Have you ever been to Manteo?
If you’ve visited this quaint island town in the NC Outer Banks, you may have noticed a picturesque structure at the end of a wooden pier just east of the downtown area. It’s the Roanoke Marshes Lighthouse… and it’s unlike any tower-style lighthouse you’ve ever seen.
Longing to connect with nature? Visit Kitty Hawk Woods Coastal Reserve in the NC Outer Banks. Bordered by US 158 to the east and Currituck Sound to the west, it’s a tranquil hidden oasis covering some 1,824 acres of unspoiled natural beauty.
Love the ocean? Then chances are good you love water sports. And no doubt you’ve done all the usual – swimming, sailing, fishing, boating. Perhaps you’ve also tried somewhat more daring sports, such as surfing, kayaking, and water skiing.
Perhaps it’s the quaint ticket booth where tickets are sold. It’s a real ticket booth—not a glass-enclosed room that is part of a building. The Pioneer Theater ticket booth is a small wooded structure, centered on doors that open into the lobby. And the price of the tickets that are purchased at that ticket booth? Usually $4.00 less movies in a multiplex charges today.
And the lobby…the lobby is small, a little bit cramped, but that’s ok because there is the sound of popcorn popping and the scent of it and the price of concessions is about half and sometimes a bit less than half of what is charged in most movie theaters.
This is the what all movie theaters were like at one time—a place in the heart of the downtown district surrounded by shops a restaurants. It is smaller than the theaters of major cities although it does seat around 300-400, but in every other way it is what going to the movies was all about 40 or 50 years ago.
The word unique is thrown around almost carelessly at times, but when it comes to the Pioneer Theater, unique is the only word that truly describes the Pioneer.
It is the oldest continuously owned family movie theater in the United States—no other theater in all the 50 states can make that claim.
1918…that was the year George W. Creef Jr. opened the doors to the first, and for a long time, only movie theater in Dare County. He had to be a little bit crazy to do it. The population of the county was struggling to reach 5000; Manteo was the county seat, but there were no roads or bridges connecting it to the rest of the county; even Roanoke Island was sparsely populated with perhaps 600 residents living there.
According to family lore George, Jr. took a trip up north, went out to a nickelodeon, became fascinated with motion pictures and purchased a projector. Movies were free at first, but, again according to family tales, the movies were so popular that he felt there could be a business opportunity.
Now located on Budleigh Street, the original location was one block over on Sir Walter Raleigh. That move was made in 1934 and by that time George’s son, Herbert, Sr., was running the show.
It’s been three generations of Herbert Creef’s in charge of the theater since that time. Herbert Jr. took over from his father—he usually went by H.A. and ran the theater almost until the day he died in 2012. Then his son Buddy—Herbert III—took over. Buddy is usually there. He’s the big man, 6’2” or 6’3”, with the full beard who almost always is dressed in sandals and shorts.
The seats are comfortable if utilitarian. When Buddy took over from his father back in 2012 he made a number of improvements, including a substantial upgrade for the sound system and improved technology for the projection room. As a consequence the quality of the movie experience is very good.
The movies are generally just off the first run list, giving viewers a chance to catch in July the movie they missed in June.
The Creef family has always believed that the movie experience is something for the whole family to enjoy. It would be the rare R rated movie indeed showing at the Pioneer.
A movie theater is not often seen as part of the experience of visiting an area, but in this case, that would seem to be the exception. For a family of four, a night at the movies will be about $20-$25 less than at a typical theater, and the experience of stepping back in time, is something that will make the evening a moment worth remembering.
There is a lot to like about Manteo. There is the feel of a classic small town America downtown, fantastic art at the Dare County Arts Council gallery, great restaurants with sidewalk service and the Pioneer Theater.
That is not hyperbole; there is some very good science to back that up.
Surfing on the Outer Banks
The shape of the Outer Banks is very much a part of why somewhere there are going to be waves. From Carova to Buxton, the Outer Banks face almost due east. At Buxton, which is where Cape Hatteras is located, there is a sharp bend to the southeast. That configuration means there is almost always a wind condition helping to create something to ride and, depending on where the swell is generated, there is going to be some place on the Outer Banks where the right conditions exist.
This is also where ocean currents collide—the Labrador Current runs into the Gulf Stream must north of Cape Hatteras, although that varies a bit by season. It does add energy to the waves.
There are a couple of other factors as well…but mostly it’s the sand.
The sandy bottom of the Outer Banks surf zone is constantly creating new sandbars, which is where the best break is always found. Generally the fetch of the offshore current is north to south, although that changes depending on wind conditions and swell direction.
As a consequence, there is usually a sandbar that has formed somewhere between Carova and Hatteras Village. It may take a bit of searching and perhaps an hour or hour and a half drive to the hot spot, but it is rare day indeed when there is no break and no waves to ride.
Back at the beginning of our blog we mentioned there is almost always something to surf on the Outer Banks. Summer is the “almost” in the equation. There are times during the summer that the ocean looks more like Lake Atlantic than the wave machine that it usually is.
There is a very well written and very informative article explaining what’s happening in the summer on OBXSURFINFO.com by Dr. Jeff Hanson, an expert on how waves form.Dr. Hanson worked at the Field Research Facility (FRF) at Duck—the Duck Pier predicting wave patterns and formations before retiring six or seven years ago.
What he explains is that the Outer Banks summer weather is dominated by a Bermuda high, which is why we have great weather in the summer. But that weather pattern also creates lighter winds and smaller waves.
There are exceptions to the smaller summertime waves.
The Atlantic tropical storm season runs from June through November. Although tropical systems are not common from June through mid August in the Atlantic, they do occasionally occur, almost always pushed out to sea by a combination of North American fronts and the Bermuda high. They do, though, generate very good surf conditions.
In many ways, fall is the best time for surfing on the Outer Banks. The peak heat of the summer is gone, but the water temperature stays in the 70s through Columbus Day and that pesky Bermuda high that has been suppressing waves has retreated.
Weather systems paralleling the coast will sometime create outstanding condition, although that is not a common occurrence. When it does happen, though, 5’-7’ waves with a long even break will be a part of the Outer Banks scene for three to four days.
The shape of the Outer Banks comes into play at this point, with the southeast facing area from Buxton to Hatteras Village catching the first of the storm’s wake, with the excellent conditions moving up the coast.
This is also a time of the year when reading what day to day conditions are creating becomes an important part of the Outer Banks experience. Wave energy has increased and as it does so, sand is constantly being transported to different locations creating new temporary breaks.
Wind conditions also play a role in the daily surf report. Generally speaking—although not always—west winds are helpful and east winds create chop and sloppier conditions.
After Columbus day a wetsuit will probably be needed.
Get your wetsuit out, your crazy on and be ready for a wild ride.
The nor’easters that march up the East Coast in the winter generate the largest waves the Outer Banks experiences all year. There are typically two to three good nor’easters during the winter and it’s reasonable to expect waves in the 8’-10’ range. However, a March storm this past season (2018) generated waves 12’-15’ in the surf zone.
It should be apparent but let’s be clear—these conditions are for experienced surfers only.
Some important information to have: the water is going to be cold—37-40 degrees north of Cape Hatteras; a little bit warmer south. Those northeast winds create some really sloppy conditions, but find the right sandbar and there will be a good break.
Try to find a sandbar a little closer to shore. There may be a great break 100 yards offshore, but with high surf and sloppy conditions, getting there is going to be a challenge and getting back to the beach isn’t going to be easy either.
Even though nor’easters create the most dynamic environment, even when the sun is out and conditions moderate, there are still some great waves to catch. It may take some research and asking a few questions but there will be something out there.
It’s rare for spring to have the spectacular waves of a winter nor’easter, but overall, it is the most consistent season of the year for good conditions. There are a number of reasons for that, most of it having to do with changing climate conditions, the flow of the Labrador Current and Gulf Stream and their interaction.
This is a good time to find those shifting sandbars and surf a chest high break.
Spring seems to spawn at least one if not two nor’easters. Conditions are generally not quite as dire as the winter nor’easters, but there are some great waves to ride.
North of Oregon Inlet the water stays in the 50s until June. Even south to Cape Hatteras water temps are chilly. A wet suit will be needed.
You can book biplane tours, hang gliding, aerobatic airplane rides, flight training, scenic air tours, and more with companies including Kitty Hawk Kites, Barrier Island Aviation, and others.
Classic Biplane Tours
Always wanted to soar above the sea just like the Wright brothers? Can you imagine the adrenaline rush they must have felt as they stamped their names into the history books of flight?
If biplane tours that recreate the iconic 1903 flight of these brothers is something you long for, book yours before you arrive in the Outer Banks. Because of the popularity, a lead time of several days to weeks may be required.
The open-air cockpit unleashes a different kind of rush for you (and a companion, if you choose) as you feel the wind on your face. Maybe you should put a checkmark beside your biplane tour instead of completely marking it off your bucket list because this is an adventure worth repeating!
Why is hang gliding one of the most popular activities to find on bucket lists? It mimics being a bird in flight. You are in total control of the glider as you swoop and fly wherever you choose. And, with the right training, anyone can do it.
Ask the company you book with about specific age limitations, but typically anyone from 4 to 94 can go (with proper consent). Physical limitations seem to slip away as you float, seemingly weightless, above the sea.
Tandem Hang Gliding
If the thought of going solo leaves you a tad nervous, tandem hang gliding might be a good first step. You and an instructor both mount the glider. You get the same exhilaration of solo flights, but with the security of knowing a pro is onboard.
Dune Hang Gliding
Ready to jump on and head off into the wild, blue yonder? Dune hang gliding starts with lessons, then puts you in the pilot’s seat your first day. If you believe hang gliding might be more than the fulfillment of a bucket list wish, this is the perfect way to decide whether investing in equipment is right for you.
Kids’ Hang Gliding
Have little ones that have already started a bucket list? If you’re constantly hearing “When will I get to hang glide?” it’s probably time to give in. This supervised option will give you peace of mind and allow your child to fly at low altitudes for short distances. Have your camera ready to capture the look on his/her face!
If the idea of scenic airplane flight sounds a little mellow, book an aerobatic tour instead. This allows you to mark the excursion off your bucket list with the best of both worlds.
On your way, you’ll get to see some of the best views of the Outer Banks area, including shorelines, lighthouses, monuments, and other notable sights. You could even spot dolphins at play, active sea turtles, or other marine life. Then hold your breath as the aerobatics begin.
What have you always dreamed of doing? Ask your tour pilot what’s s/he offers. Most offer heart-pounding barrel rolls, flipping the plane wing over wing as you swirl upside down then upright again. Are spins more your style? You might find yourself headed nose first toward the ground while spinning like a top.
Loops (think about rollercoaster cars that flip backward, head first) or zoom climbs that take you straight up… and up and up! Whichever aerobatics are available, they are bound to satisfy your bucket list requirements.
Could it be that your airborne aspirations are fueled by a desire to be a pilot? Controlling an aircraft all by yourself is an amazing feeling! If your inner thrill seeker has always wanted to learn to fly, make plans to get training during your stay in the Outer Banks.
Don’t have a military background or other experience with planes? You don’t need it. With a certified instructor, you’ll finally be able to lay the groundwork to becoming a pilot. What will your family do while you’re in training? Some flight training schools allow up to two passengers to accompany you.
Whether you’ve lived in the Outer Banks your whole life or are a welcomed visitor, seeing this region from the air is an entirely different experience. If your bucket list includes a desire to board a helicopter for a tour, what are you waiting for?
Schedule a short hop of 10 minutes or an extended flight for a couple of hours. Either way you’ll get a bird’s eye view of wildlife, landmarks, and nature locales plus loads of memories.
When you plan your next Outer Banks visit, bring your bucket list and prepare to strike a few adventures off.
To learn about our native critters, the best place to start your vacation is at the Outer Banks Center for Wildlife Education in Corolla. This incredible 22,000-square-foot education center is the ideal place to bone up on animals you might see, so you know what you’re spotting as you enjoy your getaway. Here are some of the most popular animals to see in the Outer Banks:
Five different kinds of sea turtles nest on Outer Banks beaches: leatherback, hawksbill, Kemp’s ridley, loggerhead, and green turtles. Watch for sandy mounds on the beach, especially near the dunes. Remember: If you see a turtle or a nest, don’t disturb it.
Everyone’s favorite Outer Banks animal is the Atlantic Bottlenose Dolphin. Dolphins can pop up anywhere in the water — in the calm waters of the sound or inlet, to the choppy waves near the beach or offshore. Watch for dolphin from the beach or pier, or take a special dolphin-watching boat ride to maximize your chances of seeing these slippery critters.
Of course, the wild horses of the Outer Banks, known as “banker ponies,” are the most famous residents of the islands. These horses are believed to be descendants of Spanish horses that swam ashore after shipwrecks hundreds of years ago. Banker ponies are protected, and they have the run of the place. You’re most likely to see them on Corolla beaches and in Ocracoke, but they have been seen elsewhere.
Wild boars are common to barrier islands because they’re good swimmers. Outer Banks wild boar are big, and they have long tusks and bad attitudes. You probably won’t see them in town or on the beach, but if you’re exploring the rural areas of Corolla, you may spot one rooting around for a meal. They’re skittish, so watch from a distance and let them go their way.
If you are wondering why Outer Banks bunnies are so massive, it’s because they’re not bunnies — they’re hares. Hares are much larger than rabbits, with long back legs and ears. They are common on Roanoke Island, where you may see dozens upon dozens at twilight.
Many folks driving into the Outer Banks are surprised to see a black bear standing alongside, or crossing, the road. Black bears are frequently seen in the islands, especially in Currituck and around the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge. Black bears don’t have a reputation for being aggressive, but they are bears after all. Best to steer clear, give them space and don’t feed them.
Once thought to be virtually extinct, red wolves have made a comeback in recent years. Spot these magnificent creatures around the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, or keep an ear out for their haunting songs at night.
Mink, Beaver, Muskrat
If you’re staying in Corolla, you may get lucky and catch a glimpse of a mink, beaver, or muskrat. Once prized for their pelts, these water mammals disappeared from the area until the late 1930s. Today they are more common and may be seen at dusk or dawn along streams and creeks.
Bobcats are so elusive that most locals don’t know they exist in the Outer Banks. However, every so often one of these short-tailed felines decides to take a beach break and surprise everyone. Bobcats are about twice the size of a domestic cat and are most often seen at dawn or dusk.
Grey and Red Fox
Grey foxes can be seen all over the Outer Banks. They’re small — much smaller than wolves — so there’s no mistaking a sighting. Foxes hunt near sunrise or sunset, but it’s not unusual to see them out and about during the day. If you have your windows open at night and hear a little howling, it’s likely one of our furry grey friends singing at the stars.
Deer are frequently seen around the Outer Banks in wooded areas. Nags Head is especially flush with deer, and sightings of herds are common near sunset. If you’re driving near dusk or dawn, go slowly and keep an eye out for the tell-tale shining eyes in the brush.
Yes, there are alligators in the Outer Banks. Alligators are shy, so it’s not likely that you’ll see one in your rental neighborhood. If you want to see an alligator, your best bet is to take a trip to Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge, a 12,000-acre preserve.
The Outer Banks are home to more wildlife than most people know. For the best chance at seeing some of our furry (or slippery) locals, drive slowly, walk quietly, and watch for movement near the ground or the surface of the water.
The Island Farm
Located on Roanoke Island, The Island Farm is a living-history museum that takes visitors back to 1847. A farmhouse built by Adam Etheridge in 1757 anchors the museum, and it’s fun to see youngsters’ eyes get wide when they hear that the house is over 261 years old.
Outside on the grounds you’ll find an outhouse, smokehouse, woodshed, dairy, animal barns, chicken coops, a slave cabin, and a corncrib. You’ll even get to walk through the family graveyard.
Adults and young people love interacting with the free-roaming chickens, sheep, cow, Banker ponies, and the farm’s stately ox. Costumed interpreters are also out and about to help put history in context for everyone.
Introduce yourself to a real blacksmith, farmer, or cook, and then look on as you discover how laundry used to be done without any electricity or washing machine. Kids can ask questions while the interpreters work, and maybe also lend a hand.
Far more than just a fun outing, the Island Farm shows young people what life was like before modern technologies such as motorized vehicles, appliances, phones, and computers. (Imagining those days can be fun for adults, too.)
Check the schedule of hands-on activities including woodworking, 19th-century games, farming, and ox-drawn wagon rides.
This innovative park is located in Powells Point, just three miles from the Wright Memorial Bridge. Designed to embrace the culture of the Outer Banks, the grounds are full of pirate, boat, and airplane references and motifs. The park caters to all ages with thrill rides for adults and older kids, and toddler-friendly play structures, soft obstacles, and swim zones.
Fifty private cabanas offer shade, complimentary bottled water, fruit, brownies, and Rice Crispies treats. Depending on size, cabanas accommodate 8 to 12 people; the whole family can take a nap after a day of play.
The park is handicap accessible and is open from the end of May through the first weekend in September.
Don’t forget that when you stay with Outer Banks Blue you can get discounted tickets to the waterpark!
Junior Ranger Program at the Wright Brothers National Memorial
Becoming a Junior Ranger is a tradition and a point of pride for kids visiting the Outer Banks. In fact, children love the program so much that the park now swears in over 6,000 Junior Rangers every year. Open to children ages 5 to 13, the Junior Ranger program helps young people learn about the National Parks and how they can help protect them. To get their badge, candidates must attend two Ranger programs (different programs take place each day), and complete the booklet for their age group.
However, neither the beauty of the grounds and building nor a tour of the home—highly recommended—tell the full story of the Whalehead Club.
The Couple That Built The Whalehead Club
Edward Collings Knight, Jr. was the son of Edward Collings Knight who patented a sleeping car for trains. Knight the elder sold his patent to the Pullman Company. The family also had investments in sugar refining and transportation.
Most accounts suggest Edward, Jr. was better at spending money than making it.
Marie-Louise LeBel was a French-Canadian woman, 12 years younger than Knight. Wealthy in her own right when she met her husband, she was noted for throwing gala parties and being a fierce advocate for women’s rights.
Why Build a 21,000 Square-foot Mansion in Corolla?
Edward loved hunting, and as it turns out, so did his wife. Unfortunately she could not hunt on the Outer Banks at a time when the waterfowl hunting on Currituck Sound was legendary.
Founded in 1874, the Lighthouse Club occupied the land the Whalehead Club does today and Edward had been to the club a number of times, but their strict prohibition against women kept his wife away.
In 1919 the club dissolved and the land was sold to investors who planned on selling the property. Knight bought the property in 1922—approximately 2200 acres.
It Took Three Years To Build
Construction on the building began in 1923 and continued until 1925. There were a number of reasons for the lengthy construction. Almost everything had to be shipped in and the only way to get it to Corolla was by boat across the Currituck Sound. The complexity of the project certainly added to to the time.
However, if there is one overarching reason for the time spent to build the cottage—as the Knight called it—it was that construction was only permitted when the couple were on hand to personally oversee what was happening. The Knights wintered in Corolla but were not permanent residents.
When it was completed, the cost was $383,000—that’s around $5.4 million in today’s dollars.
The Original Name Was Corolla Island
The most iconic sunset images of the Outer Banks are typically captured at the Whalehead Club in Corolla or from the top of Jockey’s Ridge in Nags Head…and those are amazing places to view the setting sun. Well worth a visit, especially with a camera.
But, here at Outer Banks Blue, we like to take our visitors a little bit off the beaten path from time to time, so we’ve put together our own list of best places to photograph the setting sun. One or two of them might take a little extra effort, but we think it will be worth it.
We’ve arranged the list from south to north.
Bodie Island Lighthouse
Not the lighthouse itself—climbing closes at 5 :00 p.m. However, there is a very nice nature trail on the south end of the parking lot. That’s the tip of the loop in the road.
There’s what looks like a service road that leads to a small bridge. Cross the bridge and go to the end of the trail. The trail is about a quarter mile in length and very easily walked—no elevation gain and it’s packed earth. The trail ends look due west over a low island, marsh and open water.
Bodie Island Lighthouse also offers a marvelous chance for a sunrise shot. At the base of the lighthouse, there is a pond with a boardwalk that faces east. There is some scrub pine and low vegetation along the eastern bank of the pond, but it does give an opportunity to get a wonderful early morning shot.
End of Roanoke Island
As Outer Banks locations go, this one entails a bit of a drive, but well worth the effort.
Before the 4-lane Virginian Dare Bridge was built bypassing Manteo, all traffic took what is now business US 64 through the town to the William Umstead Bridge. That is the route to take.
Just before the bridge there will be a turnoff to the right leading to a small parking lot. The view at the tip of the parking area is due west, across Croatan Sound. The trees that mark Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge mark the western banks of the sound.
It’s a wonderful little spot. Take a moment to check out the historic marker telling the story of the Civil War naval battle that took place just off the point in 1862.
Pay close attention to what’s happening at the bridge. Every day at dusk, more than 100,000 purple martins return to the bridge to roost for the night.
Bob Perry Road Boat Ramp
This one is away from the typical sunset spot, but we think it’s worth a visit. Managed by the town of Kitty Hawk, it’s also the town’s recycling center. Bob Perry Road intersects W. Kitty Hawk Road a little to the west after intersecting the Woods Road—which is not as confusing as it may sound.
Easiest way to find it is look for the recycling center signs on Kitty Hawk Road.
What makes this site so nice is there are a number of docks that allow access over the water. Any sunset shot will include the trees of the maritime forest to the west, but the interplay of the colors of the still waters of the creek, the marsh and the hues of sunset can create a remarkable image.
There is also an early morning possibility here, with an open marsh leading to a maritime forest to the east.
The Town of Duck boardwalk is about a mile long, paralleling the town’s shoreline the entire way. There is nothing between the boardwalk and the open waters of the Currituck Sound so there are limitless opportunities for some fantastic sunset shots.
A particularly nice feature of the boardwalk is that there are three or four places to stop and get a bite to eat or enjoy a beverage, giving the photographer a chance to sit back, relax and still capture an image for the ages.
Pine Island Sanctuary Center
This suggestion will take a bit more effort than the others, but for the adventurous Pine Island offers a great possibility for a different view of a sunset.
Once upon a time the Pine Island Hunt Club was a huge tract of land that extended from the Dare/Currituck County line from sound to sea. It won’t show up on any map now, but before there was a NC 12 connecting Corolla with the rest of the world, the only road was a packed dirt track through the heart of the hunt club property.
That dirt road still exists and is now a 2.5 mile nature trail with two observation towers along the way. Those observation towers make for a fantastic viewing spot to capture a sunset.
Getting to an observation tower a little early may give a photographer a few shots of the remarkable birds and waterfowl of the sanctuary.
There are parking lots on either end of the trail. On the south end across from the Sanderling Resort and on the north end behind Pine Island Racquet Club.
Things to remember: