Ever since watching “Nights in Rodanthe,” based on a bestselling novel by Nicholas Sparks, I dreamed of visiting the sleepy town and its never ending beaches. I fell in love with the Inn the movie took place at and the style of the surrounding houses, built on story (or two) high stilts to save them from high tides and hurricane waves. After some research and learning that its a long strip of land off the coast of North Carolina accessible by bridges or ferry, I knew that a road trip was in order. About a 15 hour drive from my home town of Toronto, worth every minute and every litter of gas.
Not going to lie, after all night of driving and a beautiful, sunny morning, I was beyond excited as we approached the Outer Banks. But as we got further out into the Atlantic and exited the last bridge onto the island, the dark looming clouds, thunder, lightning, and then torrential downpour might have dampened my spirits a tad. Driving towards Rodanthe, the sound to my right and the ocean to my left, with only sand duns protecting the road from the stormy waves, and the rain so hard my wipers had no way of keeping up, was a bit scary to say the least. And definitely not the way I imagined arriving to the place I’ve dreamed for years of visiting. Not letting a “little” rain stand in our way of a good vacation we drove on (at 10 km/h) and as quickly as the storm hit it just as quickly moved on opening up to a beautiful blue sky and scorching sun with colourful houses lining the street welcoming us to the island.
View of some of the typical houses found in the Outer Banks from the Rodanthe Pier.
Not wanting to stay at a boring plain hotel, I went on Airbnb to book a room at a local house. And what a find! Located in Waves, a community as far out in the Outer Banks as you can go, walking distance to neighbouring Rodanthe and a skip to the beach, I found a house on stilts to stay at. The village of Wave is so small the house doesn’t even have a street address… no street name… no house number! The host had to send me directions by way of landmarks for me to find my way. A three bedroom home where the hosts lived in one and rented the other two. It was homey and comfortable and a perfect place for a peaceful and relaxing getaway. Here, your only hard daily decision is whether to read your book on the beach or to daydream in the comfort of your beach chair while watching the young surfer kids catching waves. Or better yet, whether to join them in the August warm water of the Atlantic Ocean. Either choice is the right one, but no rush, you have time to do it all on this slow moving island.
The Inn at Rodanthe, “Serendipity”, with its decks facing the Atlantic.
Now for the reason that got me to the Outer Banks in the first place. The Inn at Rodanthe, as it was named in the movie, locally better known as Serendipity. Sitting on the edge of the Pea Island Wildlife Refuge, it was originally built in the 1980’s. Though a beach house, over 400 feet of beach separated it from the Atlantic. Over the years, however, countless storms, hurricanes, and typical erosion placed the Inn in water, literally. Luckily a couple who where major fans of the film purchased the house in 2010 and saved it by moving it inland to its current location only a short distance from the original site. Thanks to them I was able to see the house up close and personal, and let me tell you it is quite impressive. With its blue shutters, expansive multi level wooden decks, enough bedrooms throughout to bring your entire family or whole entourage, and a sunrise view to make you want to get up that early! Though now used as a rental property that you can book for days or weeks at a time, I lucked out that the family vacationing there during my visit were kind enough to allow me up onto the decks to take a peek around. Yay! Just look at the photos…and that view…wouldn’t you want to vacation there? And you can, for about $10,000 a week. Yikes.
The architecture of houses in the Outer Banks is reminiscent of Serendipity. To withstand the high surf from coastal storms, most are built on high stilts with piling driven down up to 14 feet and set in concrete. You have to climb a story or two of stairs just to get to your front door (at least it keeps you in shape for beach season). Each one is painted a different bright colour, bringing life and visual joy to visitors and locals, and truly making Hatters Island feel like a beach vacation tropical paradise.
The sand dunes protecting the long narrow island from the surf.
But the architecture charm is not the only thing worth seeing. What may be even more impressive is what was built to protect the island from the Atlantic waves. Along the beach that stretches for miles are massive sand dunes blocking the surf. This stretch of barrier island shoreline is one of the longest in the USA at roughly 50 miles of coastline. And the dunes are man made! Say what? The beauty and peacefulness of this place is breathtaking. You can walk the beach for hours breathing in the fresh salty air. And if you look out into the waves you might just spot a family of dolphins swimming along to keep you company. Yup that happened and I almost couldn’t believe my eyes!
Beautiful soft sand beach of the Outer Banks goes as far as the eye can see.
If you are looking for a truly quiet time away, I highly recommend putting Rodanthe high up on your list of places to visit. Have you ever been? What did you enjoy the most? Stay tuned for my guide to the Outer Banks to learn more about the island and its must see attractions, plus a photo gallery to see more of its beauty.