Shelling is one of the many things to do on Shackleford Banks.

Horsing around on the Crystal Coast

Horsing Around on the Crystal Coast

My First Visit to Shackleford Banks

-Clarissa G., Marketing Coordinator

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 nice pink burn 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 visiting Shackleford Banks. I had seen the ponies in passing 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


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 9am 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.

Disclaimer: This IS my cake. I took myself on a Friday date after the gym with a piece of Key Lime Mojito and ate it in front of the waves. Hate me, go ahead. It was sweet sweet solitude and pie inside a cake.

Disclaimer: This is not my arm. My sandwich never lives long enough to be captured by a camera. Also, my bread is NEVER this thick. What Lowe’s Foods uses these slabs of hawaiian bread? They need to be schooled. Cape Carteret has it down, thin slices and wads of meat and pepperjack cheese, graced by a leaf of lettuce. THEBOMB.COM.

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.

I also brought my beach chair, since it has a shoulder strap I still had use of both hands. I was by myself, so mobility was a must. Once I got on the ferry, I quickly stowed my chair and bag at my feet.

TIP:  If the seat in front of the captain is free, take it. You’re centered and have a great view forward. If not, sit at the very front. You’ll feel like Rose Dawson from Titanic. Seriously, no one will judge you if your arms fly out and you start whispering “I’m flying, Jack!”  Ok, they might judge you. But only because they’re jealous that you’re living out everyone’s 1997 fantasy.

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 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 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?

Just to the east of the landing spot was a herd of horses. They were calmly grazing not far from the water. I dropped my bag and chair by the water and started walking their way. In my research for “Bluewater” stuff, I’ve read that you’re supposed to give them at least a school bus of distance between you and them. When you’re sweaty and excited, it’s hard to judge a school bus’s length. I stopped where I thought was okay, and opened the Facebook app to do a livestream on our page. They calmly grazed and whickered to each other, like they didn’t even know I was here. I was SO WRONG about not needing to experience it up close. There’s nothing like standing something like a bus length from a herd of wild ponies and just watching them be. It was beautiful and a reminder that we are the outsiders here, lucky to be able to come and visit their stunning home and witness them just as God intended them to be – wild and free and breathtaking.

PS: I LOVE sharing things with our fans LIVE. I need more suggestions on what to stream. Send my assignments to and I’ll proposition my boss to do them ‘at the request of the masses.’ Can someone please suggest I livestream 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 the Island Express Ferry Services website here. 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!


Missed the live stream? Check it out now!