enough light to see the newly hatched sea turtles scrambling towards the surf. It’s really an amazing thing to see, and they are SO unbelievably cute!
Sadly not all baby sea turtles make it, but there is a lot we vacationers can do to help. Emerald Isle’s website lays out a few tips to minimize our own impact on the turtles.
A really fun thing about Emerald Isle is the piers. The one I most frequent is the Bogue Inlet Pier, which is attached to Bushwhackers restaurant and is completely filled with fisherman, both professional and vacationers looking to have some fun. Kids love the pier because there are so many interesting catches each day, and the fisherman take care of the fish right on the dock at the fish cleaning stations.
That snotty Hurricane Irene knocked out approximately 230 feet of pier at the end, but I’ve walked on it since, and it’s fully operational and, in my opinion, safe.
Underneath the pier, handfuls of surfers come to spend their days and nights catching waves and chatting up the opposite sex. Something I’d recommend checking out if you want to see some truly talented surfers… or get chatted up.
Another fun place to check out is the Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores. It’s smaller than other aquariums you may have seen, but it does have quite a few interesting things. You can bird watch outside, there is a touch tank (which lets be honest, is the only reason most of us go to aquariums) and a multitude of beasty jagged toothed sharks that stare you down as they swim through genuine excavated pieces of shipwreck- which, it’s important to note, is something that the Other Banks is known for. Throughout history, ships of all kinds- from pirate, explorer, trade and military- have run into sand islands and craggy shallows, leaving some interesting things to explore if you have time for a scuba trip while down there. However, if you’d rather stay dry to see leftovers of the old shipping days, just take a trip out to Corolla or Shackleford where wild “ponies” gallop along the shoreline. These Spanish horses, who are smaller than the horses we are used to in many countries, were a hearty sort, and really very docile. It is believes that these horses, called Banker Horses, either swam ashore after Spanish shipwrecks, or were abandoned when, like many times before, a group of settlers found themselves ill, unwanted by the natives, and unable to survive the climate of the area.
*Photo taken from outerbanksblue.com
These “ponies” do roam free on the shores of some of the Outer Banks, though not where you’d be renting a home. Often times you will take a ferry to the island to see them. They are called feral because, while they are wild now, they once had domesticated ancestors. While these horses are feral, they are closely monitored by the National Park Services and does run tests on them to make sure they’re healthy. They also control the population by moving some of the ponies when needed, or adopting them out.
Now, full disclosure, while there have only been three fatal shark attacks and 42 reported bites in the last eighty years, sharks ARE in the waters everywhere you go (except for swimming pools) so be careful. I stay away from swimming by the piers. My house is over a mile from the closest pier, not only because of the large amount of fish and bait, but also because of the hooks and line- so be careful if you’re staying close by.
Now I really hate sharks. Like really, really, REALLY hate sharks. I am extra careful in any water, especially during those Summer months- what can I say, I watched Jaws at a very young age- But, of course you can do things to be safe. Don’t go in the water if you’re bleeding (I know, you almost can’t believe it has to be said)- don’t wear jewelry, don’t go too far out (too far out is past shoulder depth- remember there’s things other than sharks out there, and if you go out to a depth of more than five feet, you’re going into an area that has more sea life, and let me tell you- I have seen people step on sting rays, and yes, it “effing hurts.” So use common sense. Also try to avoid swimming at daybreak and dusk, because that’s when sharks are at their keenest, it’s also when you’re less likely to be able to see around you, and less people will be able to see you in the water.
And one more thing, if we’re being honest here. Going during the late Summer months does practically guarantee you something that may be a deterrent, but hear me out before you cancel your trip. Just like Florida, Alabama, Louisiana, and many other states, North Carolina is situated in a bad spot sometimes. Because the Outer Banks are the outcropping in the South, they are often stuck in the path of, you guessed it, some nasty hurricanes.
This is daunting, of course it is, hearing the sirens screaming, police preaching through loudspeakers that if you “do not evacuate, you WILL die!” Home owners boarding up windows and locking down stores.
BUT. Hurricanes last a day. They hit, wreak havoc, and then leave. And let me tell you, yes- you can evacuate. There is a military base less than 20 miles away and plenty of hotels and strange pawn shops in the area. There are handsome military personnel and friendly places to shop and explore. And you’ll get rained on, but you’ll be safe and sound. Of course it depends on when the storm hits. I’ve never had to cancel my trips, it’s not something I would ever be able to do without considering my year a waste. However, I have had to evacuate twice, and this year we had to add a full 4 hours onto our drive so that we could avoid snarky little Irene- “the most expensive storm in history.” We did get to drive through the mountains in Virginia, which was one of the most beautiful experiences I have ever witnessed. Miles of blue mountains surrounding you, ohh I loved it, but that’s a whole nother entry.
When you get to the beach post-hurricane, as long as the homes are intact, it is still one of the most beautiful things ever. The skies are open and blue, it’s usually NOT a thousand degrees and muggy, there are less bugs, less strong winds, there are awesome little shells that washed ashore, you almost couldn’t tell a storm had just hit besides the strong currents and possible damage to trees while you’re driving down there.