Island Hopping in North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands

Island Hopping

With five unique barrier islands, it’s no wonder that North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands has been a family favorite beach destination for generations. When you are looking to plan your next beach vacation, are you partial to the resort style of Ocean Isle Beach? Do memories of hanging out at the Oak Island Pier draw you back? Is it the family vibe of Holden Beach that has you visiting year after year? Or perhaps it’s the secrets that Sunset Beach holds? Whichever island is your favorite home-base, we encourage you to go island hopping on your next Brunswick Islands visit and discover the unique activities, cuisine and events that await on each of our barrier islands. Who knows, you may just end up with a new favorite beach to stake your umbrella!

Holden Beach
Geographically located in the middle of our string of barrier islands, Holden Beach is easily accessible from anywhere in the Brunswick Islands. Head here for a spectacular shrimp burger at Provision Company! Each nationally-acclaimed shrimp patty is made from fresh-off-the-docks shrimp, lightly fried and topped with lettuce, tomato, onion and a tasty special sauce, all served on a perfectly toasted bun or enjoyed atop a bed of crisp lettuce, cucumbers, crunchy croutons and garden-ripe tomatoes. Even better, your view overlooks the waterway and the many shrimp boats that call Holden Beach home. The reason this shrimp burger is extra good? Many of the area’s shrimp boats dock at Holden Beach and unload their catch directly to the restaurants and seafood purveyors here. Take a walk along the docks to see the shrimp boats and visit Old Ferry Seafood to pick up the latest fresh catch or a made-to-order Low Country Boil.

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Oak Island
Next, hop on over to Oak Island which features 14 miles of beautiful uncrowded beaches and is home to the towns of Oak Island and Caswell Beach. While there be sure to check out the newly rebuilt Oak Island Pier, the tallest pier in North Carolina! It is complete with a tackle shop, restaurant and plenty of space for pedestrians and anglers.

For a change of perspective head over to the east end of the island to explore Caswell Beach, home of the Oak Island Lighthouse. Get a bird’s eye view of the area with a free tour to the top of the lighthouse, offered on Tuesday, Thursday and some Sunday mornings throughout the summer by reservation only. General, no reservation required, second level tours are available from Memorial Day through Labor Day on Wednesdays and Saturdays.

caswell beach

Ocean Isle Beach
For a hair-raising adventure, visit The Swamp Park at Ocean Isle Beach! This unique attraction will have you soaring through the sky on a zipline course, exploring the lands by ATV tour, spotting marine life on the swamp boat eco-tour, or swinging through the trees on the aerial adventure park.

Be sure to visit this island on Wednesdays to check out the “All hands-on Deck” program at the largest dry aquarium in the southeast at the Museum of Coastal Carolina. This interactive program gives guests an opportunity to learn about the creatures that live in the diverse ecosystem found in North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands.

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Sunset Beach
Located on the southwestern end of the Brunswick Islands, Sunset Beach is one of the most unique beach experiences that can be found on the east coast because the western end of the island is a completely undeveloped nature reserve. Just a mile’s walk from the last public beach access, is the Bird Island Reserve which is home to a variety of birds, wildlife and beautiful sand dunes. Here you can rejuvenate your soul at the Kindred Spirit Mailbox, where visitors find comfort in divulging their wishes, prayers and dreams among the breathtaking beauty of the ocean. Once back from the beach, finish your Sunset Beach hop with a tour of the Old Sunset Bridge Museum, home to the last pontoon swing bridge on the East Coast!

If visiting Sunset Beach on a Thursday, you can explore the Sunset Beach Waterfront Market from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. where fresh produce and local goods are sold. Stay for some Thursday night fun and check out the laser light and music show at the Ingram Planetarium.

Kindred Spirit Mailbox

Bald Head Island
Accessible only by boat, jump on board the ferry that leaves from Southport and take the 20 minute ride over to Bald Head Island. There you can tour North Carolina’s oldest lighthouse, Old Baldy. Rising above the trees, looking out over the sea, marsh and harbor, the lighthouse is only a short walk from the ferry landing. Admission to the Smith Island Museum of History allows you to climb Old Baldy’s 108 steps for an incomparable view of the island and tour the museum to learn about Bald Head Island’s seafaring history.

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Be sure to make North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands your next island hopping getaway this summer! For more information on the Brunswick Islands and other special offers, please visit www.ncbrunswick.com.

Spring Birding in NC’s Brunswick Islands

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The beginning of spring is just days away and with it’s promise of warmer weather, spring also means the beginning of migration and nesting seasons for birds. The five barrier islands that make up NC’s Brunswick Islands – Sunset Beach, Ocean Isle Beach, Holden Beach, Oak Island and Bald Head Island- encompass a large network of bird sanctuaries.  Situated along the coast of Southeastern North Carolina, the Brunswick Islands’ varied ecosystems make it a natural haven for hundreds of species of birds. In fact, there have been more than 330 species of birds spotted in Brunswick County.  Brunswick County is also home to eight of the birding sites along the North Carolina Birding Trail!

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North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands has more than 45 miles of unspoiled shoreline, pristine estuaries, and salt marshes that sustain a wide variety of wading birds and shorebirds during the spring nesting season.  Battery Island, located in the Cape Fear River across from the Southport waterfront, alone is home to nearly 10 percent of the North American population of White Ibis. White Ibis is one of the most visible and prolific species with their bright white plumage that contrasts the colors in the sky. In 2012, there were more than 5,000 documented nesting pairs of this species on the six-acre island. Battery Island is a bird sanctuary protected by the National Audubon Society.

Black Skimmers - birdingIn addition to White Ibis, other shore birds and wading birds visitors to the Brunswick Islands are likely to encounter include several species of terns and gulls, American Oystercatchers, Black Skimmers, Plovers, Egrets, and Herons. Away from the shore, in nature preserves such as the Green Swamp PreserveEv-Henwood Nature Preserve, and Boiling Spring Lakes Preserve, visitors may see a variety of warblers and sparrows as well as Brown-headed Nuthatches, Summer Tanagers, and Indigo Buntings.

More on birding and bird walks in the Brunswick Islands with Greg Loomis with Wild Bird & Garden in Southport:

We spoke with local bird enthusiast, Greg Loomis with Wild Bird & Garden in Southport about bird walks, birding in the area, and some of his favorite bird spots. His answers are shared below.

How can a visitor to Brunswick Islands get involved in birding?

“Wild Bird & Garden hosts free monthly bird walks that are open to residents and visitors. These bird walks are held on the third Wednesday of every month at 8:30 a.m. Our group walks down to the waterfront of the Southport Riverwalk & Pier. The people who participate on these walks are so knowledgeable and passionate about birding, some can even identity the type of bird by their song alone.”

What species of birds can participants on these walks expect to see?

“We see a lot of different birds on these walks including White Ibis, Glossy Ibis, Seaside Sparrow, Painted Bunting, Carolina Chickadees and more.”

What is the rarest bird that you have encountered on a bird walk in the area?

“I once saw a painted bunting in Southport!” (For those who don’t know, painted buntings are one of the most spectacularly colored and visually impressive birds in the United States. Males can be easily identified by their blue head, green back, and red rump and belly. )

Are there any suggested materials or equipment participants should bring on the bird walks?

“We suggest that guests bring a pair of binoculars, but visitors or residents are able to rent them from Wild Bird & Garden if they don’t bring a pair with them.”

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

Follow NC’s Brunswick Islands on social media at www.facebook.com/NCBrunswick/and www.instagram.com/ncbrunswickislands/

 

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/.

Fall in Love with Nature in the Brunswick Islands

February is the month of love, but visitors and locals can fall in love with North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands year-round, including its stunning nature and coastal beauty. Whether spotting dolphins from the sand or birdwatching in the marshes, the nature of the Brunswick Islands is sure to take your breath away. Plan your next date with the outdoors with one of these scenic adventures.

Sun, Sand and Surf
The Brunswick Islands’ 45 miles of beaches are filled with opportunities for amazing nature sightings. Take a morning stroll and spot sand dollars and other unique shells along the shore, or go for a bike ride at low tide and watch for dolphins playing in the waves. In the fall and winter months, watching the sun rise and set over the ocean is an incredible view on the Brunswick Islands’ south-facing beaches. No matter the time of year, beachgoers in search of natural beauty won’t be disappointed.

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Walk (or float!) on the Wild Side
Discover a different side of the barrier islands with the Intracoastal Waterway and the area’s vast ecosystem of salt marshes, creeks and estuaries. Find some of the best kayaking, paddle boarding and more in the region where salt water meets fresh, home to crabs, oysters, fish, shrimp, skates and even dolphins. Nature preserves and parks throughout the Brunswick Islands provide additional outdoor spaces to spot wildlife and unique plants. Or try a swamp boat eco-tour for an up close look at a cypress swamp.

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Shell-ebrate Miracles
For a truly heartwarming experience from July through October, watch baby sea turtles make their way to the ocean in their first moments of life outside their eggs. Thanks to an abundance of trained volunteers and the sanctuaries throughout the Brunswick Islands, the nests are observed and tended to so the community can be educated on the importance of the protection of this endangered species. Visitors along the beach at night can see this natural miracle for themselves, and watch as volunteers monitor the hatching process and guide the baby turtles to the ocean, where they can live for up to 50 years or more.

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Birds of a Feather
NC’s Brunswick Islands is home to eight sites along the North Carolina Birding Trail. The Islands’ prime location and varied ecosystems make it a haven for birds, and over 330 species have been spotted in Brunswick County. From the majestic bald eagle to the spectacular painted bunting, nature lovers are in for a treat. For a full list of the NC Birding Trail sites in the Brunswick Islands and the species often seen at each site, visit http://www.ncbrunswick.com/activity/brunswick-bird-watching-mainland.

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Out of This World
For a unique take on some other-worldly nature, visit the Ingram Planetarium in Sunset Beach. The state-of-the-art planetarium has an 85-seat SciDome Sky Theater with high definition digital protection and surround-sound system where visitors can learn about the universe around them. The theater shows educational programs about space exploration and astronomy, along with laser music shows. Explore the interactive exhibits in the Paul Dennis Science Hall for fun, hands-on learning.

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To learn more about nature exploration in the Brunswick Islands, and to plan your trip, visit www.NCBrunswick.com.

 

Active Adventures Along the Brunswick Islands

Venture out of your comfort zone and into nature on an active adventure in North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands. Parkside, seaside or riverside, the Brunswick Islands are filled with excursions for all levels of adventurers. Explore freshwater and saltwater activities, such as charter fishing, kayaking, surfing or paddle boarding, or discover the rich history of the islands on a guided tour. From the surf to the sky, North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands set the bar higher for adventure seekers in the southeast.

Sand and Surf Adventures

DSC_0407_OIB_Surfing_LR_edited-1Surfing and Scuba Diving

Don’t just dip your toes in the water! Dive straight into the surf with your board or if you’re certified in scuba diving take a saltwater adventure during your visit to the Brunswick Islands. Several factors make the Brunswick Islands the perfect location for surf classes.  Number one, and most important, the gentle sloping beaches allow for waves to break softly, meaning beginner surfers can take their time getting on their feet. The second reason is the relatively smaller waves seen in the area. Waves of 2′-3′ are ideal to start your surfing adventure on. And third, the warm summer waters invite everyone to come experience the beauty of surfing.

Kayaking and Paddle Boarding

Feeling landlocked lately? Your next adventure could lie just around the bend balancing on a paddle board or seated in a kayak in a river, tidal creek, or the Intracoastal Waterway. Island adventurers can pick their intensity from a meandering paddle downstream to kayaking on the ocean tide. Visitors are welcome to bring their own gear or rent equipment during their stay.

DSC_4299_DEEP SEA FISHING_LRCharter Fishing

Let our local charter captains help you find the big catch whether it’s out in the Gulf Stream or in-shore fishing. You’ll be sure to have plenty of “fish tales” from your adventure along with the fresh catch of the day.

 

 

Adventure By Land

Parks

Reconnect with nature on a blissful stroll through one of the many Brunswick Islands parks or nature preserves. Explore the environment and native animals on a journey from longleaf pine savannas to cool Carolina marshes and sandy shores, or hit the trails for biking, hiking or horseback riding. Take a break from the surf and trade sandy beaches for unspoiled woodlands, riverwalks and expansive estuaries.

IMG_8138 crop wmTours

From the breezy comfort of a tram or bicycle to a classic walking tour, opportunities abound to explore the rich and unique history of the Brunswick Islands. Tours give visitors opportunities to discover those who have called the island home, from movie crews filming the latest Hollywood hit to pirates of the past. You’re invited to journey back in time strolling past classic Southern architecture or popular waterfront attractions in the charming coastal towns.

Biking

Treat yourself to the quintessential seaside experience by renting a bike and exploring the enchanting island towns for yourself. Discover the hidden gems of the Brunswick Islands as you wind through the quaint seaside towns. Feel like a local as you breeze past scenic ocean views and colorful storefronts searching for your next adventure.

High in the Sky Adventure

DCIM100GOPROG0100475.Zip Lining

Take your coastal excursion to new heights as you soar above a swamp on a zip line at Shallotte River Swamp Park. Swing into adventure while flying through a 300-year-old swamp cypress canopy. Large and small groups alike are welcome to enjoy a bird’s eye view while flying through the lush treetops.

 

Lighthouses

For those looking for a middle ground between a high-flying adventure and grounded escape, climb one of the lighthouses essential to the Carolina coast’s history. These charming lighthouses are filled top to bottom with the history of the seaside towns and boast spectacular sights of the endless beaches and ocean.

Helicopter Tours and Biplane Rides

DSC_0239_BaldHead_Aerial_hiClimb to even greater heights on a biplane or helicopter tour with the clearest view of the Carolina coast. Hop into a helicopter or an open cockpit biplane for perfect marine life and lighthouse spotting opportunities.

Summer weather beckons travelers to find their adventurous side, whether that’s exploring the surf and saltwater or soaring over southern swampland. Soak in the rays of summer in North Carolina’s Brunswick Islands where you will find activities to quench anyone’s thirst for adventure.