We’ve all seen the magical world of colourful fish and turtles under the surface of tropical seas, even if it’s only on a nature doco accompanied by David Attenborough’s impassioned tones. But who knew that rivers could be just as clear and captivating as oceans? Scout Hinchliffe found an unexpected river snorkelling paradise at Brunswick Heads, just north of Byron Bay. 


  • Crystal clear river snorkelling
  • Wildlife encounters
  • As intoxicating as swimming in a sea of vodka

River Snorkelling At Brunswick Heads

What first comes to mind when you think of a river?

For me, a Central Queenslander at heart, it is crocodiles, barramundi, muddy turbulent water and the screech of ‘OMG what just touched my foot!?’.

There is no chance that snorkelling would come to mind….unless you are in New South Wales; on the Brunswick River to be exact.

River Snorkelling // Brunswick Heads (NSW), Scout Hinchliffe, river, snorkelled, turquoise, rocks, water's edge

The Brunswick River

The Brunswick River rises on the eastern slopes of Mt Jerusalem and snakes its way through the Byron Hinterland before flowing out to the South Pacific Ocean. Set on the banks of the rivermouth is a small coastal village, Brunswick Heads. The town is only 15 minutes north of Byron Bay and the pristine river boasts an array of water activities from kayaking to fishing and snorkelling.

Snorkelling in a river does sound a bit far-fetched but when high tide rolls around the Brunswick River becomes a crystal clear underwater paradise.

River Snorkelling // Brunswick Heads (NSW), Scout Hinchliffe, fish, turquoise, water, underwater, shoal

The Right Kind Of Population Density

We jumped in off one of the rock walls and were immediately greeted by a large school of very intrigued bait fish. As we swam along the rock walls on the southern side of the river we were mesmerised at how clear and tranquil the turquoise waters were. After all we were in a river! We came face to face with massive Flathead, Bream and the odd Mangrove Jack that would challenge us to a stare contest. We also spotted a shy Green Sea Turtle.

For a more relaxed, beach setting snorkel, you can drive around to North Head Nature Reserve and take the short walk through coastal rainforest to Harrys Hill Beach. Access to the nature reserve is via Ocean Shores and New Brighton and along North Head Road. There is also the option to kayak across. We would not recommend swimming across though due to the potential undertow and strong currents.

River Snorkelling // Brunswick Heads (NSW), Scout Hinchliffe, snorkelled, swimsuit, underwater, fins, bubbles, portrait, face, closeup

Snorkel Safe

Snorkelling in the Brunswick River and at Harry Hills Beach is undertaken at your own discretion as the area is unpatrolled. Always snorkel with a buddy and be very conscious of your surroundings as boats frequent the area.

Enjoy the freedom of exploring this pristine underwater world, it can be as intoxicating as if you were swimming in a sea of vodka.


  • Snorkelling

Essential Gear

  • Snorkel & Mask
  • Flippers
  • Wetsuit (not essential but recommend as the water can feel colder the longer you stay in)
  • A buddy!

How To Get There

Brunswick Heads is a town on the North Coast of NSW, 15 minutes north of Byron Bay and 30 minutes south of the Gold Coast and is accessed via the Pacific Motorway.

Skill Level

Beginner – Intermediate. However, self assess your ability and confidence in the water before jumping in.


More underwater playgrounds…

Paradise Found (It’s Near Perth) // Rottnest Island (WA)

How to Feel At Home Underwater (By a Champion Freediver)

Snuba // Diving Deep at Port Noarlunga (SA)

We Are Freedivers // Your Startup Guide To Freediving

Sinkhole Caves And Underwater Rainforests // Mount Gambier (SA)