IF YOU LIKE OCRACOKE, TRY . . .

Cars are banned on Bald Head Island, so most visitors explore the southernmost Cape Fear island and its 14 miles of beach by bike or golf cart.
Cars are banned on Bald Head Island, so most visitors explore the southernmost Cape Fear island and its 14 miles of beach by bike or golf cart. (Bald Head Island Ltd.)

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Sunday, July 29, 2007

Bald Head Island is two nautical miles from the mainland and accessible only by passenger ferry ($15 round trip), which departs from Indigo Plantation, between Southport and Oak Island. The state's southernmost cape island has a wild and woolly history, complete with pirates, wild boars, Civil War soldiers and shipwrecks. But today's visitors don't get much crazier than their Lilly Pulitzer patterns. In 1983, the 14-mile-long island was bought by Bald Head Island Ltd., which sharply restricts development (10,000 of 12,000 acres are protected and undeveloped) and sets stringent guest policies. (Many establishments are open only to the 200-odd residents and renters of its properties.) In addition, cars are banned from the island, so most visitors use electric carts or bikes to buzz between Harbour Village, the maritime forest and the beaches.

BEST FOR . . . low-key, high-society sun-seekers who "summer" and "winter."

BEACH SCENE: Bald Head Island's unspoiled beaches cover the eastern, western and southern shores, and are nearly free of unsightly man-made backdrops. The dunes stretch back far, creating a substantial buffer between the shore and the road. Beachgoers give each other wide berths -- no towel cities here. Even the well-behaved dogs and children never seem to kick up too much sand.

SLEEPS AND EATS: The majority of accommodations on Bald Head Island are rental homes through Bald Head Island Ltd. (see Bald Head Island info below), yet there are two B&Bs in Harbour Village: Marsh Harbour Inn (21 Keelson Row, Bald Head Island, 800-680-8322, http://www.marshharbourinn.com; from $250), a tasteful property whose 15 rooms have Shaker-style furnishings; and Theodosia's B&B (2 Keelson Row, 800-656-1812, http://www.theodosias.com; from $225), which has a three-story inn and cottages with such darling names as Sparkle Berry. Most rental properties have minimum-stay requirements; the exception is the Elements (Keelson Row, 800-432-7368; from $276), studio-size cottages in Harbour Village that are named after air, fire, etc.

Dining choices are limited because of the members-only rule, though renters and guests at certain inns are granted temporary membership. Card-free options in Harbour Village include Eb and Flo's (910-457-7217), which specializes in Low Country cuisine and is known for its steam pots (from $12.50), and the Maritime Cafe, Deli and Market (910-457-7450), for sandwiches, full hot meals ($2-$13) or picnic fixings.

DIVERSIONS: On Bald Head, rent a golf cart ($25 for the first hour, $10 for each additional hour) or a bike ($5 an hour) from Riverside Adventure Co. (1 Marina Wynd, 910-457-4944) and tool around the car-free roads. Trek through the leafy Maritime Forest Preserve, home to a 300-year-old oak, and the marshes and tidal creeks along the M. Kent Mitchell Nature Trail (off Federal Road). The Bald Head Island Conservancy (Federal Road, 910-457-5786, http://www.bhic.org) organizes seasonal events, such as alligator and bird tours, and private kayak trips (prices vary). Visit the state's oldest standing lighthouse, Old Baldy (built 1817), and the Smith Island Museum (North Bald Head Wynd, http://www.oldbaldy.org; $3), a re-creation of the lighthouse keeper's cottage. At Cape Fear and Frying Pan Shoals (off Shoals Watch), stand at the southern extreme of the Cape Fear Coast, where the Cape Fear River meets the Atlantic Ocean.

INFO: Bald Head Island Ltd.,800-515-1038, http://www.baldheadisland.com.


© 2007 The Washington Post Company


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