Within 93,000 square feet, the North Carolina Aquarium at Pine Knoll Shores manages to fit all of the state's and most of the world's main aquatic environments into five galleries. A 30-foot waterfall throws a cool mist over guests as they begin a journey that brings them to the Piedmont gallery, where the aquarium's three spunky river otters?Neuse, Pungo, and Eno?frolic and play poker underwater. Further exhibits promise other memorable encounters, such as the Dinosaur Adventure where visitors come face-to-face with the lifelike extinct creatures, and the Tidal Touch Pool where handlers let visitors touch skates, rays, and select invertebrates. At the epicenter lies the ocean gallery, anchored by a 306,000-gallon tank with a 65-foot viewing window. Sand tiger sharks and moray eels swim about the Living Shipwreck exhibit, a replica of a German U-boat that sank off the United States' East Coast in 1942. Behind the glass of another tank, a young loggerhead sea turtle named Nimbus flashes its gold-toothed smile and rare white coloration.
Divers host live shows twice a day in the ocean tank, answering visitors' questions via special equipment. They've also been known to assist with proposals, unveiling engagement rings as an unsuspecting fianc? peers through the glass. Beyond overseeing the standing exhibits, the staff also ventures outside for numerous educational programs and activities. Participants can catch crabs, fish in the surf, explore the marsh, take a paddleboarding class, or even explore the water on canoeing and kayaking outings.
The IKO-certified instructors at Kite Club Hatteras help their pupils grab hold of kites and soar above the sky-blue waters of The Outer Banks. Using the ocean as their classroom and the back of a sea turtle as their chalkboard, the boarding profs teach students how to launch, land, and master complex techniques during three levels of instruction. Aside from helping pupils gain their IKO certification, they also lead multiday events, during which kiteboarders can relax in beach houses and take lessons on becoming independent riders.
As their horses trot along a forest trail, a group of riders starts to hear crashing waves in the distance. The sound grows louder as they near the forest's edge, and when their horses step away from the tree line, the group sees a drastic shift in terrain—sand dunes, the distant Cape Hatteras Lighthouse and Cape Point, and miles of beaches. The horses then walk to the ocean, and at the guide's command, the animals amble along the water's edge. These noble steeds belong to Equine Adventures, which blends beach and forest riding into a single trip. The journeys start at the barn, where when not trotting along the beach, horses receive regular pampering from vets and play hopscotch on their days off.