Beaches, Hang Gliding & History, the Outer Banks, NC
By Candyce H. Stapen
We strap on a glider—something of a cross between a biplane and angel wings—and run as fast as we can down a sand dune in Jockey’s Ridge State Park, Nags Head, NC. Trotting alongside, our instructor from Kitty Hawk Kites yells “keep going, keep going.” Then, all of a sudden magic happens. We catch some air and “fly” for 10 exhilarating seconds.
Our airborne moment occurs not far from where the Wright Brothers first took flight. Wilbur and Orville experimented here because the region has the east coast’s tallest natural sand dunes, a huge ridge rising 80-100 feet high.
Learning to hang glide is just part of the fun we find in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, a strip of narrow barrier islands off the state’s coast that stretch for 125-miles from Corolla to Ocracoke. To the east, the Atlantic waves break against the shore and to the west the sounds’ waters flow into calm coves and salt marshes.
We especially like the Duck to Nags Head corridor in the northern region. Along with wide, dune-bordered beaches, the area offers living history, elaborate gardens, an aquarium, and other attractions. At the Wright Brothers National Memorial, we find out more about their first flight and wonder at the how the cotton and muslin replica of the Wright’s heavier-than-air powered machine ever flew.
On nearby Roanoke Island, we discover the state’s underwater wonders from coastal freshwater wetlands to open ocean at the North Carolina Aquarium. In the facility’s centerpiece, the 285,000-gallon Graveyard of the Atlantic, groupers, sea turtles and schools of sharks swarm around a scale model of the USS Monitor sunk in 1862 in the Battle of Hampton Roads.
Several places enable us to time travel back to the era of the first English settlement in the New World. At Roanoke Island Festival Park, 25-acres across from the Manteo waterfront, we board the Elizabeth II, a replica of the vessel that brought the settlers to the area in 1584. We chat with a cabin boy and the captain, learning how they experienced the crossing.
The Elizabethan Garden, a living memorial to the English colonists, is a fragrant oasis. We enjoy strolling the paths edged with boxwood, adorned with fountains, and blooming with roses, lilies, crape myrtles and camellia trees.
There’s plenty of spectacle in the “Lost Colony,” an outdoor drama at the Waterside Theatre that relates the history of Roanoke Island’s 1584 settlement whose inhabitants disappeared without a trace around 1587. Playing since 1937, the musical mixes pageantry, pratfalls, foppish courtiers, benevolent Indians and battles. The tale’s fun as long as you dose yourself beforehand with bug spray.
When in Duck, we like to stay at the upscale but low-key, Sanderling Resort and Spa. Many of the beachfront property’s accommodations come with microwaves, refrigerators and balconies. The Sanderling also has an indoor pool, a nice touch for rainy days.
One thing to be careful of in Duck during the summer: traffic. If possible, spend Saturdays at the beach or as close to your lodging as possible. Since most weekly rentals run from Saturday to Saturday, cars that day can be bumper to bumper, especially along route 12.