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North Carolina Coast Travel Guide

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Cape Hatteras Lighthouse © North Carolina Department of Commerce

Barrier islands stretch the whole length of North Carolina's coastline, with sandy beaches, estuaries and enclosed lagoons, and some remarkable historic sites. The thin curving line of sand bar islands, linked by bridges and ferries, shelters the mainland from the Atlantic Ocean and has become a popular tourist destination, with many developed holiday resorts. These are known as the Outer Banks and include the islands of Bodie, Roanoke, Hatteras and Ocracoke.

Much of the area has been spared over-development by its inclusion in the Cape Hatteras and Cape Lookout National Seashores, with wildlife refuges, stretches of undeveloped beaches, tall dunes and salt marshes that are home to a variety of birds. Among the historic sites of interest is Roanoke Island, where the continent's earliest settlers, known as the Lost Colony, vanished inexplicably shortly after their landing in 1587; and the Wright Brothers Memorial at Kitty Hawk commemorates the world's first powered flight in 1903.

Cape Hatteras National Seashore stretches for 70 miles (113km) down the Outer Banks barrier islands and has a wealth of history relating to shipwrecks and lighthouses. Once known as the 'Graveyard of the Atlantic', wrecks of over 600 ships lie in the treacherous waters along the coast. The park's fishing and surfing are considered to be the best on the East Coast, and beautiful beaches provide opportunities for many different water activities. In contrast to the shops, restaurants, accommodation, and recreational opportunities offered by the small towns on Cape Hatteras, Cape Lookout is a beach wilderness that is unconnected to the mainland and remains undeveloped, offering a comparatively pristine beach experience.

At the southern end of the North Carolina Coast, in the Cape Fear Coastal area, is the beach resort of Wilmington. Although the largest seaport on the coast, it is an attractive and friendly town with an appealing historic district around its waterfront, and the cobbled streets and boardwalk lined with cafes and restaurants have a welcoming atmosphere.

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