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Published October 17th 2012
Explore three different ecosystems in rare coastal reserve
Coastal rainforest meets the rivermouth and the beach at Brunswick Heads Nature Reserve
Large chunks of pristine coastal land that remain untouched by development are becoming harder to find along the mid-eastern seaboard of Australia, as demand rises for a sea-change lifestyle and development booms. Just ask the Gold Coast, which was once an untouched wetland coastal ecosystem. Fortunately for the coastal wetland and nature-lover, just 30 minutes drive from the high-rises scattered along the beachfront on the Queensland border lies Brunswick Heads. This sleepy settlement is the kind of place your folks used to holiday at in the 70s, a sleepy settlement which has managed to retain of the charm of a laid back seaside village, where you can just relax and be one with nature without having to keep up appearances in the process.
The best ways to appreciate the Brunswick River and the dense coastal bushland adjacent to it is to immerse yourself in the Brunswick Heads Nature Reserve, which is a protected slice of coastal rainforest managed by the New South Wales National Parks and Wildlife Service.
Map showing the way to access the reserve by car. Map courtesy of NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service
One of the best things about this nature reserve is that most people aren't aware it even exists, so you can be spared hordes of tourists and weekend city folk looking for a 'nature escape.' That is for the moment anyway. If I didn't grow up here and have the local knowledge of the area, I am convinced that to this day I would still not know about this part of the nature reserve. I also would have never discovered the pristine 'secretness' of Harry's Hill Beach, despite being able to see it opposite me, across the river at Torakina Park in Brunswick Heads proper.
Part of the reason I believe people don't know about this spot is because accessing the reserve is by no means obvious. To get here you must drive down the relatively lengthy unsealed road, North Head Road at Ocean Shores. Ocean Shores is the next township along the beach north of Brunswick Heads and North Head road runs parallel to the beach along a peninsula. The open beach is on one side of the reserve and a perfect spot for fishing at Marshalls Creek can be found on the other.
Brunswick Heads Nature Reserve is accessed through Ocean Shores by taking unsealed North Head Rd
The carpark and picnic area is around 3 kilometres down North Head Road but its worth pulling over along the road at some point if you want your own secluded stretch of beach, or wish to throw a line in for a spot of fishing in Marshalls Creek.
Marshalls Creek on the right hand side of North Head Road offers fishing and paddling opportunities.
The road continues into denser coastal scrub and eventually into rainforest before arriving at the car park and picnic spot area. Here there are toilets as well as an information board on the wildlife in the reserve, which details information on the some of the endangered migratory shore birds that nest here. There is also direct beach access for those who would like to throw themselves into the surf or stretch their legs on the open beach.
From this point visitors can go one two ways. You can take the short rainforest walk to the headland area, or the even shorter walk of about 50 meters down to the estuary and mangroves, where at low tide you can see oyster farms and pelicans lazing. I must stress that timing your trip to Brunswick Heads Nature Reserve should ideally coincide with a low tide - as this would allow you to pretty much walk across the mudflats to the rock walls and get up close and personal with some groups of pelicans. It is also worth keeping your eyes to the sky for sea eagles as well, in addition to the other shorebirds that call this coastal ecosystem home. It is important during spring time to stay out of fenced areas as many species of shore birds are endangered and use this area to breed.
Since there is an oyster farm in the estuary upstream a few meters, keeping your shoes on is a wise idea along the access path down to the mangroves and along the mudflats as sharp oyster shells could quickly make your adventuring come to a painful end.
Keep your eyes open on the rainforest walk for echidnas, wallabies and other wildlife
From the carpark a enticing trail leads you through the dense coastal vegetation to the tip of the peninsula where wildlife, including echidnas, can be spotted. Keep your eyes open for wallabies and bush turkeys as well. It is a short walk to headland from here - only around 300 metres on flat terrain which makes it perfect for less able-bodied people and young children. Its worth keeping your camera at the helm for some dramatic and picturesque photo opportunities of the beach through the trees and the sunlight streaming through the vegetation.
We spotted an echidna scurrying amongst the leaf litter
The rewards of the trek through bushland presents the intrepid bushwalker with the unpatrolled Harry's Hill Beach. To me, this beach is the ultimate utopia. Still crystal blue water makes it ideal for paddling at low tide, and rockpools and the jagged breakwall at the tip of the North Head of the Brunswick River make for the meeting of three ecosystems; the rainforest, estuary, and the beach. You could easily spend a whole day just in this part of the reserve alone, with time falling away as you paddle, explore and take in the serenity of this coastal oasis. It is worth exercising caution while swimming at high tide however, as there could be a potential undertow and the current could be strong and the private beach is unpatrolled. Across the river you can smile and wave at the beach-goers at Brunswick Heads main beach as they wonder 'how do you get over there?'
Harry's Hill Beach is the perfect spot to paddle at low tide, in crystal blue still water.
Brunswick Heads Nature Reserve is the ideal strip of pristine coastal ecosystem and has it all for the nature lover. It is a natural playground with bushwalking, fishing, open and sheltered beaches, mangroves and estuary systems, combined with excellent wildlife spotting opportunities. Best yet, its not swamped by large numbers of people and after a visit here you truly will have experienced a natural escape. The coastal ecosystem here is untouched and remains the way it was hundreds ago. Make the journey to Brunswick Heads Nature Reserve today. You won't be disappointed.
I agree, its a great article, and you have captured how beautiful this part of the world is. I must point out that pulling over and throwing a line out in Marshalls Creek is a contravention of the Cape Byron Marine Park zoning plan. This part of Marshalls Creek is a sanctuary zone and protected from all forms of fishing. There are signs where the road runs by the creek, pointing this out.
Brilliant article, Julian. Unfortunately our most vivid memory of Brunswick Heads is our no 1 daughter's splinters (the size of tree trunks) that were embedded in her foot, as she crossed the old wooden bridge barefoot. Her experience on laughing gas at casualty afterwards is still one of our favourite home movies... Watch out for the bridge - residents told us it catches visitors on a regular basis.