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. They’re not patrolled, so are suitable for confident swimmers.
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, 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 oozes plenty of atmosphere.
Along the way, you may also bump into an unfeathered friend or two (this part of the beach is unofficially clothing-optional!).
More About The Belongil Estuary
Before we uncover some of the fascinating aspects of the Belongil estuary, let’s find out what an estuary is.
An estuary is described as the large part of a river which joins the sea. At this meeting point, sea water enters and blends with fresh water runoff carrying material from the land.
This creates a rich stew of brackish water teeming with life that leads to the biodiversity estuaries are known for.
Because of this fluid exchange between land and sea, the Belongil estuary 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 we recommend going there more than once.
It’s interesting to note that the Belongil estuary is partly comprised of saltmarsh and mangroves. These coastal wetlands support a huge range of flora and fauna, as we’ve already mentioned.
Wetlands, generally, also diminish the risk of water-related natural hazards.
According to a local newspaper article in 2017 for World Wetlands Day, “wetlands act as a natural sponge, absorbing and storing excess rainfall and reducing flooding. During the dry season they release stored water, delay the onset of droughts and reduce water shortages.”
On a completely random note, if you’re keen to take a dip in Belongil Creek (it’s much warmer than the ocean), don’t worry too much about the dark colour. The water’s been stained by tea tree, which is actually good for you!
A Stormy History
The walk between Byron Bay and the Belongil estuary is undoubtedly breathtaking. It also exposes the effect of changing climes – rising sea levels and sand erosion, particularly – on the area’s spectacular coastline.
The problem is nothing new.
For example, in 1864, the sea managed to reach the lowlands from Tallow beach to Belongil creek.
In 1898, severe erosion from a ‘big blow’ exposed much of the coffee rock at Belongil Beach.
It’s hard to imagine, but in the 1920s, Byron Bay was awash with sand, mountains of it blowing down Jonson street, which had to be shovelled out by hand.
Since then, the town has been flooded more than once by cyclonic weather.
All in all, the Belongil estuary and creek offer an off-the-beaten-track experience that combines the best of Byron Bay’s nature with great insights into the region’s history of weather and changing ecology.
Want more inspiration for things to do in Byron Bay? Check out our Ultimate Guide to Byron Bay.