For the last 15 years, a man by the name of Ilan Schnitzler, otherwise known as Ilan the pirate, has been renting out boats to families from his pirate ship in Brunswick Heads in far northern NSW. Canoes, kayaks, stand-up paddle boards, motor boats and BBQ pontoon boats can be rented from his outfit – the Brunswick Buccaneers – for navigating the beautiful Brunswick River.
Searching for just such an adventure with my three-year-old, Olin, I walked across Ilan’s rickety plank (it really is rickety) and gave him a call. He arrived 10 minutes later, mumbling something about it being cold in the morning watching World Cup football, and rented us a canoe. Off we went.
A Kids’ Adventure
The tide was low as I dragged our boat across the sand on a brilliant winter’s day. The sky was cloudless and the river looked like honey under the sunlight. I began by navigating through the deeper parts of the river while Olin kept a lookout.
Heading down the south arm of the river, Simpson’s Creek, I paddled towards Tyagarah and the land of the mangroves. Crane-like birds stretched and hunted in front of us. I couldn’t get close enough for a shot with my iPhone 3GS, although I managed to snap a couple of listless pelicans as we drifted past.
Following us beneath the boat was a school of fish, which parted suddenly as a stingray shot across the shallows. After another few hundred metres paddling I could make out a VB sign through the trees – part of the Brunswick Heads Bowling Club. In Australia, you’re never too far from a watering hole.
Further along Simpson’s Creek I spotted a tinny (small fishing boat with an aluminium hull), rope swing, pub and a bowling club – perfect for an Aussie family day out. Returning down the shallow river, I reflected that Brunswick Heads could possibly be heaven. It’s peaceful, has a river, beach, parks, bushland, islands, good weather and according to the Sydney Morning Herald, a pub that’s “as comfortable as an old pair of slippers.”
Floating back under the bridge – the scene of dozens of crashing bodies and flailing limbs during summer – we parked on the beach and had some lunch. I returned to Ilan’s pirate ship after two hours exploring and tied up the boat. No one was home. I peered into the captain’s quarters and came across an article about an eviction notice.
If the North Coast Holiday Parks have their way, I found out, Ilan might soon be unemployed (a proper pirate), as they’re trying to remove this Brunswick Heads icon to build riverfront decking.
Perhaps a sad inevitability.
Go and visit Ilan and his pirate ship before it’s too late. It’s a great way to spend a few hours of your time, and the kids will love it.
- Brunswick Heads is a 20 minute drive north of Byron Bay, in far northern NSW
- Ilan’s pirate ship is open year-round
- Rental for canoes, kayaks and stand-up paddle boards is $20 an hour or $30 for two hours
- Motor boat hire is $50 an hour or $70 for two hours
- An 8/9 berth BBQ pontoon boat is $250/300 for a half-day and $350/400 for a full-day’s rental