The village of Wanchese seems a world away from the Outer Banks, even though it's only a few miles down the road. After you cross the Washington Baum Bridge (U.S. 64/264) linking the Outer Banks to Roanoke Island, instead of turning right and heading to Manteo, turn left down N.C. 345, Mill Landing Road, which will take you straight into the village of Wanchese.
Fishing is still the main enterprise in Wanchese.
Wanchese isn't exactly a tourist town; it's a fishing village, and almost always has been one. Long before the first European explorers landed, the Algonquin Indians, and perhaps others before them, traveled to the southern end of what is now known as Roanoke Island to fish and gather shellfish.
A huge mound of discarded shells was once located near a place referred to as "Thicket Lump," but early farmers in the area carted the shells off as a source of limestone for their crops, before archeologists had a chance to learn more about the culture that left them behind.
Fishing is still the main enterprise in Wanchese, which is named after one of the Indian chiefs (Chief Manteo was the other) who traveled to England with Sir Walter Raleigh, living there for a year before returning home to Roanoke Island.
Now, Wanchese Seafood Industrial Park, the only one of its kind in the nation, is home port to Dare County commercial fishing vessels, several boatbuilding and repair shops, a marina, and other marine-related businesses. In the market for a yacht? You can find one there, or have one custom built. Just want to buy some fresh seafood for dinner? You can do that too. You can also charter a fishing boat or join a dolphin-watching tour.
The Wanchese Seafood Industrial Park is the only one of its kind in the nation.
Millions of pounds of fresh fish and seafood are unloaded at the industrial park. Depending on the season, you can watch the action from the docks during the late afternoon. Products from the industrial park are shipped to points all along the East Coast, and around the world from Norfolk International Airport.
If you take a drive around Wanchese, don't bother to look for the downtown area, as there isn't one, unless you count the post office. However, two-lane roads wind about the village, and the homes here are an eclectic mix, many with small rowboats and brightly colored decoys as yard art. You'll discover neighborhoods where mobile homes are neighbors to new construction, old farmhouses, and slightly tumble-down homes from a generation or two before.
You can charter a sportfishing boat or join a dolphin-watching tour. Or you can just buy some really, realy fresh seafood.
There are a few diners, a bed and breakfast inn, and even a couple of art galleries. For decades, the population has consisted of mostly fishermen and the children of fishermen, but that's beginning to change as folks from other parts discover the town's quiet, not yet commercialized atmosphere, a refuge from the beach, even though it's just down the road.