Heron Island is a Coral Cay situated at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef.
I have been fortunate enough to have experienced Heron Island twice among a number of Great Barrier Reef visits over the years. And I will return!
For my first visit, I went on my own. It was 2002 and I had time off work from having my wisdom teeth removed. What better time for a holiday?
I had little expectations except that I wanted to swim with sharks. My awareness of Heron was largely due to a science room poster in high school a decade earlier. It had stuck with me. If I remember correctly the poster simply read “Heron Island – A drop in the Ocean” as was the Heron Island ad campaign slogan at the time.
Well it certainly lives up to that slogan (it does only take about half an hour to walk around the entire island!)
For my mainland transfer, I took the plunge and opted for the short helicopter flight over the Great Barrier Reef from Gladstone Airport. This is the closest mainland airport that distant travellers will arrive into before visiting Heron Island. Alternatively, you could choose the more budget-friendly boat trip, but I wanted every possible second on the island. And to travel over the reef and approach the island by air was truly a once in a lifetime experience.
I managed to see manta rays and green sea turtles during my island transfer. All of this before even landing!
It would be another 15 years before I would make it back to the place. This time I was able to share this island paradise with my husband. I just knew I had to treat him to the chopper flight experience over the Great Barrier Reef also. We saw sharks and rays and turtles.
Little has really changed on Heron in those 15 years. And although I found this reassuring, I would love to see some improvements with the restaurant. This really is the only aspect of my stay on Heron that I don’t have to rave about. But honestly, this is a holiday for nature lovers, divers and the relaxers among us. So we didn’t dwell too much on the catering situation anyway.
Our accommodations were west facing and almost waterfront to my surprise. The first evening we experienced a massive storm front from the mainland which gave us a spectacular light show for the night’s entertainment. We sat on the footpath that edged the island outside our cabin, watching the sky, and taking in the lapping of the water against the rock wall beneath our dangling feet.
The “splooshing” of the water was so loud that I looked down from the sky show, only to realise that it was caused by at least 20 or so stingrays at high tide beneath our feet. Flapping about over one another, lit only by the lightning above. Magical. And we’d only been there a few hours!
Once the sun was up the next morning, we snorkelled. We would snorkel at every given opportunity that the tide would allow us to each day.
Low tide offered a great opportunity to walk the reef (with care and reef shoes, a good hat and sunscreen!) We spotted a reclusive Epaulette shark on one of these walks. A rare sighting if you’re lucky. It was beautiful.
We also swam with reef sharks and pretty much did every single day. They are fairly small and docile as sharks go, and are on the lookout for other fish for their meals. No need for fear there. We swam right alongside a large lemon shark on our final day of island snorkelling. It was taller than me. Hard to say but it must’ve been at least 6 feet tall. Again, I believe them to be docile, but this one made me take note and certainly gave me a shakeup to swim up close to.
Heron Island is also a prime base for scuba divers and there are also various PADI courses available for visitors. Check the website for specifics on course info. We did not take up this offer as we both love snorkelling and were happy to carry on doing just that straight off the island. But with day trips out to the reef, the scuba diving opportunity is well worth considering.
Heron Island also contains the University of Queensland Research Station that was the very first of its kind on the Great Barrier Reef. It serves to further research the ecology of the coral reef; environmental management, climate change research and conservation of the area.
The island has a rich abundance of migratory birds and wildlife and underwater passers-by depending on the season on the Great Barrier Reef. The birdlife alone on the island provide a sound as you’ve never heard before!
The Information Centre is also host to a number of daily walks and talks around the island. These are both casual and informative. We were fortunate enough to visit during turtle hatching season and witnessed some remarkable events for the Green Sea Turtles. We took part in a night-time guided walk and witnessed a mother laying her eggs in the sand. Also, bird walks and island walks; all of which were well worth experiencing.
Almost every morning we would get up early and walk the island and marvel at the turtle tracks in the sand. Criss-crossing and witnessing many of the mothers on their return to the sea after a hard night’s work on the island.
We were also incredibly lucky to see hundreds of turtle hatchlings make their frenzied dash to the waters edge one evening. This was actually a very moving experience.
Their survival rate is so minimal. We witnessed other holiday makers screaming at the overhead seagulls who would swoop down and pick up the vulnerable newborns. And a lucky hatchling that made it through the gauntlet of gulls. Only to be then scooped up by a reef shark within seconds of entering the water. Mother Nature is indeed cruel!
There is a cute day spa called Aqua Soul Spa on the island. Our days were so filled with the nature on the island; swimming and snorkelling each day that we forfeited any treatments there. I believe it is lovely though. Next time!!
It’s been a long time since I remember being as relaxed as I was on Heron. The sound of silence has stayed with me since my first visit almost 20 years ago. When the wings of a bird flying overhead are the only sound you can hear, you know you’re in the right place.
When you have a successful holiday, it seems to be dreamlike, and then over way too fast. Heron Island is such a place. I cannot speak highly enough about this island coral cay. From the knowledgeable and friendly staff to the constant and unpredictable encounters with both the birds on the island to the life at sea. I just love it here.
These photos are all my own. And it was quite the task choosing the best ones as I have hundreds that I would happily post on this page.
I will visit Heron Island and the Great Barrier Reef again some day, that’s a promise!
Where on the planet do you dream of re-visiting?
All photos courtesy of Yours Truly