You’re all settled into your room and now the real vacation can begin! For first-time visitors to the ocean and the Outer Banks (and even for repeat visitors), the variety of things to do and places to visit can be overwhelming. Here are some tips to enjoy your visit to the fullest. Just please remember, the beach environment is unique and can bring you challenges you don’t deal with at home. Use a lot of common sense and heed all posted warnings of any kind related to beach access and use. We are surrounded by national park land and there are rules and guidelines to follow.
1. No doubt you are anxious to see the beach and maybe you want to drive along the beach like you’ve seen them do in other places. First rule is: if you do not have a four-wheel drive vehicle, DON’T. Do not attempt to even pull off the side of the road as the shoulders are soft sand and you may very easily get stuck. A tow is not inexpensive, and we have seen this happen time and time again. You can rent a four wheel drive vehicle if you want to do some off-roading. Even if you have four wheel drive during the dryer summer months you will want to slack your tires. You do need an off-road permit which you can obtain at the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse Visitor’s Center. Be careful of the tides – we always post the tide times outside the office along with the weather forecast. An incoming tide can catch you off guard if you have taken a long beach walk. Also, beach ramp access changes regularly and due to bird and turtle nesting, some areas are off limits. Check access information regularly.
2. Speaking of driving, the posted speed limit signs in the villages are for real – yes, that includes 25 mph in Buxton. Don’t ruin your vacation with a ticket. It’s vacation time – relax and just go slowly. Nothing here is going anywhere!
3. Let’s spend a moment on the beach itself. When the sun is shining brightly, you need sunscreen – a good high number. When the day is partly cloudy with nice, billowing clouds, you need sunscreen – a good high number. And when the day is overcast with no sun, you need sunscreen – a good high number. Especially in the summer, but actually all year, the sun is intense and a bad burn is no way to spend a vacation. Protect yourself! A beach umbrella is a fine investment!
4. The ocean is amazingly beautiful but it is the ocean. Currents can be strong, waves can be rough, and the water clarity and temperature can vary. Never, ever swim alone. Watch your children. Knowing how to swim in a pool is not a indicator of swimming ability in the ocean. On really rough days, stay along the water’s edge and enjoy the magnificence of mother nature. If you want to swim at a guarded beach, there is one provided by the Park Service near the Cape Hatteras Lighthouse. Of course, you can also enjoy our pool but the same rules apply – watch your children and don’t swim alone!
5. There are fish, jelly fish and other creatures in the sea. 99.9% of the time you will not encounter a jelly but if you do, over the counter remedies will help ease the sting. If you see a lot of jellies on a particular day, you may want to simply stay out of the water or go to a different stretch of beach. The north beach and the south beach can vary tremendously on any given day, and the sound side can be different still. More and more people like the sound side especially if they have small children. The water is calmer and very shallow and often warmer.
6. Beach fires are a vacation tradition. There are rules to follow. We have copies of the guidelines from the NPS in the office.
7. Shelling is a wonderful past time here. We have found great shells at all times of the tide, although low tide does give you some advantages. The biggest rule of thumb is to get up early and be the first one out. If we have a day of stormy conditions, often shelling improves a bit on the day following as interesting things get churned up from the bottom and tossed on the shore. We can help you identify your shells, and if you haven’t found anything by the time you leave, check out our shell buckets for a treat to take home. All are OBX shells we collected during the winter months.
8. Many people love to spend a day shelling and sightseeing in Ocracoke. We have ferry schedules in the office. Tip: if you want to spend your day on Ocracoke and not in a line for a ferry plan to leave as early in the morning as you can. You will get there ahead of the crowds, have time to enjoy the beaches, catch a bite to eat and head home easily. The ferry lines are not where you want to spend your time.
9. We love fishing – it’s what we are famous for along with the beautiful beaches. A license is required for surf fishing, which includes the beach at our motel. There is no license required at a pier. The nearest pier to us at CHM is in Avon about 7 miles away. There are tackle shops galore and plenty of fishermen and women who can give you advice on what’s biting and how to catch them. Talking to locals is truly your best bet for fishing information as they fish all year and have been fishing for many years. You can also rent charters for inshore or off shore fishing for a half day or a full day. There are also head boats (party boats) where your whole family can enjoy an outing. Check in at the harbors in Hatteras Village for information on any of these options. You can keep your catch in our freezer. Some of the local restaurants will prepare your catch for you if you bring it along.
10. Speaking of restaurants, there are some fine choices here on Hatteras Island. We have restaurants serving breakfast, lunch and dinner at every price point from family casual to special event evenings out. We keep many menus in the office for your review, and since we have eaten at all of them we can give you some firsthand information. During the summer months, most restaurants open at 5pm and close by 9 pm for dinner. A few places stay open after 9 if it is really busy. During the non-peak season, hours and closings vary widely so check in the office for who’s open and when.
As always, if you have questions on anything covered here, or something we missed, just stop by the office or call us ahead of your travels. We want you to have the best OBX vacation ever here with us at Cape Hatteras Motel.
Next up: Checking Out and Heading Home