island of Ocracoke sits between Hatteras Inlet, which
separates it from Hatteras Island, and Ocracoke Inlet,
which separates it from Core Banks. It can be reached
only by small airplane, private boat, or by ferry. A look
at the Coastal
Guide Map will orient you.
red roofed building, far left center in this composite
aerial photo, marks the Coast Guard Station and
ferry dock by the entrance channel to Silver Lake.
The channel is known as "the ditch".
The island is part of the Cape Hatteras
National Seashore, with only one town, also called Ocracoke.
The village is focused around the scenic little harbor
of Silver Lake, as seen in this composite of aerial
photos from NOAA at right (top is north).
Here you will find the Coast
Guard Station, and ferry docks for the Cedar Island
and Swan Quarter ferrys which connect the south end of
the island to the mainland. The Hatteras ferry dock is
on the north end of the island, and connects it to Hatteras
Island and the rest of the Outer Banks north.
is the end of the line when driving south on the Outer
Banks. From here you either head inland with your car
on the Cedar Island or Swan Quarter ferry, or turn back
north. But once you get to Ocracoke you realize "the end
of the line" is actually more like the
pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Perhaps too
many people have found this out, for in the summer this
small village swells beyond its comfort zone. But in the
fall it returns to its quiet small town feel, and keeps
that peaceful, almost meditative state of being through
The "off-season" visitors have found
out the secret of enjoying the true appeal of Ocracoke.
In fact, it is a recorded historical fact that Ocracoke
has been a popular fall vacation spot for over two hundred
years. Even though tourists come practically year round,
the off-season is far less crowded, and let's the real
atmosphere of Ocracoke come through.
. .once you get to Ocracoke you realize "the end
of the line"
is more like the pot of gold at
the end of the rainbow."
Lake by day, or by night, is as charming and appealing
as any small harbor that can be found. Prior to the 1950's
it was a shallow natural harbor known as Cockle Creek.
During World War II the Navy dredged it so larger vessels
could use it. Long time residents still refer to the harbor
as "the creek".
Top right: A ferry arrives after sunset, its lights
streaking in this long exposure image as it navigates
the "ditch" into the harbor.
Center & bottom right: Porch lights and house lights
sparkle in the cool blue of Silver Lake after dark.
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You won't find curb and gutter here.
The streets are narrow, and you have to drive slowly and
coexist with pedestrians and bicycles, which is by far
the most practical way around the village proper. The
most original area of town is Howard
Street, in the historic district. The street is still
not paved, and only wide enough for one-way traffic. It
gives a hint of what the village was like two hundred
years ago. Simple homes with neighboring family grave
plots, and deep shade from ancient live oaks brings the
past alive. If you want to see and experience much of
the great natural
beauty of this place you'll want bring along your
4WD and head up and down the beach. The southernmost end
of the island requires a 4WD to access (or a long long
You won't find amusement rides or
glitzy touristy entertainment here. Come prepared to make
your own fun. Gift and novelty shops will fulfill the
urge to bring home a souvenir, but not one "chain store"
or "franchise" food establishment exists here. Everything
is "mom and pop", locally owned and operated. There simply
isn't much other way to make a living here, except perhaps
for the local
fishermen who still supplement their income harvesting
from the waters. But that's the way it's always been for
the "Ocracokers". Their independence and self-sufficient
spirit has always been their mainstay.
The handful of restaurants and eateries
run the gamut, so you can probably find the sort of thing
you want to eat, from burgers to truffles. And while you're
here, get used to living on "island time". Being in a
rush simply won't do you much good while on Ocracoke.
To paraphrase a saying the locals use to explain how things
are here, you must understand that "If the world came
to an end, it could be several days before you find out
about it on Ocracoke". That's not to say there isn't television
and radio and internet here. It's just that it doesn't
take long for Ocracoke to work its magic. Before you know
it, it no longer seems to matter that much whether you
keep up with those things or not.
the world came to an end,
it could be several days
before you found out about it
village is a close little community. There simply isn't
much other way it could be. The coffee
shop is something of a social center, where many come
to catch up on news, and to meet friends and neighbors
over their favorite brew of caffeine (or decaf). Their
pets often come to visit and play with each other as well.
As in any small community, the school,
firehouse, community center and churches serve to connect
everyone in common projects. Holidays like Halloween,
Christmas and the Fourth of July bring out the community
to support special functions, usually tailored specially
for the children of the town. For example, on Halloween,
old historic Howard Street is transformed into a spooky
lane where the children can go to trick or treat. With
the ancient crooked live oaks, old picket fences, even
older houses, and no traffic, pavement or sidewalks, it
doesn't take much to let your imagination run away with
you while walking along old Howard Street on a night like
Halloween. Howard Street is truly a place out of the past,
with the look and feel to go with it.