Off the North Carolina coast lies a ribbon of islands called the Outer Banks. Here was founded (and later lost) America's first colony. Here pirates lured unsuspecting merchantmen onto the treacherous shoals of Cape Hatteras, and on these blue waters rendezvoused to divide vast spoils of bullion, gold plate and jewels. This is still rich treasure country, but today both the seekers and their quarry are of a different sort. As this remarkable photograph by Richard Meek shows, the decoys bobbing in Pamlico Sound are bringing in a great flight of Canada geese. Waiting for the geese, behind the camera, are some of the handful of sportsmen who have thus far discovered the joys of autumn hunting on the Outer Banks. Turn the page for Virginia Kraft's detailed report on this newly accessible treasure house of waterfowl and fish.
The Outer Banks is in reality almost 200 miles of exposed sand bar, broken by occasional channels, rarely three miles wide, sometimes a few hundred yards narrow. To the west is a series of bays, to the east is the Gulf Stream. In late summer hurricanes muster fury here for their travels north and west—but with the passing of autumn's equinox this lonely world of wind and water grows calm. Ducks and geese fly down from the north, channel bass roll in on the surf and marlin fin the Gulf Stream. The waters of the stream are 70°, their semitropical winds envelop the Banks, and orange and grapefruit trees bear all winter. Until a few years ago the Banks were almost inaccessible, but now new roads link this vast outdoor playground to the mainland and planes land regularly on its beaches. The time to go is November; the way and the rewards are described below.
The best place to begin a trip to North Carolina's OUTER BANKS is NORFOLK, Va., 75 miles from NAGS HEAD. There are no big stores on the Banks; and many people who fly into Norfolk do not want the overweight and inconvenience of carrying ammunition, gun-cleaning equipment or liquor—much of the Outer Banks is technically dry—from home. All these items, and many more, can be purchased in Norfolk.
The fastest way to reach the Outer Banks from Norfolk is by plane. PIEDMONT AVIATION, at the Norfolk airport, has Piper Tri-Pacers for charter. Rates begin at $25 (one way to MANTEO) and are somewhat higher to HATTERAS and OCRACOKE (see map) depending on weather and time of day. Once there, beach buggies can be rented (average cost $15 per day) in all three towns to handle local travel to fishing and hunting spots.
The more leisurely, and perhaps the more pleasant, way to visit the Outer Banks, however, is by car-either one's own or a Norfolk rental. A main highway runs from Norfolk to the North Carolina border; from here there are good blacktop roads all the way to the Banks.
On the drive south from Norfolk, Nags Head is the first main village on the Outer Banks and the center of some of the best hunting and fishing on the upper island. Traveling at comfortable speed, the trip from Norfolk can be made in under two hours. This wasn't always so. Until a few years ago, roads—where they existed at all—were poor and driving was difficult if not hazardous.
Today Route 158 spans three-mile-wide CURRITUCK SOUND at KITTY HAWK and continues south past Nags Head to Hatteras. A secondary road runs north to the little town of DUCK five miles above Kitty Hawk (see map). Beyond this point the northernmost area of the Outer Banks is still inaccessible by car. This is the private portion of the Banks, a hideaway for wealthy businessmen who retreat each year to the isolation of its roadless, sandy hills.
To the south, the highway sweeps past KILL DEVIL HILL and a granite monument to Wilbur and Orville Wright's conquest of the air. Along the road itself, dozens of boarded motels and ice cream stands, crowded and lively in summer, await next year's hot-weather visitors and vacationers.
But in November, when the waterfowl season opens, the scene is quiet. At night, no lights brighten the long, black strip of road stretching south between empty cottages and shuttered beach houses. Over all there is only the lonely sound of ocean crashing against shore.