The verdict is in and the result is “No. 1.”
The cape’s seashore stretches from Beaufort Inlet on the south to Ocracoke Inlet on the north and is known as much for its wild horses as it is for its pristine dunes, wide beaches, and limited access. Personal boats, ferries, or aircraft are necessary to explore the state’s barrier islands.
“The cool thing about Cape Lookout is that everyone loves the wild horses out on the island,” said Tom Copeland, a native of eastern North Carolina. The long, skinny spit of land is attractive to visitors because its protected national park status keeps the land jutting into the Atlantic Ocean relatively unspoiled by humans.
AOPA Air Safety Institute Senior Vice President George Perry grew up dodging coastal hurricanes, surfing the waves along the Outer Banks, and camping under its stars. He urged visitors to remember the horses are wild and they’ll bite if you’re not careful. Because much of the sparsely populated area also hosts national wildlife refuges, Perry reminded pilots to “remain above 2,000 feel agl when flying over those parts of the islands.”
There are several campgrounds in the national park area but no houses, said Copeland, who often takes his boat to Cape Lookout for day trips. “You can get on a ferry at Beaufort and very inexpensively ride out there and enjoy the island.”
Copeland said casual fishermen can have plenty of fun because “there’s really good surf fishing” along the flat beaches and options for charters in nearby Morehead City and elsewhere. The Big Rock Blue Marlin Tournament in June brings scores of anglers to the warm Gulfstream current where they compete for prizes totaling in the thousands of dollars.
There’s a load of pirate lore, too. “Blackbeard’s pirate ship was found right there [in Beaufort] and a museum showcases a lot of the area’s early history” said Copeland. “That’s a pretty cool place to go in Beaufort.”
Indeed, an early 1700’s Beaufort County resident was the infamous Edward Teach, widely feared as the seagoing British pirate Blackbeard. Ironically, the rogue’s pillaging brought prosperity to the Bath Creek area when hotels, pubs, and shops sprang up to entertain the pirate’s crews.
According to the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources, Bath was the state’s first town. It was created as an inland port along the Pamlico River in 1705 near the time of Blackbeard’s sea-going adventures.
When they weren’t plundering victims, Blackbeard’s sailors bought, sold, and traded their booty to villagers. Blackbeard himself convinced the locals that his pirate robbers should be treated as friends. The cultural site says Blackbeard’s celebrity status reached all the way to the governor who protected him until the pirate was tracked down by the British Royal Navy and killed at Ocracoke Inlet in 1718.
Today’s visitors might find a path of ballast rocks that some say lined a secret Plum Point tunnel for the rogue’s clandestine arrivals and departures.
Early settlement information can be found at Ocracoke Preservation Museum, which TripAdvisor.com lists as one of its top-five attractions in the area. Visitors to the museum consistently give it good marks because the “well maintained museum is packed with all kinds of cool old stuff to see” wrote one guest.
A little over an hour’s flight north of Beaufort is Kitty Hawk, the birthplace of powered flight. Before leaving the islands, pilots owe it to themselves to make the short trip by air up the Atlantic coast.
“A beautiful flight along the Atlantic shoreline can take you right to First Flight Airport, as well as provide incredible views of Cape Lookout and Cape Hatteras lighthouses,” said AOPA Pilot Senior Features Editor Julie Summers Walker.
However, paying close attention to airspace is essential to avoid military operating areas, restricted airspace, and additional wildlife areas dotting the shoreline. Pilots making the pilgrimage should contact Cherry Point Approach on 119.75 MHz for status of the MOAs and Restricted Airspace R-5306-A, or to request VFR flight following along the route.
Aircraft parking at First Flight is limited but Dare County Regional Airport is a good alternate landing site. From there, ground transportation can be arranged to visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial and museum. For the week prior to the AOPA Fly-In and the week after, mid-size rental cars at Dare County will be discounted by as much as 40 percent. In addition, fuel prices will be discounted for fuel truck service at the self-service rate.
Beaufort Fly-In attendees are urged to make plans now for a tour inside the Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point and a free breakfast at the Crystal Coast Boat Show.
The Friday night Barnstormers Party presented by Jeppesen and featuring Americana band L Shape Lot will get things rolling before Saturday’s pancake breakfast opens a full slate of activities. Seminars, product showcases, a Pilot Town Hall with AOPA President Mark Baker, and an ice cream social round out the day on the North Carolina coast.