The Ocracoke Light is the oldest operating light station in North Carolina, built in 1823. The short, squat structure is vastly different than the other lighthouses visited during my time on the Outer Banks. Only 75 feet tall compared to 162′ (Currituck), 170′ (Bodie) or 193′ (Hatteras), the Ocracoke Light is often overlooked. Not only is the structure short, but visually it is fairly plain, painted a simple white color, unlike the black and white of Bodie and Hatteras, or natural brick color of Currituck.
Despite the simplicity of the lighthouse, it is still worth a visit for any lighthouse or history enthusiast. To get to the Ocracoke light, you must take a ferry – which is free – to Ocracoke Island, one of the most remote islands on the Outer Banks. The ferry takes roughly an hour, although arriving early is recommended as each ferry can only hold a set amount of cars, and during peak season the wait times can be hours.
Driving on the island was a bit frustrating, as the island is very small and parking is limited. People who visit the island have the option of renting golf carts, which provides an easier way of getting around and seeing the sights the island has to offer. If you plan to spend the day, be aware that finding public restrooms and parking can prove to be a challenge.
I found the Ocracoke Island light fairly easily – it is just off the main road, and the signs are easy to follow. Unlike the other lighthouses I visited on the Outer Banks, Ocracoke is not open to the public for climbing. Parking at the small lot on the front of the property, visitors can get out and meander up the wooden walkway to the entrance of the lighthouse. There are several informational signs about the lighthouse, and the lightkeepers quarters are still on site, although they have been restored and are being used as private housing.
Ocracoke Inlet was used as a hideout by the infamous pirate BlackBeard. Blackbeard took a liking to the island, and today you can find out all about Blackbeard at Teach’s Hole. On November 22nd, 1712, Blackbeard was killed after being cornered by Virginia governor Alexander Spotswood on the inner side of the island. Legend has it that Blackbeard’s headless body is buried in a mass grave somewhere on the island.
After viewing the Ocracoke light and learning about the history of the island, I grabbed lunch at a bar in town before heading back to line up for the ferry. On my way off the island, I pulled over at the Ocracoke Pony Pens. These pens hold 17 Banker “ponies”, which are actually horses, not ponies. These horses share the same roots as the wild horses found in Corolla. The horses have been on the island since the 16th century, and the remaining horses on the island have been penned since 1959, to protect them against the highway that was built on the island in 1957. The ponies have 180 acres to roam, and the Pony Pen pull off has a small barn and feeding stations, so visitors have a change of glimpsing the horses. I was lucky enough to catch a few of these beautiful animals contentedly munching on some hay. Although a markedly different experience than the wild horse tour in Corolla, it was still a pleasure to be able to see them and see what the Park Service has done to safeguard the animals.
This wraps up the end of my experience on the Outer Banks. There are more lighthouses I was unable to visit during my time there, so I hope to be able to visit the remaining few on a future trip!
Are you planning a trip to the Outer Banks soon? What do you plan on seeing during your visit?