Press Kit: Attractions
An 85-mile stretch of crystalline blue water and pearlescent shoreline, the
Crystal Coast is blessed with warm, clear waters due to the Gulf Stream gently caressing the coast. The east and west orientation of the beaches allows for visitors to watch the sun both to rise and set into the sparkling Atlantic waters. Thanks to the protective southward curve of the barrier islands along the coast, the coldest the waters get on the Crystal Coast in winter are the warmest the waters get in Boston in the summer.
A 56-mile strand of silken beaches that make up the coastal islands of eastern North Carolina, one of the few remaining natural barrier island chains in the world, accessible only by boat. Those seeking the freedom to experience complete solitude and an opportunity to discover endangered animals in their natural habitats can also explore the beach to find a multitude of large unbroken conch shells. Frequently dotting the beaches and woven in between the sand dunes are families and shore fishermen camping with tents pitched -- fishing, hiking, and delving into all that mother-nature has to offer. History comes alive at the Cape Lookout Lighthouse and Keeper’s Quarters built in the mid-1800’s to warn passing ships of the dangerous coastal waters. Standing at 163 feet tall, the lighthouse was painted with a distinctive black and white diamond pattern in order to distinguish it from other North Carolina lighthouses and is open to visitors to climb a few weekends each year, with future enhancements allowing for year-round access.
For more than 300 years the wild horses of Shackleford Banks have taken care of their young, frolicked on pristine deserted beaches and foraged for food with not a saddle or fence in sight. The horses have enjoyed the protections afforded by Cape Lookout National Seashore in cooperation with the Foundation for Shackleford Horses dedicated to maintaining the animals’ way of life. Scientists, historians and nature lovers alike have speculated the origins of the Shackleford horses, or “Banker ponies” – the most popular being that the horses swam ashore after a Spanish ship exploring the new world met with a tragic fate off of North Carolina’s shores. Visitors make their way to the island by private boat or on one of the ferries running from Harkers Island, Beaufort and Morehead City.
Explorers seeking the ultimate outdoor excursion can float along the intricately laced inlets and waterways zigzagging through the Crystal Coast, with the mossy earthen aromas of North Carolina’s maritime forests filling the air. Paddling, as any true kayaking or canoeing enthusiast calls it, is a challenging yet enjoyable experience with hundreds of guided excursions available for every interest and schedule. From guided nature photography tours to bird watching explorations, every new paddling adventure is sure to get the muscles burning and the adrenaline pumping.
Rich in nature’s splendor, the Croatan National Forest puts visitors in touch with North Carolina’s native woodland environment. Camping, picnicking and adventure trails winding their way throughout the forest give nature enthusiasts ample opportunities to view the natural eye-candy in the forest including “pitcher plants,” bald cypress trees and long leaf pines.
Visitors with a keen eye and an extensive attention span might catch a glimpse of a white-tailed dear, wild turkey, black bear, otter, gray squirrel or even an alligator. Bird watching enthusiasts delight in the variety of avian life available including ospreys, bald eagles and red-cockaded woodpeckers.
Quickly gaining ground as one of the top eco-interests among nature lovers, bird watching has taken flight on the Crystal Coast. The spring is an excellent time to view shorebirds from the tiny Piping Plover and the majestic Tundra Swans to egrets and White and Glossy Ibises, while the fall is the peak time for viewing Sharp-shinned Hawks, Peregrine Falcons and frigate birds. Cape Lookout National Seashore is home to two-thirds of the nests found in North Carolina for the Piping Plover, listed on the federal list of endangered species. Crystal Coast bird watching is active at anytime of the year and there are endless ways to watch and admire the birds whether by nature or paddle trail.
Visitors to the Crystal Coast are serious about their fishing and that should be no surprise given the warm waters of the Gulf Stream current that have provided idyllic conditions. The Crystal Coast has one of the longest fishing seasons on the Atlantic giving visitors the freedom to fish all year long with at least one breed of fish abundant at any time of year. In the fall there are plentiful schools of false albacore, red drum, and seatrout; the winter is popular for striped bass and blue fin tuna; cobia in the spring and the summer is known for the rich population of white and blue marlin, sailfish, dolphin and wahoo. There is a range of options for those wishing to try their hand at catching a “big one” including private chartered fishing excursions or the more affordable, family friendly, head-boat fishing tours that take anywhere from 50 to 100 people.
As one of the two spots in North America where the warm waters of the Gulf Stream caress the coast, diving enthusiasts refer to the Crystal Coast as a “wreck diver’s dream,” with near perfect conditions and crystal clear water with the average temperature hovering around 80? F and more than 75 feet of visibility. A mysterious realm awaiting exploration known as the “Graveyard of the Atlantic,” more than 2,000 vessels have made their watery graves along the North Carolina coast. It is for this reason that the Crystal Coast has been consistently recognized as having the best wreck diving in the United States and sited as a “top wreck diving destination in North America” by Scuba Diving magazine in 2005. In addition to wreck diving, divers also experience underwater photography clinics as well as shark and spear fishing dives. Guided dives, equipment rentals, nitrox fills and training are available through several local dive shops such as the Olympus Dive Center.
A haven for the unconventional history of the Crystal Coast, the museum is the official repository for all of the artifacts discovered on the Queen Anne’s Revenge, the ship captained by Blackbeard the infamous pirate. With an impressive display of seashells from around the world with 5,000 specimens from more than 100 countries, the museum is also home to an interesting contraption known as the “Life Car,” a mini-submarine used to rescue mariners stranded at sea.
Just across the street from the museum is the Watercraft Center where volunteers actively build and restore boats in an effort to preserve the Crystal Coast’s tradition of “backyard boat-building.” The Water Craft center also is home to the “Boat in a Day” program, an opportunity for families to build and take home a six-foot boat, known locally as a Harkers Island skiff.
Delving into the rich cultural history of the Crystal Coast, The History Place showcases historical treasures from artifacts chronicling the area’s indigenous Native American peoples to an on site Civil War library with a detailed genealogical record for the area. Patrons of the museum step into another era in the Historical Rooms exhibit marking the fads and fashions that were popular during the early years of the Crystal Coast. Records of an eccentric past adorn every corner, from a carriage used to chauffeur local confederate army spy, Emeline Pigott, arrested while carrying 30 pounds of mail and food under her skirts to an odd metal contraption that women once used to make their derriere’s appear more “womanly.” The Tea Clipper is a delightful on-site teashop, serving more than 100 flavors of tea, from the traditional twinings tea to a seasonal favorite, Berry Merry Christmas.
The salty-sweet smells of an ancient maritime heritage wafting in from the Atlantic permeate the painstakingly preserved Federal period buildings at the Beaufort Historic Site. Personal guided tours showcase the collection of 10 historic buildings, including a jail, courthouse, apothecary and doctor’s office as well as three homes, all-dating back to the 1700’s and 1800’s.
In addition to the guided walking tours, explorations of the Historic district are available aboard a vintage 1948 English double-decker bus.
Also in Beaufort lies the Old Burying Grounds, one of the oldest cemeteries in North Carolina. Cloaked in centuries old Live Oak trees, there is an air of mystery and sorrow wafting throughout the grounds. Gravestones with poignant sayings, describing the lives of those buried there line shaded pathways and speak of the colorful past the Crystal Coast has seen. As legend goes, one gravesite is home to a girl whose father buried her in a rum barrel after her unfortunate demise during a voyage from England. This story and others like it are responsible for Our State magazine noting the Old Burying Grounds as one of the top 52 places to see in North Carolina.
Originally designed to guard Beaufort Inlet and Beaufort Harbor, Fort Macon has been the site of wartime tragedies and triumphs. During the Civil War the fort changed hands several times between Union and Confederate forces, eventually fell into disrepair and was finally restored as a part of the state park system in 1934. The fort was taken over by the federal government once again during
World War II and used to protect a number of important nearby facilities. Now the state park is home to a protected beach, complete with seaside bathhouse, sunny nature trails, family friendly picnic facilities and a rich supply of fish. Visitors take spirited ghost tours highlighting the eccentric past the fort has experienced. The fort recently underwent a multi-million dollar renovation, restoring the 26 casemates, or vaulted rooms, used as shelter, kitchen space, and as prison cells for soldiers.
Visitors to the new aquarium -- scheduled for a grand re-opening in Spring 2006 -- will be awe-struck by the more than 3,000 specimens of North Carolina’s most colorful aquatic life. The aquarium, now three times larger than before, will concentrate on eco-systems all native to North Carolina with different exhibits emphasizing various marine habitats. The “Living Shipwreck” will feature a life-sized replica of a German U-352 submarine and Blackbeard’s infamous ship, The Queen Anne’s Revenge with a 60-foot viewing window.
Plans are in the works for a stingray touch-tank, a river otter exhibit, mountain trout pool, jellyfish gallery and sport fishing exhibit. The aquarium itself resides in its own native North Carolina habitat, the 300-acre Roosevelt Maritime Forest.
Built as a tribute to the history and heritage of the residents of Harker’s Island, and to preserve the practice of decoy carving, the Core Sound Waterfowl Museum recently relocated to a brand new facility. Decoy carving, a popular pastime of the area, involves skilled artisans carving a perfect replica of a duck from a block of wood. The ducks were used, quite literally, as decoys during duck hunting season. The museum frequently hosts live demonstrations from actual decoy carvers in their “decoy-carving workshop.”
Mirroring the independent nature of the area, there are no big shopping malls but several individually owned shops and boutiques each with their own coastal flavor. An Emerald Isle favorite, Islamorada, is not only known for the line of eager shoppers waiting outside before opening in the morning but the wide selection of name brand clothing and accessories, from Lilly Pulitzer to Ralph Lauren. The Bag Lady of Beaufort is home to the original SunTotes by Suzie, an ingenious beach bag and towel rolled into one stylish tote with a wide selection of vibrant fabrics. From sparkling evening gowns and cashmere sweaters to delightful shoe shaped bags and hand-crafted jewelry, even the most discriminating shopper will find shopping satisfaction on the Crystal Coast.