Horsing Around on the Crystal Coast
My First Visit to Shackleford Banks
By, Clarissa G.
Living here since 2002, I feel like I’ve seen most of the “musts” along the coast. I’ve visited the fort, fished off the pier, taken a ferry to the lighthouse, and gotten a sunburn from laying on the beach for hours without a care in the world. I’ve eaten at Rucker John’s, The Sanitary, and devoured an El’s Super Burger in the most ladylike fashion I could muster. But in 14 years, the one thing I hadn’t done was visit Shackleford Banks. I saw the ponies in passing while on a ferry and from Radio Island. Exciting, yes, but did I really need to take that short ferry ride across to the island? Meh. Horsing Around on the Crystal Coast
OH, HOW WRONG I WAS.
I love collecting shells. I have (what my family calls) a mild case of OCD; I love things to be organized and neat and even. Picking up shells, finding the perfect ones, collecting them, and displaying my treasures at home is a favorite beach pastime. I love laying right in the surf and finding miniatures since I rarely find whole and perfect shells that “make the cut.” Let me tell you, it was AMAZING on Shackleford.
I started my day as early as possible, getting on the 9 am ferry from the Beaufort waterfront. I packed my beach backpack (hands-free is the way to be!) with a towel, sunscreen, lunch (a Big Kahuna from Lowe’s Foods, a pack of nabs, and a bottle of lemonade), and my super shelling garment bags. I love the packs of 3 for $1 at Dollar Tree. They are great for letting the sand fall through and rinsing your loot well without losing anything. Plus, you can’t beat the price.
SEE WARNING HERE: Do not waste your money on “shell bags.” Sure, they may say “Emerald Isle” on them and have a fancy handle, but at the end of the day, it’s a waste of $$. Sorry, Wings. Just go to Dollar Tree. Save your money for a Big Kahuna or a slice of Key Lime Mojito cake from Lowe’s Foods.
The ferry ride takes maybe 5-10 minutes, which is about all the ferry ride I’m down for. We pulled right up onto the sand and they put out plastic steps you climb off the front of the boat and down. Odds are good that the captain or his mate (or a sweet fellow ferry go-er in my case) will be a southern gentleman and hold your bag so that you can descend like a lady. The captain said on the ride over that the west tip was reported to have some good conch shells today, so naturally upon exiting the ferry I made a beeline for the tip.
Let me just start by saying this: I HAVE NEVER PUT A SHELL BACK.
Every trip to the water’s edge ends with at least a couple of shells in my pocket. Or the door of my car…bottom of my purse…basically if you shake anything of mine out, you’re likely to find a shell. I’ve NEVER found an intact conch shell, so my hopes were high for the tip of having one I could call my own.
THERE WERE SO MANY. SO SO MANY! I squealed out loud and did a short celebratory seal clap. You know, that one where you’re so excited there are really no words, and you can only express yourself with an open mouth and happy little claps? That was me.
They were big and pretty and WHOLE! I found 3 within a few yards and had at least a dozen more in my sight. I was preparing to stuff them all in my bag….then I turned around and looked at the group that was making their way from the ferry. There were kids and people who obviously were tourists. I sighed and looked down at my treasures, and decided that today, I was only taking two. Someone else needed to find the rest. I could come back any time and get another (or more….). I stuffed my hands under my backpack straps and started walking down the island. The happy squeals behind me as the rest of the group found the shells told me I did the right thing. *sigh*
I ended up walking down the oceanside for a while and found some good stuff. Much bigger and more intact stuff than I’d ever found in EI. I found a small knobbed whelk shell, which I told myself I was allowed to keep, and some big cockle shells. Cockles are usually a thin shell, and the tops are always broken, so I was really stoked to find those. I walked back across to the north side where we had landed and was rewarded for my shell-f control. See what I did there?
PS: I LOVE sharing things with our fans LIVE. I need more suggestions on what to stream. Comment on this blog post and I’ll proposition my boss to do them “at the request of the masses.” Can someone please suggest I live stream myself eating fried green tomatoes from The Trading Post in Emerald Isle? Seriously. Those things are LIFE. I’ll give you sunglasses and a koozie on the D/L.
After Pony Time, I decided to head back to my bag and park my butt in the sand. I picked a spot down a little from the ferry landing, but still in eyesight. I found a TON more shells walking this side. They were smaller, but still big compared to what I normally find. Plus they were nearly all WHOLE! Sunray venus *STILL PAIRED*, Razor clams, Auger shells, an Olive shell, scallops, Dosinia, and more Cockles. At some point, I decided that I had enough and just wanted to sunbathe and eat my lunch. It was a confusing and entirely new sensation to feel like I had ‘enough’ shells. I peacefully watched the waves come in and boats ride by as I soaked in the raw vitamin D and ate lunch. I don’t normally have much free time, so I thoroughly enjoyed sitting there alone, with no schedule and nothing to do. It was HEAVEN.
Whether you think you need to or not, you need to visit Shackleford Banks. With one trip, it became my new favorite place. The shells, the gentle waves, and scenic wildlife – it’s got everything.
For schedule and ticket pricing, visit Island Express Ferry. Item to note: If you choose to depart from Harker’s Island, you’ll be visiting the eastern tip of Shackleford Banks. Not having been there myself, I can’t vouch for the shellability or enjoyability of the eastern tip. If you’ve been, please give me some feedback!
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