Wilmington, North Carolina

Azaleas Everywhere!

We headed down to the North Carolina coast for 4 days in the Wilmington area from April 7-11, 2011. Although I’ve lived in NC for almost 20 years, I had never been to Wilmington. It seemed that every time I had a chance to go it was either my weekend to work or something else conflicted. Everyone knows that if you’re going to see a city you don’t go during a festival. Go for the festival and plan on seeing the city some other time. This was no exception. The Azalea Festival is the primary fundraiser for the Wilmington Garden Club. The festival is held each year on the second weekend in April. With our early Spring this year I was afraid that the azaleas might be past prime but they were in all their glory. You almost overdose on them by the weekend’s end.

When we first started looking for a place to park the trailer, all we could find was a KOA at $50/night. We wanted something cheaper but there wasn’t a Good Sam spot closer than an hour away. That would be too much driving back and forth. We were planning on seeing some of the sights and eating with the Charlotte Travel Club. So we chose a local park, Carolina Beach Family Campground, at half the price. Our luck hasn’t been the greatest with these “family” campgrounds. This was better than most in that it was quiet with good level sites and the owners were very friendly. However, there was a large portion of Redneck living here. It serves as a seasonal and permanent camp for about 60% of the sites. Many have built on additions that are more like shacks. I laughed the first time I went into the Ladies room. Instead of a bench or sofa for sitting down, there was an old bench truck seat…complete with seat belts! Did they think you were going to fall off squirming while waiting for a vacant stall! Oh yes, at least one shower stall had been plumbed by the ever present dyslexic plumber so it was cold on the left, hot on the right. It’s OK once you figgure it out but waiting for 10 minutes and no hot water the first time isn’t fun. Since the season hadn’t started yet, it was less than half full. The camper that peaked our curiosity the most was a man we nicknamed “Mr. Tent”. The “tent” was a blue plastic tarp over a clothesline open at both ends. His bed was 3 tires with a piece of plywood on top and a blanket. He didn’t have a chair so sat at the picnic table all the time. He seemed to know the owners so he must be a frequent guest. We felt like we had the Ritz in comparison.

We were on our own Thursday afternoon so we took Opal for a long walk on the beach at Fort Fisher. Fort Fisher is a NC State Historical Site and home to one of the three NC Aquariums. We didn’t have time to stop at the historical site but will definitely do so on our next visit. More about the aquarium later. Carolina Beach State Park is in the area as well. Although it does not have hookups the campground looks like a good alternative  for the trailer. This park’s claim to fame is it’s one of the few places where you can see Venus Fly Trap growing in the wild. There are also several places to launch kayaks/boats here. This is one of the few places where dogs are allowed on the beach. Last year at the Outer Banks she was scared to death by the waves and not thrilled when she took a drink and the water was salty. This year she was still wary but walked closer to the water and kept her eye on the waves as they snuck up toward her. Once she let her guard down and actually got her paws wet. Is there anything better than walking along the beach with the breeze blowing and that smell of salt air? Then home for a glass of wine and dinner.

Gardener's Greeting

The festival began on Friday. It has a garden tour (Fri.-Sun.) and a home tour (Sat. only) portion as well as several blocks of street vendors, a shag contest and fireworks. We’d planned on doing just the garden tour. We started on the garden tour with the sites closest to our camp. They included  the home of a landscape architect who specializes in water features, an old cemetery, lovely homes and Greenfield Park. Both Steve and I were fascinated with Oakdale Cemetery which has graves from the early 1830’s. Not only was the setting beautiful but the stories you could glean from the inscriptions such as why they died or parents surrounded by five children none of whom lived to be more than 10 years old.

Fire and Water

 Greenfield Park is a large city park around a lake. You can rent paddle boats to tour the lake or just walk around it. At one spot there are ducks and geese who are very well fed. So much so that the very skitish wood duck was as mellow as could be and allowed me to get quite close for some pics.

Oakdale Cemetery


Greenfield Park and Lake


Very Cooperative Wood Duck

We didn’t meet up with our friends until it was time for dinner at Circa 1922. Typical of any restaurant during a festival they were packed. The upstairs which had tables for large groups was very noisy. My selection of dinner was a bit of a disappointment. We’d walked over from the hotel where our friends were staying. On the way back we watched some fireworks until it began raining. We made it to the car just in time.

USS North Carolina from shore

The storm was over by Saturday morning but a gray cloudy sky persisted. We’d planned on doing Airlie Gardens today as Saturday is the only day admission was included in the garden tour ticket. With featureless sky and clouds we knew it wouldn’t be a good picture day so we changed our plans. We decided to take Opal for a long walk at a nearby city park that runs along the Snows Cut which connects the Cape Fear River with the Intercoastal Waterway. Then we decided to tour the USS North Carolina which has been in Wilmington since 1960. I’d never been onboard a battleship and found it very interesting. About four times a year, during the Azalea Festival is one, volunteers man the ship in period uniforms from WWII. These men are very knowledgeable about the history of the ship and you can tell they really enjoy preserving the ship and making history come alive. Steve was interested in the mechanics of the ship and the battle tactics. I found the personal stories related by the volunteers and those posted throughout the ship to be the most interesting. While on the Operations deck, a volunteer told us about a sailor who was badly injured by aircraft fire during a battle. He was taken to sick bay by another sailor. The two men never saw each other again and didn’t know each others names or if both had survived. About 4-5 years ago as he was repeating this story a woman said, I just heard a man say that happened to him. Both men were on board for a crew reunion and met for the first time.

At the Helm

Steve at USS NC Electrical Station


USS NC Gun Battery

 We met our friends again for dinner at a waterfront restaurant called Elijah’s. This was a big improvement over last night both in noise level and food. I had scallops and they were great. some of our friends had done the Home tour while others shopped at the street fair and watched a Shag contest. Now, for you non-southerners, Shag is a beach dance like a slow swing except you don’t move the upper half of your body. It was explained to me this way… pretend you are dancing in sand so you slide your feet and hold yourself still above the waist so you won’t spill your beer!
Our day was off to a rough start when we found the car battery dead due to a light left on. This was the first time we’d used the Good Sam Road Service and they did very well by us. So we were off by 11AM. Sunday we’d planned to finish the garden tour and go to Airlie Gardens since we didn’t make it on Saturday. The homes we saw on Sunday were in the more expensive area of Wilmington and many faced the water or marsh. You could certainly tell which ones were owner created/maintained versus professionally done just by the details and personality (or lack of). On Saturday Airlie Gardens had been free with the Garden Tour. We were prepared to pay the regular admission of $5. We asked if our DSBG membership gave a discount and found out it was reciprocal so we still entered for free. The volunteer at the desk took a look at our photo equipment and was sure we were pros. She asked if we knew the photo policy. I don’t think she believed us when we said we’re just avid amateurs. Well, at least we look the part!

It's Spring at Airlie Gardens

One of the features of the garden is the 400 year old live oak tree. There are also 2 lakes. One has swans and the other is more of a natural setting. I didn’t get over that way this time. Steve said he saw an otter there. We’d arrived late so only spent 3 hours there. This is a place I’d like to return to for a whole day.

Art in the Garden


Backlit Japanese Maple

A Perspective on Water

On Monday we packed up and hitched up then went down to Fort Fisher for one more walk on the beach. Then we stopped at the Fort Fisher Aquarium. I could have spent much longer there but we had to hit the road. This was my first time trying to shoot through glass and at high ISO settings. I had mixed results. Here are some of the better ones. The albino alligator exhibit is new. They have infrared lamps on so there is a bit of a red showing on her back. The skates and stingrays were fun to watch. I like the shot of the Lionfish best.

Albino Gator




Pair of Skates


LionfishBoys Will Be Boys


About vagabondpress

Recently retired and "hitting the road". Hobbies include travel, nature photography, kayaking, hiking, good food and good friends.
This entry was posted in History, Narrative, North Carolina, photography, Travel USA. Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Wilmington, North Carolina

  1. Cheryl Niedermaier says:

    Always enjoying reading your blog post’s & accompanying photo’s !
    Will you ever have time to return to all the places you didn’t get enough time at ??
    It sounds a lot like trying to catch up on all the things I’ve recorded on the DVR before I see the results on the internet LOL !
    The gardener’s door makes me feel very much like an amateur gardener !!

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