America's sweet Carolina secret: Visiting North Carolina's Outer Banks

America’s sweet Carolina secret: Wild horses on deserted beaches, scrummy food and adventures galore – no wonder locals want to keep North Carolina’s Outer Banks to themselves

  • The Outer Banks in North Carolina are a thin strip of islands that separate the U.S mainland from the Atlantic 
  • The Daily Mail’s Anastasia Miari paid a visit to them and found dense pine forest and ‘duney’ beaches
  • She spent time chasing wild horses along the 200-mile-long sandy coast and enjoyed southern cuisine  

Our waitress says through coral-pink lips, while winking her shimmering purple eye shadow at us, ‘Y’all need some feeding up, y’all are skinny.’

It’s our first morning in North Carolina’s Outer Banks and the Northern Banks Breakfast we’re about to devour is quite a sight to behold. 

Our eyes take in the enormous spread arriving at the table in a perfectly choreographed synchronicity of sauces, syrups, heaving plates, bowls and unlimited cups of coffee.

North Carolina’s Outer Banks, pictured, are a thin strip of barrier islands that separate mainland America from the Atlantic 

A map showing the location of North Carolina’s Outer Banks 

We’re at the Sanderling Resort’s Lifesaving Station, one of seven refuges built in 1874 to provide assistance for the shipwrecked — of which there have been many around these parts. Now an all-day restaurant, its whitewashed wooden beams and displays of ragged life jackets, compasses and faded lifebelts celebrate its maritime heritage.

Ahead of an action-packed afternoon chasing wild horses along the 200-mile-long sandy coastline, we’ve plumped for fried eggs, sausages and fluffy-as-clouds blueberry pancakes (made from muffin batter) — all on one plate. Welcome to the South.

Chef Tony Pentecost, armed with a bluetooth headset, insists on bringing us Brits a side of grits, a dish of ground cornmeal akin to porridge, only a bit more gritty.

‘They’re fairly bland as far as flavour goes. It’s a Southern thing,’ says Tony, explaining that the area’s rural economy was built on farming and that corn plus animal fat was the best way of filling up on the cheap when the first settlers arrived.

Separating mainland America from the Atlantic, the Outer Banks are a thin strip of barrier islands — the very first place the English settled in the late 1500s.

Driving in under pale blue skies, past dense pine forest and then what seems to be an endless duney beach (it spans pretty much the entire stretch of North Carolina on the map), I can see the appeal.

The infamous pirate Blackbeard made Ocracoke island his home, between pillaging and plundering the high seas. The Wright Brothers took the first controlled, powered flight on a plane in 1903 — the landing strip they used is still there to visit at a memorial in the town of Kill Devil Hills.

The high life: The colourful beach houses on North Carolina’s Outer Banks. City-dwelling ‘Southerners’ head to the Outer Banks’ six towns and 12 coastal villages for sun, sea, sand and the occasional kitesurf between the months of April and August

Wild horses were brought to the Outer Banks by the Spanish and abandoned centuries ago. Now around 120 remain in the town of Corolla, pictured 

Seascape: Evening in the Outer Banks – the very first place the English settled in the late 1500s

‘In the summer, other Southerners come to dial it down here,’ says Mike, a local who sports a Stars and Stripes bandanna and wispy beard.

He IS giving us very specific directions — down to which tree to turn at — for the drive north to Corolla and the Currituck National Wildlife Refuge, where we’ve been promised that we’ll see some wild horses.

On we push, hang-gliders criss-crossing in the sky ahead of us, soaring above undulating sand dunes, the size of which we’ve never seen before.

We whiz by roadside diners, ice-cream parlours that double up as grill houses, and ‘Get Your Ammo’ gun stores that pull us out of a pastel-toned beach home dreamscape. We’re still in the South, after all.

Finally, at Corolla Outback Adventures, we pile into the back of a mud-spattered 4×4 and go Mad-Maxing over sand and muddy pools in our search for wild horses.

Brought here by the Spanish and abandoned centuries ago, the wild mustangs once numbered 6,000 here in Corolla. There are now just 120 but conservation efforts are ensuring their survival.

Feeding, petting and even approaching are off limits, but just being witness to a group of them kicking up the sand as they canter between the dunes is enough to stir primal emotion.

City-dwelling ‘Southerners’ head to the Outer Banks’ six towns and 12 coastal villages for sun, sea, sand and the occasional kitesurf between the months of April and August, but come September, hurricanes batter the entire strip of islands. You wouldn’t know this on a sunny day, save for the wooden beach homes perched on stilts, poised for the floods.

The Outer Banks have a 200-mile-long sandy coastline, pictured, with dense pine forest and ‘duney’ beaches 

A classic American pancake breakfast is a staple in the Outer Banks

The next day we meet local Sharon in a roadside diner that caught our eye on our way down to Bodie Island Lighthouse. It’s aptly named I Got Your Crabs and although humble in its classic diner feel, with stainless steel surfaces, bar stools and numerous TV sets, the crab taco with mango, chilli, slaw and lime makes this an Outer Banks highlight.

‘Y’all know we’re famous for our crab cakes and our chowder here, right?’ says Sharon, whose father was a fisherman in Hatteras.

We ask for the crab cakes to go and tuck into them in the shade of the black and white striped 19th-century lighthouse, transporting us once again into a quaint, seaside dreamscape. We find Sharon again, for sunset at the Diamond Shoals sandbars, where two strong Atlantic currents meet. 

The ocean waves glitter and a group of men stand silhouetted against the diamond coastline, surf fishing. We’re invited to join them but we have a date with the loungers on the deck of our beach house. Tonight is s’mores night and it doesn’t get more all-American than Hershey’s chocolate and marshmallow toasted over a fire pit, sandwiched between graham crackers.

Throw a couple of wild horses into the mix and you’ve got yourself the perfect Outer Banks evening.   


Virgin Atlantic ( London to New York from £350 return. Delta ( New York to Norfolk, Virginia, from £96 return. Car hire for one week from £253 ( Doubles at the Sanderling Resort ( from £134. Visit

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