Monday, July 8, 2013


image of eastern North Carolina - from Google Maps
We have returned from our very first visit to the Outer Banks of North Carolina. This is THE beach vacation destination for people living in this part of the world who are not traveling to Myrtle Beach in South Carolina, Florida or Cancun... or some exotic Caribbean Island (that is not Cuba). Great big thanks to Rob & Val for their very gracious invitation :-)
northern 'Outer Banks' -  from Google Maps
The North Carolina coast is unique for its 'barrier islands' stretching along the majority of the State's coastline. These islands are narrow and offer protection to the mainland from the Atlantic Ocean. As a consequence, these islands bear the brunt of much hurricane activity and are subject to massive erosion. The shape and form of the islands therefore is very fluid and dynamic. I had a lecturer at QUT heavily involved in the research of dune transgression on Fraser Island - who made this natural phenomenon very apparent to her students. 

The islands' populations boom during the summer months and are home to a small population during the off-season - largely of the equine variety! There remains a population of wild horses - descendants of horses arriving some 500 years ago from Spanish explorers and shipwrecks. 

The coast is well-known for its shipwrecks and has earned the title 'The Graveyard of the Atlantic'. Several lighthouses were constructed to assist with navigation through these perilous waters. 

The islands are also well-known for the township of Kitty Hawk - a name synonymous with the Wright Brothers and their first forays into flight. We took a rainy-day excursion to Kill Devil Hills to visit the Wright Brothers National Memorial and Museum
kids assist Orville Wright in his history-making flight
We did manage to fit in the obligatory beach pursuits of: building sandcastles, flying kites, riding boogie boards, being dumped by waves, eating fish and chips, witnessing the 4th of July Fireworks display (and subsequent horrendous traffic jam), slurping ice-cream, chasing crabs, collecting shells, sipping Pina Coladas... none of which were documented as I didn't want to sand-log my camera. 

The Islands are stunning, with beautiful sand beaches. We spent our time around Corolla where development is low-key and more human scale (even though all housing is three levels high!). I did however, note numerous missed opportunities to improve the amenity of development - and keep it true to its low-key nature through the promotion of passive means of transport. Namely the inclusion of pedestrian linkages and provision of evidently shared carriageways. Vehicles and pedestrians laden with beach paraphernalia (shade structures, seats, towels, boogie boards, kites, coolers, etc.) currently share road lanes, that are not pedestrian-friendly. Retail catered predominantly to vehicles and there were many lost opportunities to support a 'village feel' through alfresco dining, public plazas and spaces to meet. Bicycle lane provision was spasmodic and not integrated - particularly between settlements. Place-makers and simple way-finding devices are lacking - these would particularly be of use along the beachfront (might have really helped during my beach runs!). A quick visit seemed to indicate that the 'township' of Duck has a more successful urban-beachscape mix. A drive down south to Kill Devil Hills indicated more intensive settlement - strip malls and no sense of place. 

Of course, this analysis will require further observational visits ;-) 
visit to the Currituck Beach Lighthouse

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