The North Carolina Outer Banks consist of a set of barrier reef islands that include Brodie, Hatteras, Ocracoke, and Portsmouth. The islands separate the Atlantic Ocean from the basin formed by the Pamlico and Neuse rivers, called the Pamlico Sound.
The waters surrounding the Outer Banks islands are shallow and treacherous for navigation because of the numerous shoals and sandbars.
Ocracoke Island is a sandy strip of land which is approximately 16 miles long. The entire island, with the exception of Ocracoke Village, is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Park. Ocracoke can be accessed mainly by ferry boats operated by the State of North Carolina. The toll ferries cross the Pamlico Sound in 2 hours and 15 minutes from Cedar Island, and in 2 hours and 45 minutes from Swan Quarter. There is also a free ferry that crosses from Hatteras Island to Ocracoke in about 40 minutes. Wildlife is abundant in the Eastern part of North Carolina. It is not unusual to see deer or black bears cross the roads leading to the ferries.
Ocracoke Village has approximately 700 full-time residents who maintain a small number of privately owned inns, cottages, and bed-and-breakfast guest houses. There are no national chain hotels or motels in the island. The main attraction in Ocracoke is the beach. The pristine sandy shores are constantly pounded by a relentless surf driven by high winds. These strong and steady winds brought Oliver and Wilbur Wright in 1903 to test their airplane in Kitty Hawk, located on Brodie island, just north of Ocracoke. Today, tourists come to Ocracoke to spend a day in the sun, relax, commune with nature, and learn about the history of the island. The fine white sand beaches of Ocracoke face the Atlantic Ocean and extend as far as the eye can see. In the distance, a gray shroud of wind-blown mist and sand blur the boundaries of the land, the sea, and the sky.
Ocracoke was the hideaway of the notorious pirate Edward Teach, better known as "Blackbeard". West of Ocracoke village and not far from the Ocracoke lighthouse on the Pamlico Sound, there is a body of water called "Teach's Hole Channel" which protected Bleackbeard's ship from the fierce storms of the Atlantic Ocean and provided an excellent place to monitor the traffic of merchant ships that could be plundered. Much of the seafaring lore of the island is showcased in the Ocracoke Preservation Museum.
The current Ocracoke lighthouse was completed in 1823. It is the third beacon erected to mark the Ocracoke inlet since the 1790s. The 75-foot lighthouse is the oldest operating lighthouse in North Carolina. There is no trace of the previous structures because they have succumbed to the storms and the raveges of time. The current lighthouse has walls that are six feet thick at the base and has withstood furious storms over 180 years. The fixed beam of light from the distinctive white tower can be seen for 14 miles.