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“Outstanding seashells -- stay on the beach!”

Portsmouth Island Boat Tour
Reviewed 1 July 2013

My husband and I went with our daughter when she was about 9 years old. We wanted to explore a little beyond the usual Outer Banks attractions. You catch the ferry to Ocracoke (go early to avoid lines) and that was fun in itself with the wind in our face and the broad expanse of sea and nearby island and other boaters. The man who gave us the ATV tour was right there and ready for us. He was amenable to do anything that would give us the experience we wanted. He even let us borrow his insect repellant since ours was not effective on those giant mosquitoes. We saw an island covered with pelicans that he said had once been photographed for National Geographic magazine. We got to the island and had to take shoes off and wade in as the boat could not come in all the way or it would run aground. I found the ATV ride into the old village thrilling and terrifying. I was the one who sat in back and thus had no seatbelt, although there was a strap with a loop in it for me to hold onto! You want the ATV to travel fast in hope of outrunning some of the mosquitoes so I was fine with it. We wanted to see the old village but that lasted about 2 minutes because the mosquitoes inland were impossible. But the shore is fine and they even give you tough plastic bags for seashells and the shells are amazing. Huge shells like you hope in your dreams that you'll find at the beach! There are so many because Portsmouth Island has no inhabitants anymore and relatively few daily visitors. You can fill 2 bags of shells per person and that is the limit, but that is quite a lot of shells, so we were quite happy with it. The ATV ride on the beach is fun and they let me husband learn how to drive it. It is a very nice laid back tour. Again, I'd recommend you keep to the beach and the shells and you'll love it!

5  Thank Libby L
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
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Reviewed 18 June 2013

Austin's boat tours to Portsmouth Island should definitely be on your list if you are planning a visit to Ocracoke.

The trip leaves from the Community Square in the middle of the village. Be sure to leave time to go park your car in the visitor's parking at the end of the village, by the ferry. (We didn't, but they held the boat for us while my husband went and parked our car and ran back).

The captain was born and raised in Ocracoke and gave an informative tour. On the way to the island, he stopped a few times to point out features such as the shallow water, a buoy that had been dragged for miles during a hurricane, and to describe the history of Ocracoke in World War II.

Portsmouth village was abandoned in 1971, after the national park service took over the land and the last remaining resident moved out. Prior to that, it was a bustling community, focused first on "lightering," or transferring cargo from larger to smaller vessels for shipment to the mainland. Later, when the lightering business was rendered unnecessary, villagers shifted to fishing as the main industry.

Once on the island, the captain led us through the village, opening buildings so that we could see them. Each building contained an exhibit. There was a main building, once a family home, that described the history of the village, the old post office and general store, another family home that told the story of Portsmouth's families (with pictures and a genealogy chart), and the coast guard station, which demonstrated how rescues were made (complete with a rescue boat and rescue britches!). We learned a lot about life on the island.

After our tour, the captain dropped us off further down the beach where we had a couple of hours to enjoy the shelling and the water before our trip back to the mainland. The shelling was okay, but if you are looking for really great shells, try Shackelford Banks).

On the way back, he stopped at "Bird Island," where hundreds of pelicans were nesting and tending their young. Spectacular! We were there at the right time to see the birds guarding their baby pelicans (tiny, purplish, and somewhat homely) and sea gulls (cute grey fluffballs).

In June, the weather was warm and there were horseflies, but it was not unbearable. A July/August trip might not be as pleasant.

Some tips:

- bring suncreen, bug spray, and a hat
- bring snacks & plenty of water
- wear long sleeves or pants if possible
- bring a bathing suit and towel for the beach portion
- There are no bathroom facilities on the island, so prepare accordingly. Wet wipes would have been a good idea.

4  Thank Jordynn J
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 1 June 2013

We went out to Portsmouth Island with Austin's Ferry Service. Donald Austin took us out and did a great job telling stories about the history. We saw a dolphin mom teaching her babies to fish on the way out and saw an island of pelicans nesting on the way back. Portsmouth is an interesting abandoned village and has great beaches with lots of shells. We found 3 scotch bonnets which we found out later are very difficult to find. $20.00 each for the boat trip. TAKE BUG SPRAY ALONG!

2  Thank Catherine T
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 10 November 2012

Best trip ever! In April ,we took our 4 yr old nephew .The village was interesting,worth seeing for it's historical value despite the Mosquitos .He LOVED the lengthy ATV ride over the dunes out to the widest,most beautiful beach we have ever seen! We found several scotch bonnets,several huge black whelks,big weathered white whelks,a blow fish,giant horse shoe crab,olives.They gave us each a net shelling bag.They guide you to the beach,and occasionally suggest other portions to drive to,but you have free reign also.The return boat ride took us close to a tiny island that was a pelican rookery with lots of babies and hundreds of pelicans roosting and flying above you.Spectacular!He was so excited and our captain was very informative and a native of the area.He made a point of ensuring a very memorable trip with the Austin boat tour.We came back with 3 bags bulging with exceptional shells! Just wear rain boots or water sandals and bring bug spray for the village portion,a towel if you want to take a dip.You won't be disappointed!We went with the single Austin son in a white insulated boat.We got the most beautiful pictures that day.
Kathleen Morrow

2  Thank Kathy M
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC
Reviewed 15 August 2012

perhaps it was the time of year, but we found very few shells, which was disappointing because it was one of the main reasons for our trip. the beach was certainly beautiful but it was hot and there were many green flies- bring strong bug repellant and beach umbrellas! Did not need the whole 4 hours- 2 would have been plenty

3  Thank ZZcircus
This review is the subjective opinion of a TripAdvisor member and not of TripAdvisor LLC

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