The Pungo River is a tributary of the Pamlico River which flows into the Pamlico Sound on the East coast of North Carolina. The salinity of the water decreases when it rains and increases during high tides. River and sea creatures commingle in the estuary as the environment changes. People have reported seeing dolphins on occasion. Traps for crabs frequently catch flounder or other fish normally found at sea.
Belhaven is located on the Pungo River along the Intercoastal Waterway. Boatmen using this waterway often refuel or buy supplies in Belhaven. The River Forest Marina has lodging and a restaurant that is a favorite stop of recreational sailors. Boats that dock here have access to municipal water, electricity, and cable television hookups.
The waterfront along the various coves of the Pungo River is dotted with homes with piers and boat docks. Many homeowners live further inland and come to the area only on weekends. North Carolina is famous for its blue crabs. Residents along the river are allowed to set a small number of crab traps for their own consumption. Typically, the crab traps are baited with chicken scraps and thrown into shallow water. The traps are pulled from the water several hours later to retrieve the crabs.
Crabs are generally prepared just by boiling in plain water for about 5 minutes. Eating the crabs requires the right tools and a lot of patience. The claws are cracked using nut crackers or by hitting them with small wooden mallets. A short pearing knife is used to open the shell where the bulk of the crab meat is found. Male crabs have more meat than female crabs, but females are favored for their caviar.
The terrain of the east coast of North Carolina has been submerged in the ocean several times over geological time. Aurora, a small town along the Pamlico River, has a large mining industry that extracts phosphate fertilizers from the abundant bone deposits of prehistoric sea creatures from the middle Miocene Epoch. The Aurora Fossil Museum displays some of the fossils that have been excavated in the region. A small park across the museum has mounds of material from the mining operations where tourists can dig for souvenirs like coral, shells, bones, and shark teeth.
There are not many amenities in Aurora, but the Wayside Restaurant approximately at the intersection of Routes 306 and 33 serves typical North Carolina dishes like fried chicken, fish and shrimp dinners, deviled crab cakes, and Old Fashioned North Carolina burgers which are topped with mustard, onion, cole slaw, and chili. A soft-shelled crab is one whose shell has not yet hardened after molting. Soft-shelled crabs are a delicacy that is not available all the time.
Bath, frequently called Historic Bath, was North Carolina's first town, established in 1705. The area had attracted European settlers since the 1690s because of its proximity to the Pamlico River and the easy access to the Atlantic ocean which is fifty miles away. The colony's first shipyard and a gristmill (a mill for grinding grain) were established in Bath in 1707, and by the next year, Bath consisted of twelve houses with fifty residents who traded furs, naval goods, and tobacco. It is said that Edward Teach, the pirate known as "Blackbeard", frequented the area.
Today, Bath is a small community with a lot of historical heritage. The North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources operates the Historic Bath visitor center and offers guided tours of several notable houses in the city. The only restaurant in Bath is on Carteret Street and serves North Carolina seafood specialties. A park by the water at the intersection of Front and Main Street has some picnic tables where you can enjoy carryout food and a great view of the Pamlico River.
The Carolina Bays
North Carolina is also famous for its Carolina Bays. The bays are shallow elliptical depressions, some of which are a mile long. The bays are hard to see from the ground. They were discovered in the 1930's after airplane flights became common. It is thought that the bays were formed from the impacts of ice boulders ejected when a comet or asteroid hit an ice sheet that covered the Great Lakes 12,900 years ago during an ice age. Learn more about the Carolina Bays.