Eight Free Things To Do in North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands

Caswell Beach Oak Island Lighthouse

Sometimes the best things in life are free, and that is no exception in North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands. This summer discover just how easy it is to go big on a budget in the Brunswick Islands. When you’re visiting, be sure to check out the below eight free activities that are sure to bring on the smiles without breaking the bank or sacrificing the fun factor.

1. Oak Island Lighthouse

Located on Caswell Beach, the Oak Island Lighthouse is a must-visit spot that proves it is possible to elevate your vacation experience at no added cost. The 153-foot structure is the last lighthouse built in North Carolina. While tours to the top of this 15-story beauty are free, friendly donations from visitors are always appreciated and help ensure that future travelers to the area will enjoy the scenic views awaiting atop the 131-step series of ships ladders.

Kindred Spirit Mailbox

 2. Kindred Spirit Mailbox

While walks along the beach are always a priceless perk of a coastal getaway, at the Brunswick Islands you can take a tranquil stroll to a tucked away mailbox full of secrets. Standing in the sands of beautiful Bird Island is the Kindred Spirit Mailbox. This mailbox to nowhere is a true hidden gem holding small notebooks full of the thoughts, dreams, wishes and prayers of wayward travelers. Walk along Bird Island and see the mailbox firsthand to soak in the magic and add your own musings to the ever-growing collection.

 

3. North Carolina Maritime Museum

Venture to Southport to visit one of the three maritime museums sponsored by the state of North Carolina. Visitors to the museum can dive into the rich history of the Cape Fear River region. The museum’s well curated collection tells the story of the region and covers shipwrecks, piracy, the Civil War, and other nautical adventures. While admission to the Maritime Museum is free, donations are appreciated.

Southport tour

 4. Self-Guided Tour of Southport

One authentic and charming way to explore the area is by foot. Spend less and see more with a self-guided tour starting at the Fort Johnston – Southport Museum & Visitors Center. Here maps and brochures that will lead your journey through historic Southport can be found. Stops include churches and homes dating back to the 1800s as well as landmarks like City Hall, the Old Brunswick Jail, Old Smithville Burial Grounds and River Pilots Tower. Southport, “American’s Happiest Seaside Town” as noted by Coastal Living, has been a beloved Brunswick Islands destination since the late 1700s. No stranger to the spotlight, Southport’s innately picturesque scenery has served as the backdrop to many popular films and TV shows such as Safe Haven, A Walk to Remember and The Secret Life of Bees.

Brunswick Town

5. Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson

History buffs will delight in a day trip to the Brunswick Town/Fort Anderson Historic Site. Admission is free and grants visitors access to tour and roam what is left of old Brunswick, a major pre-Revolutionary port on North Carolina’s Cape Fear River. Brunswick Town was razed by British troops in 1776. While the town was never rebuilt, during the Civil War, Fort Anderson was constructed on the old town grounds and functioned until the fall of the Confederacy. Today notable sites include the hulk of what was once Brunswick’s St. Philip’s Anglican Church and remains of a sea captain’s house used by royal governors.

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 6. Turtle Talks

North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands is home to unforgettable and wonderful wildlife experiences. Loggerhead sea turtles are known to frequent the area, and sometimes lucky visitors are able to catch a glimpse of a magnificent sea turtle gliding through the ocean waves or watch in awe as baby sea turtles make their way toward the sea. Many of the local sea turtle protection organizations offer free seminars, designed for the whole family, to share important information about protecting loggerhead sea turtles. These “Turtle Talks” can are held late spring through summer. See our calendar of events for details.

7. Summer Concerts

The ways to enjoy some free fun in the sun continue with summer concerts at North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands. Starting in May through Labor Day week each of our beach communities hold live music performances that are free to enjoy and perfect for family members of all ages. Each community has their own schedule and performing artists change every week, so be sure to check out our calendar of events for more information on who will be playing during your stay.

Farmers Market

8. Farmers Market

In North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands, it is easy to live like a local with summer outdoor farmers markets starting up in May. Many of our friendly beach communities host their own outdoor market, some located along the waterfront, offering fine artisanal goods, locally grown produce, baked goods, photography, pottery and other handcrafted items. While the fresh and local goodies are for sale, a stroll through one of our quaint farmers markets is a relaxing way to enjoy a morning at the beach.  See our calendar of events for locations and times.

For more information on things to do at North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands, please visit www.NCBrunswick.com.

The Best Mother’s Day Gifts for Moms that Love the Beach

Spring is here and that means it is time to get ready to celebrate that one very special lady in your life. With Mother’s Day right around the corner, it is never too early to start planning how to show mom just how much you care. For moms that live by the motto “life is better in flip-flops” think beyond flowers this Mother’s Day and get coastal at North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands. Check out our list of the perfect gifts for moms who always seem to have the beach on the brain!

Toast to Mom at Silver Coast Winery

Say “cheers” to mom this Mother’s Day with a trip to Silver Coast Winery in Ocean Isle Beach. The Silver Coast Winery story began on Mother’s Day 2002 when owner Maryann Azzato was gifted a half-acre plot of land from her husband, Dr. Bud. A full family affair, Maryann along with her siblings and children planted the very grapes that would grow to become this local gem and Mother’s Day must. The winery offers a vineyard, tasting room and tours daily. Visitors can also enjoy the local art that adorns the walls of the winery’s art gallery.

waterfront dining

Take Mom to Dinner with a View

We all know the sun rises and sets with mom, so this year treat her to a view as spectacular as she is. The beaches and coastal towns of the Brunswick Islands are home to an incredible array of world-class dining experiences featuring both local specialties and global inspiration. Whether mom loves tastes of the Caribbean, signature Southern dishes, flavors of the Mediterranean or a fresh catch of the day, there are countless options to choose from. Our surplus of tranquil and scenic beaches creates seemingly endless opportunities for dinner and a coastal sunset. With multiple magnificent vantage points overlooking the Atlantic or the Intracoastal Waterway, it is easy to find a special dinner spot with a view as perfect as she is.

Traverse the Beach Searching for Shells

North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands’ 45 miles of sandy beaches create an abundant playground for exploring. Take mom back in time to simpler days when summers were spent searching for seashells in the sand. Sift through the sand for some of the popular shells found along our shores. From angelwings to olive shells, true tulips to sand dollars, there is always a hidden gem awaiting your discovery. These little treasures are sure to brighten up mom’s day for years to come and give her a piece of the beach to hold close to her heart all year long.

Trek to the Kindred Spirit Mailbox

For a unique beachgoing experience, take mom to serene Bird Island for a stroll along Sunset Beach to visit the beloved Kindred Spirit Mailbox. For years the mailbox has been a must-visit spot for much-needed reflection. Visitors venture to the secluded mailbox to write their stories and share their love with the universe. Year after year people come by to add their letters, notes, thoughts, poems, prayers and wishes to the growing stack of journals found inside. This Mother’s Day, treat mom to a special spiritual experience and share your story with the Kindred Spirit Mailbox.

Treat Mom to One Unforgettable Beach Experience

NC's Brunswick Islands family vacationThe best way to give back to a beach-loving mom is to treat her to the ultimate beachgoing experience with an unforgettable getaway to North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands. Our peaceful beaches, incredible culinary scene, rich history, exciting events and popular attractions make a vacation to our coastal oasis a sure way to put a smile on mom’s face. There is no shortage of ways to show mom how much you love her at North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands, so be sure to seas every opportunity to make May 13 a Mother’s Day to remember.

For more information and ways to make a memorable experience at North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands, please visit www.NCBrunswick.com.

 

Find Scenic Views and Abundant Wildlife at the Nature Preserves in NC’s Brunswick Islands

From the area’s 45 miles of pristine beaches to the unique inland ecosystems, North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands is home to a range of diverse nature preserves where wildlife thrives. Visitors can enjoy beautiful scenery and discover native plants and animals, by foot, bike, kayak and more. Choose one of these five nature preserves for your next excursion in the Brunswick Islands, and read on to learn more about local efforts to sustain many of these picturesque spaces from Mansfield Fisher with The Nature Conservancy.

Bald Head Island

Accessible by ferry or private boat, Bald Head Island features 10,000 acres of salt marsh and 180 acres of protected maritime forest, all preserved by the Bald Head Island Conservancy. This distinct coastal area is also part of the NC Birding Trail, where visitors can spot Wilson’s Plover, Painting Bunting and several types of wintering waterfowl. The kayaking and birding expeditions offered throughout the year by the Conservancy offer a non-intrusive and scenic view of these fascinating species.

Bird Island Nature Preserve

Bird Island

Located on an undeveloped portion of Sunset Beach, Bird Island is a treasure with more than 1,200 acres of unspoiled salt marsh and tidal creeks, along with natural dunes and sandy beaches. The island serves as an outdoor laboratory and classroom for scientists and students to learn more about how the ecosystem functions and how we can help to sustain precious coastal areas. The Bird Island Preservation Society Stewards also lead educational walks at certain times during the year. Access Bird Island from the southernmost public beach access point on Sunset Beach to make the trip by bike or foot – be sure to look for the Kindred Spirit Mailbox in the dunes about a mile down the beach!

Boiling Spring Lakes Preserve

Pine WarblerMore than 6,000 acres make up this expansive preserve of rare plants and animals. Boiling Spring Lakes Preserve is home to the endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, carnivorous plants, rough-leaf loosestrife, and more than 400 vascular plant species, including the Venus flytrap. Visitors can see the stunning preserve for themselves on the Boiling Spring Lakes Nature Trail, accessible at the town’s Community City off Highway 87. The preserve is also part of the NC Birding Trail where visitors can encounter species like the Pine Warbler, Indigo Bunting, Blue Grosbeak and more.

Ev-Henwood Nature Preserve – preserved by UNCW

Encompassing 175 acres preserved by University of North Carolina Wilmington, the Ev-Henwood Nature Preserve boasts an impressive variety of native plants and animals in the inland town of Leland. Sightings of the Prothonotary Warbler, Swainson’s Warbler and Summer Tanager earned this preserve a spot on the NC Birding Trail. Visitors can take in this natural haven on seven miles of maintained trails throughout the preserve.

Green Swamp Preserve

Pitcher PlantSitting on 15,000 acres, the Green Swamp Preserve is an incredibly unique natural space, considered a longleaf pine savanna, with a diverse herb layer of orchids and insectivorous plants in the open areas. The Preserve is also home to four species of pitcher plants, a stunning sight and great photo-op for nature enthusiasts. Beyond plant life, a range of animals are native to the Green Swamp Preserve – notably the American alligator, fox squirrel, Henslow’s and Bachman’s sparrow and Hessel’s hairstreak butterfly. Just minutes from the coast, visitors can park at the trail access point off Highway 211 in Supply to see this splendid preserve for themselves.


More on nature preserves with Mansfield Fisher of The Nature Conservancy:

Mansfield Fisher works with The Nature Conservancy at the Wilmington, NC-based field office, which focuses on Longleaf restoration through controlled burning. Much of Mansfield’s work takes place at the Green Swamp Preserve in Brunswick County.

Venus Flytrap Green Swamp Nature Preserve“Last year, our Longleaf program in North Carolina assisted or led on controlled burns totaling more than 25,000 acres. We are working to restore natural Longleaf Pine systems and preserve these threatened ecosystems that are home to many rare plants, like the Venus flytrap.”

Why is the fall season a great time to visit the Green Swamp Preserve?

“There is always a reason to go out to the Green Swamp in Brunswick County because, as the seasons change, there will be many different plants to see. The fall is a great time to visit the Green Swamp because this is when many of the grasses flower. The wiregrass and bluestems produce seas of golden grass. Some of the showier plants that bloom in the fall are narrow-leaved sunflower, blazing star, goldenrod, and many kinds of asters.”

What is some of the most unique wildlife you’ve seen in the Green Swamp Preserve?

“There are 16 species of native orchids that can be found in the Green Swamp and 14 different Brown headed nuthatchspecies of carnivorous plants. You will see beautiful longleaf and pond pine trees throughout the preserve. The Green Swamp is a birdwatchers’ paradise. Some of the bird species that can be found are Bachman’s Sparrow, Brown-headed Nuthatch, Bobwhite Quail, Pine Warbler and Henslow’s Sparrows. If you are lucky, you may see White-tailed deer, eastern cougar and bobcats.”

What is your favorite fact about the Green Swamp Preserve that people may not know?

“My favorite fact about the Green Swamp is the important role that fire plays in maintaining the delicate balance of these ecosystems. Lightning and Native Americans maintained fire in these ecosystems and, therefore, many of the plants in the Green Swamp need fire to survive. Without periodic burning, the savannas would become overgrown with shrubs and crowd out many of the flowering herbaceous plants.”

Find The Nature Conservancy on social media:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/TNCNC/

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tnc_nc/

To learn more about nature in North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands, and to plan your trip, visit www.NCBrunswick.com.

You can follow the North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands on social media at https://www.facebook.com/NCBrunswick/  and https://www.instagram.com/ncbrunswickislands/.

Tour the Brunswick Islands by Land, Sea and Air

With five barrier islands, 45 miles of beaches and several charming coastal towns, there’s lots to explore when visiting North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands. While self-guided tours are an excellent way to discover the area, let the local experts give you the inside scoop. Guided tours are available throughout the islands and seaside towns, whether you’re a history buff, film buff, nature lover or just enjoying learning more about your favorite vacation destination. Below are some tour options that are sure to help you impress friends and family with your Brunswick Islands knowledge.

On Land
Find a historic Southport tour for all visitors in this quaint and charming town along the Cape Fear River. Tours are led by foot, bike and tram to provide in-depth history and fascinating facts about the town with homes and other architecture dating back to the 1800s. Other landmarks that will captivate those looking to learning about the past include the Old Brunswick Jail, Old Smithville Burial Grounds and the Old Yacht Basin, a popular movie filming location. If you’re looking for a thrill, be sure to check out the lantern-led Ghost Walk Tour to delve into the legends and lore of Southport. Around the holidays, you can also sign up for a home tour to see the beautiful, festive decorations for the winter season.

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During the summer, the Bird Island Preservation Society offers a guided walking tour of Bird Island each Wednesday. Learn about the coastal ecosystem of this beautiful undeveloped 1200 acre nature preserve during the 1 1/2 to 2 hour tour.

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Up in the Clouds
For a boost of adrenaline, take your tour to the skies with helicopter and biplane tours. Ocean Isle Beach Helicopter Tours and High Tide Helicopters offer incredible aerial tours of the Brunswick Islands. You can even sign up for a Discovery Flight with Hide Tide Helicopters where you can take a pilot lesson with their professional flight instructors. For a scenic flight for two, take an open cockpit biplane ride with Suncoast Aviation, or design a custom tour with Brunswick Air. Whether soaring over the waves or taking in the vibrant marshland, helicopter and biplane tours take your visit to a new level.

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On the Water
See the beauty of the Brunswick Islands by water with several types of boat tours. Local outfitters will guide you through the waterways on kayaks or paddleboards, a great opportunity for wildlife spotting along the Intracoastal Waterway or the many area creeks and rivers. Bring your camera for a sail or motor boat tour where you can spot dolphins, enjoy a sunset cruise and see the spectacular views that are unique to being on the water. To get up-close with another type of ecosystem, Shallotte River Swamp Park in Ocean Isle Beach offers swamp boat eco-tours to give guests a “frog’s-eye view” of the park’s cypress swamp.

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To learn more about planning your Brunswick Islands vacation and setting up a tour during your trip, visit http://www.ncbrunswick.com/fun_and_adventure/attractions.

Bird Is The Word!

In both spring and summer, and especially at North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands, bird is indeed the word. The five barrier islands that make up NC’s Brunswick Islands encompass a large network of bird sanctuaries. From the southernmost barrier island, where Sunset Beach stretches southwest to the protected nature preserve of Bird Island, to the community of Southport and the offshore rookeries on Battery Island, there is no shortage of incredible birding experiences in this area.

white ibis

 

The White Ibis is one of the most visible and prolific species with their bright white plumage that contrast against a summer-blue sky and green foliage. According to an article featured by The National Audubon Society, nearly 10 percent of the North American population of White Ibis are supported by the six-acre Battery Island, with more than 5,000 nesting pairs documented in 2012. This tiny spit of land, located just a stone’s throw off Southport’s waterfront promenade, is also home for other wading, shore and song birds. These find refuge in the island’s scrubby shrubs and trees making it the state’s largest wading bird colony and a sanctuary protected by Audubon.

young great blue heron smallIn addition, the more than 45 miles of undeveloped and under-developed shoreline and the pristine estuaries and salt marshes on the islands’ flip-side shelter and sustain a wide variety of wading birds and shorebirds during nesting season.  American Oystercatchers, Black Skimmers, Plovers, Ibis, Egrets, and Herons are among the spring/summertime and year-round residents whose babies hatch here and start the next feathered generation.

Those of us who live here in the pristine coastal communities and barrier islands of North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands understand perfectly why these birds choose to return here year after year to nest!

IMG_8855 bThese uncrowded beaches attract plenty of birders and beachgoers too, and while the birds and their fledglings are an amazing site, Audubon provides the following tips to help us protect our nesting shorebirds.  By taking small simple actions to help protect their nesting habitat, you can help them raise the next generation.

Audubon’s Tips to Share the Beach

Respect protected areas and signs. Birds, eggs, nests and chicks are well-camouflaged. Disturbance by people and their pets can cause birds to abandon their eggs and young.

Avoid disturbing groups of birds that are nesting or feeding. If the birds take flight, call loudly, or act agitated, it means you are too close.

Always keep your dog on a leash and away from the birds. Shorebirds perceive people and pets as predators.

Please don’t leave trash or fishing line on the beach. Take your trash with you and place in an appropriate trash container. Trash attracts real predators such as gulls, crows, raccoons and foxes. Fishing line can entangle and kill birds.