The little town of Belhaven may be a blink-and-you'll-miss-it town, but Eastern North Carolina visitors who decide to take the long way home along US Highway 264 will be rewarded with a visit to a picturesque waterfront town that is filled with historical and coastal charm. This small community of less than 2,000 residents has a prime location on the north shore of the Pungo River, just eight miles away from the massive Pamlico Sound which separates North Carolina's Inner Banks from its Outer Banks. As a result, visitors here will find exceptional fishing, incredible open water views, and a hardy, salty culture that is typical of North Carolina's life on the water.
While the small town of Havelock is often overshadowed by its Crystal Coast neighbors, the city is nonetheless a prime waterfront retreat for eastern North Carolina visitors who want to experience the real everyday life of the Inner Banks. Home to the renowned Marine Corps Air Station at Cherry Point, the expansive and wild Pine Cliff Recreational Area, and a small handful of shops and restaurants that shine a light on the local culture, Havelock is a fun day trip for nature lovers, military buffs, and anyone who wants an inside glimpse into the real, hardworking Coastal Carolina.
Havelock is located an hour's drive or so away from the oceanfront beaches of the Crystal Coast, but is nonetheless a coastal town at heart. Bordering the Neuse River, the Croatan National Forest, and the Pine Cliff Recreational Area, the community is more or less a sleepy southern town. In fact, the main action in Havelock can be primarily be found at the generally closed-to-the-public Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, which, although separated from the rest of the coastline and almost hard to find, is the world's largest Marine Corps Air station.
The town is certainly one of the larger communities of the Inner Banks, with a total area of 17.6 square miles, and more than 20,000 residents, (including a large population at the air force base), but feels miles away from the busy beachside towns which are always hopping in the summer months. In contrast, Havelock is seemingly always quiet, peaceful, and practically off the tourism map.
The town is actually one of six US towns or cities that are named after Sir Henry Havelock, a British military officer who became famous after the Indian Mutiny of 1857. The town was always somewhat sparsely populated, but nonetheless served an instrumental purpose in national history, production, and military operations over the centuries.
As an example, Havelock was the initial landing point for the Battle of New Bern during the American Civil War, an important win for the Union troops, and a first step towards the subsequent Battle of Fort Macon.
Because the town was first formed as a railroad depot, as it was the site of where the Atlantic and North Carolina railroad's right of ways intersected on the current Miller Boulevard, the town was always essential on a minor scale to the manufacturing and transportation industries.
After the Civil War, as the south was hobbling to adjust to the new America, Havelock thrived as a hub for the manufacturing of naval supplies, including turpentine and tar - products which would later become less in demand after the invention of the steam engine, and the diminishing demand for wooden ships. Ever industrious Havelock residents subsequently made ends meet during this era by turning turpentine distillers into moonshine distillers, and forming a new, albeit illegal, industry for the town.
By the early 20th Century, Havelock was fading, but the formation of Cherry Point in 1940 changed the landscape considerably. Growing the town's population with both part-time and new full-time military residents, (while providing jobs for local residents), the new naval station quickly became a point of pride for the town, and was the primary source for its much-needed boost of development and general prosperity. In fact, the town of Havelock didn't become an official "town" until 1959 - arguably, a direct result of the new population and growth that stemmed from the establishment of the air station.
Today, Havelock is a relatively quiet town that's filled with surrounding green spaces and wild environments, and boasts an inherent loyalty and respect for its naval neighbors. In fact, naval planes can be found everywhere around the town, from the front gates of the MCAS Cherry Point Station to the outskirts of the Havelock Tourist & Event Center, which is filled with local and national military history.
For newcomers, the Havelock Tourist & Event Center is a great first stop for seeking out local area information, and is essentially a multi-purpose facility with conference accommodations for groups of up to 700.
The must-see area attraction for nature lovers is the extensive long-distance Neusiok Trail in the Pine Cliff Recreational Area. A popular hike for both local and cross-country explorers, the trail can be extended or shortened at will, and expands all the way to the banks of the Neuse River. This is where visitors can enjoy Havelock's natural scenery at its finest, as ancient pine and cypress tree stumps poke above the beaches along the Neuse River, presenting an eerie but beautiful landscape. If you go, bring a camera and plenty of bug spray, and be prepared to be impressed by the endless water views and the abundant skeletal tree roots that are found in every direcion.
When it comes to accommodations, Havelock has plenty to offer its guests, who are often visitors of military base personnel or folks in town for a conference at the local Havelock Tourist & Event Center. Budget-savvy travelers often spend a night or two in the town as well, as the 7 hotels and motels often offer significantly reduced rates than the town's beachside neighbors, but are an easy drive away from many of the Crystal Coast's major attractions. There are a couple small vacation rentals close to the water, but most guests head to the Havelock chain hotels for a weekend visit or an extended stay.
Because of Havelock's significant population, there are also plenty of restaurants in the area, which range from classic BBQ joints and grills to fast food and chain restaurants. Newcomers are urged to check out the local seafood restaurant scene, as because of Havelock's proximity to the Neuse River, Pamlico Sound, and Atlantic Ocean, the seafood fare is hard to beat.
Essentially, Havelock is a small town with just enough restaurants, lodgings, and natural attractions to keep anyone busy, and the city's authentic southern culture and charm, is certainly worthy of a stop during an in-depth Inner Banks exploration.
Often overshadowed by its Emerald Isle and Crystal Coast neighbors, this town, despite being one of the larger of the coastal communities, stays relatively hidden and secluded - and locals and frequent visitors couldn't be happier about this fact. A great destination for a long hike along the Neuse River, followed by a little classic Eastern BBQ or a heaping plate of North Carolina steamed shrimp, the quiet community of Havelock is definitely worth a second look.