Heron Island – on the Great Barrier Reef

When deciding my itinerary for a two week trip to Australia earlier this year, I consulted some dive forums for ideas. I wanted to dive the Great Barrier Reef but avoid the busier areas around Cairns. Heron Island was one suggestion and after a bit of research I decided to stay for 3 nights at the start of my trip. Heron Island is situated in the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef and is accessible by ferry or seaplane. It’s a small resort that offers a natural coral cay with good scuba diving in a natural setting, basic rooms and turtles if you time it right. Here’s how it went.

The Journey

After arriving at Brisbane Airport on 29th March I took an hour long internal flight to Gladstone with Qantas. When we landed a bus was waiting to take me to the Ferry Terminal which is a short ride away. I had been a bit nervous about delays as the ferry leaves at 11.00 (or is supposed to) and my flight was due in at 10.05, but all went to plan.

The ferry, a large catamaran called the Heron Islander departed about 30 minutes late. They had been having schedule issues due to the fitting of a new engine which meant that the boat was a lot slower than normal, and a journey of 3.5 hours instead of the normal 2.5. It also resulted quite a big delay on the return which caused some people to miss connecting flights. I’d recommend chosing late flights or staying in Gladstone overnight if there’s only a short window to meet your flight.

I won’t sugarcoat it, I hated the journey. I’ve heard catamarans called “vomit comets” in the past and this was no exception. The weather was stormy and the sea was quite rough most of the way. I’d taken 2 stugeron, but still felt sick despite staying outside getting drenched by rain and waves. Quite a few of the passengers who’d chosen to sit inside, came out to be sick.  Luckily I wasn’t that bad, but it certainly wasn’t pleasant and I couldn’t wait to reach land!! The return trip was so much better. I must have felt ill as this is the only photograph I took, of a small cay about 40 minutes from Heron. You can see how stormy it was.

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The sky finally started to clear as we drew up to the jetty and I was relieved to get there. I think I was starting to feel the effects of my long journey from the UK at this point. All arrivals met in the bar for a quick welcome drink and we were shown to our rooms…. I fell asleep for 2 hours and slept through another rain shower….

The Island

Heron Island is a coral cay right on the Great Barrier Reef. It’s effectively layers upon layers of coral deposits raised off the sea bed and fertilised by bird poo (guano if you like), over thousands of years. It’s in a protected marine park, which is a long way from the turtle soup cannery it was in the 1920’s (I thought turtle soup was fictional *sadface*). As the island is less than a kilometer long and even less across, it doesn’t take very long to walk to any point. However as part of the Island is home to Heron Island Research Station which conducts coral research and marine science education, some areas are off limits.

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North Beach

a view of the reef at low tide

More of the reef at low tide

Nature – The island is known for birdlife, notably Noddys, Shearwaters and of course Herons. I spent quite a lot of time trying to get some good shots of these birds, the Noddys were particularly difficult to photograph, they’re not shy but their dark colour made it difficult to capture details. Here’s the result.

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Marine Life – I took 5 dives during my visit, the visibility was affected by the recent rain but was still okay. I saw a lot of staghorn and plate coral, half a dozen reef sharks and a number of turtles. The diving was really good but it got even better later in my trip when I visited Lady Elliot Island. The dive centre was well equipped, I felt safe with the guides and the dive boat was excellent…lots of space and easy entry and exit points.

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These Cowtailed Stingrays were feeding right on the beach. You can go on a guided reef, take a glass bottomed boat or snorkel, the best spot for snorkelling was in the jetty area where there were plenty of rays, sharks and turtles to swim with.

The jetty

Turtles – I arrived at the end of the nesting season and in the middle of the hatching season. But despite dawn and sunset walks every day I only managed to spot the baby turtle tracks. My luck got better later on in my trip.

Tracks

The Resort

I was staying in a Turtle Family Room, which was a large room with one double and two single beds, a fridge, private shower room and a terrace. The rooms are in the garden but still just a stroll from the beach. Apparently they can be noisy from the burrowing shearwaters, but I slept very well and was very comfortable. There are no locks on the doors but I always felt secure even though I was travelling alone.

The pool area is nice and natural but cold when compared to the sea, so I preferred to swim at high tide.

View of the Pool and Bar

The Pool

What I enjoyed the most:

  • The Island environment
  • The birds
  • The diving
  • The beach
  • Searching for turtles and hatchlings
  • The room

What I liked the least:

  • The journey there

After Heron I stayed at Lady Elliot Island and I’ll let you know how that went soon.  Please comment about your own times at Heron or if you have any questions about the Island or resort.