As a visitor to the Belongil estuary, you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in a piece of paradise far, far away from civilisation.
There’s nothing further from the truth. Byron Bay’s town centre is an easy 2.5km stroll away from the estuary, with plenty of gorgeous beaches along the way.
Be prepared to roll up your pants and get your feet wet as some bits of the beach can disappear, especially during so-called “king tides” when it’s full moon or no moon!
Abundant with wildlife, birdlife and marine biodiversity, and host to threatened plant and wildlife species (including the Little Tern), the Belongil estuary doesn’t always make it on Byron Bay’s list of top things to do, however we think it should.
Those who venture beyond Belongil Beach to the estuary will discover that it’s a diverse ecological system with a rich story to tell. Plus it’s stunning, serene and always changing, according to the time of day, weather seasons.
Where Worlds Collide
If you’re ever in doubt of the utter genius of Mother Nature, a trip to the Belongil Estuary is an unforgettable reminder.
The estuary is a natural point at which Belongil Creek and the ocean meet. A junction where multiple ecosystems merge to form a sanctuary teaming with sea and bird life. A celebration of biodiversity.
The story of Belongil Estuary begins with Belongil Creek. The vein of water extends southeast approximately three kilometres inland through habitats of saltmarsh and mangroves.
These areas of the creek are nature’s perfect nurseries. Countless species of fish such as Mangrove Jack and Barramundi use mangroves as a safe house for breeding and the growth of their juvenile fish.
Belongil Creek’s waters are beautifully scented, naturally medicinal and stained a deep brown thanks to oils in tea trees lining the creek leaching into the water, which actually makes the water quite soft, which in turn cleanses and softens your skin.
The dark tea-tree stained waters of the creek create streaks of colour as they flow into the estuary like a watercolour masterpiece.
The Estuary itself is composed partly of saltmarsh and mangroves. These wetlands act as a natural sponge, absorbing and storing excess rainfall and reducing flooding.
The unique mixture of fresh and saltwater meeting, as well as fauna providing sanctuary makes the estuary abundant with life, especially sea and shore birds such as the Osprey, Brahminy Kite, Tern, Striated Bittern, Pied Oystercatcher, Sacred Kingfisher, Rainbow Bee Eater, Egrets, Cormorants and Striated Pardalote.
Because of the estuary’s continual flow of water between land and sea, the landscape is constantly being reinvented with the movement of the tides.
It’s an ever-changing and inspirational work in progress, re-sculpted by the elements – which is why more than one visit is recommended.
A Stormy History
Belongil Beach and Estuary is part of Arakwal Country which extends from Seven Mile Beach to Brunswick River. This area is sacred and rich in Aboriginal history.
The area was a significant meeting place or ‘Cavanbah’. While many tribes came to meet in the area, a camp of 80 or more people led by ‘King Bobby’ had their home camp in what is now the Byron Bay CBD.
While the changing tides shape the Belongil Estuary every day, it is some of Mother Nature’s more tempestuous moments that have re-shaped Belongil Beach and Byron Bay beyond.
For example, in 1864, the sea clawed its way to the lowlands from Tallow Beach to Belongil Creek during a storm.
In 1898, severe erosion from a ‘big blow’ exposed much of the coffee rock at Belongil Beach.
In the 1920’s Byron Bay was awash with sand. Mountains of it would literally blow down Jonson Street only to be shovelled out by hand.
On Saturday 14th May 1921, the transport ship Wollongbar was tied up to a jetty after unloading its cargo, waiting for crew before departing back to Sydney.
Large waves and winds whipped the low tide into a stormy soup causing the ship’s keel to smash repeatedly against the seabed. It eventually came to its resting place, stranded on Belongil Beach. It severed a vital line of transport between Byron Bay and Sydney. It was two years before the Wollongbar II was built. Since then, the town has been flooded more than once by cyclonic weather.
Walk along Belongil Estuary and Creek, marvel at the incredible wildlife and imagine how this untouched landscape has changed from decades ago.
Join one of our guided ecosystem walks to find out more about the estuary ecosystem and more.
Want more inspiration for things to do in Byron Bay? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Byron Bay.