HATTERAS, N.C. -- Hatteras Island along North Carolina's Outer Banks is a fickle but alluring place.
The island juts into the Atlantic, making it a bull's-eye for high winds, waves and the occasional hurricane. Cautious vacationers listen to weather reports regularly to make sure they don't need to evacuate ahead of an approaching storm.
In August 2011, Hurricane Irene closed the only road across a bridge to the island, N.C. Highway 12, for weeks, and Superstorm Sandy did the same again last fall. Without the road, getting to and from the island requires two ferry rides: one from the mainland to Ocracoke Island, and a second one from Ocracoke to Hatteras.
And yet the island's appeals are irresistible -- its beauty, its serenity, its calm. Yes, you can find plenty to do, such as fishing and wind surfing. But Hatteras also is the place to sit on the beach, walk on the beach and nap on the beach.
The best part about Hatteras? Most of what makes it special is free.
THE BEACH: The Cape Hatteras National Seashore makes up much of Hatteras Island, meaning there's no development except in the seven villages: Rodanthe, Waves, Salvo, Avon, Buxton, Frisco and Hatteras. Some beaches are so narrow that waves lap under homes, while others are so wide that you're out of breath by the time you get to the water, even if you're lucky enough to stay in an oceanfront home.
Vehicles are generally allowed on the beach, although not on the beaches in front of the villages during tourist season. Rules protecting birds and turtles mean driving is banned along some popular fishing areas at times, so be sure to check. Details at www.nps.gov/caha/index.htm.
GRAVEYARD OF THE ATLANTIC MUSEUM: About 600 shipwrecks litter the Hatteras coastline, giving rise to its nickname, Graveyard of the Atlantic. Most of the wrecks have been blamed on Diamond Shoals, an area of shifting sand bars that extends 14 miles into the Atlantic. The Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras is dedicated to local seafaring history.