My first visit to Cape Lookout was born from spontaneity. I’d previously had other plans for my weekend, but they fell through. Prepared for vacation but with nowhere to go, I sent my friend, Becki, a text for advice. She’s a bit of a traveler so I figured she would be a good resource.
Have you ever been to the Outer Banks? I wrote. I need a little trip and was thinking of driving up.
Yes. she answered. They’re beautiful.
If you’re looking for a lighthouse… she continued, One of my favorites, Cape Lookout, is right near me. You could drive up and stay the night.
Ok! I responded.
Happy to see that the weekend was salvaged, I drove to Becki’s the next day.
The Cape Lookout Seashore is 56 miles of undeveloped barrier islands in North Carolina. It consists of the Core Banks and Shackleford Banks and contains the Cape Lookout lighthouse and the wild horses of Shackleford, among other natural treasures.
The morning that we visited Lookout, Becki, her husband, Jason and I drove to Harker’s Island, where we caught a ferry with several other passengers, including two dogs, for the three-mile trip to the island. One of the dogs was rather young, not well-trained, and clearly a dominant so I offered to trade places with his owner to keep him separated from the other dog. I sat on the back end of the boat with one group of passengers and the more laid back dog, a golden retriever, who made rounds getting his head rubbed when the waves weren’t too rocky. Becki and Jason sat on the front end with some other passengers, the dominant dog and his owner.
As we passed the barrier islands, we strained to see wild horses. I knew from a previous conversation that Becki was also looking for whales. We did see some horses in the distance, but what we mostly saw that day were pelicans, thousands of them. I’ve never seen so many in my life. Pelicans breed on barrier islands so perhaps it was mating season or maybe the fishing was just good that day. In a way, I regret not taking pictures of them, although I have the feeling that the picture would not have done them justice. I guess I sensed that in the moment which is probably why I chose to savor it instead of fumble with my phone. The next time, I will be prepared.
When we reached the island, the ferry driver, a young, handsome, weathered man, helped us off the boat. We thanked him and asked him when he would return. He was a man of few words, but I detected a hint of the Carolina brogue in his voice.
Once our feet hit the sand, Becki and Jason were in their element. They had visited the island several times before. “We bring everyone here,” Becki laughed. They knew exactly where they wanted to go. We headed down a walkway toward the Cape Lookout lighthouse, a old lightkeeper’s residence and a dilapidated work building. We were visiting in the off season so the buildings were not open, but we climbed onto the porch of what appeared to be the residence and peeked through the windows.
I turned around and drank in the view of the ocean from the porch. In my mind, I could see the lightkeeper sitting on the porch watching the sea. I wondered what it was like to be a lightkeeper. Was it a lonely life or a life of freedom? Probably a bit of both. A romanticized vision sprung to my head like something out of a Daphne du Maurier novel. I imagined a story of a shipwreck or a ghost lingering around the lighthouse.
Next, we approached the lighthouse. It was majestic with its large stature and clean design. At 163 feet tall, the lighthouse is brick and painted with a black and white checkered pattern to indicate direction. The black diamonds point in a north and south direction while the white diamonds point east and west.
I could see how it could withstand the hurricanes that often pelt the Carolina shores, not to mention countless adventures with pirates and wars throughout the years.
I so wanted to go inside and climb the 207 steps to its gallery and see the panoramic views from the top. But that would have to wait for another day. As we walked away from the lighthouse toward the beach, I looked behind me to see it adjust to the landscape in the distance.
We walked the beach with the remainder of our time. We saw horseshoe crabs, shells and even an entire shark washed up on the shore. We walked around the shark and investigated it in an effort to determine its cause of death. We found a wound on his underside that almost appeared to be a bite.
“These waters are a little different, “ my friends offered, “sometimes you see things here that you wouldn’t see on the beach at home”. They explained that the island sits a little further out in the ocean and is in closer proximity to the Gulf. The water is rather clear, very warm and offers a long fishing season and a wide variety of species.
When it was time to meet the ferry, we headed to the dock. We sat with our feet dangling over the water while we waited for the ferry. As we rode back to Harker’s Island, I understood why Becki and Jason have been to Cape Lookout so many times. There is much to explore. I will be back myself when I can gain entrance to the buildings and climb to the top of the lighthouse.