Heron Island is a situated around 72km off the Queensland coast. It is located in a World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. We visited in May 2021.
We departed from Gladstone marina on a 2 hour boat trip to Heron Island. The marina has food and drinks available and check-in was quick and easy. The first half hour of the trip is spent navigating through the Gladstone harbour and then over an hour of rough seas until you reach the outer reefs that surround the beautiful Heron Island.
The island was incorrectly named by Francis Blackwood on the H.M.S Fly in 1843, who assumed the white birds he saw on the island were Herons. They were in fact eastern reef Egrets, so don't expect any encounters with Herons, but there is plenty of other wildlife to discover, on the land, in the air and in the sea.
The accommodation is basic and a bit dated. The rooms are spacious with comfy beds and balconies. We stayed in a ground floor Beachside room with a king bed and two daybeds.
The ground floor gives you easy access to the beach which is only metres away. The rooms have ceiling fans but no air cond. We visited in May so the temperature was not too bad. In Feb it might be a different story - another reason to stay on the ground floor.
The other types of accommodation include Turtle and Turtle family rooms, Reef and Reef family rooms, Wistari and Point suites and a Beach House.
The turtles are the highlight. Their breeding season spans from November to March each year. During that time up to 200 females will lay eggs on the beach dunes. A little under two months later the baby turtles are hatched and make their way to the sea. It is estimated that only 1 in 1,000 will make it to adulthood. We were there in May and one morning on our island walk we were fortunate enough to see tiny hatchlings making their way to the water. There were at least a dozen, probably more that we didn't see, and most of them got to the water safely with greedy seagulls hovering overhead to snatch the unlucky ones. Easily the highlight of the trip.
The snorkelling is good straight off the beach with plenty of marine life to see including turtles, stingrays, epaulette and reef sharks and plenty of colourful fish. You need to time your snorkelling activities around high tide - an hour or two before and after is ideal, otherwise it's too shallow. The resort has snorkelling lessons in the swimming pool and snorkelling boat tours to nearby reefs. You can pick up snorkel gear free from the Marine Centre for your stay - we took our own mask and snorkel and used their flippers.
Diving is another popular activity. Heron is renown for its dive sites which are located close to the island. All levels of experience are catered for with classroom and pool lessons for first timers.
The birdlife is amazing but can become overwhelming at the wrong time of the year. The main species you will encounter on the island are terns, rails, egrets and mutton birds. There are many, many others including a spectacular White-Bellied Sea Eagle that had nested on the island while we were there.
In spring and early summer over 100,000 Black Noddy Terns nest in the Pisonia trees. The noise is manageable, but the smell can take some getting used to. There are Buff-Banded Rails everywhere - normally a rare sight in other habitats they are almost a nuisance on Heron, jumping on tables looking for food. Fortunately, the restaurant has been netted to ensure safe and bird-free dining. Wedge Tailed Shearwaters (Mutton Birds) are in abundance and build their nests underground. Make sure you have a torch walking around at night to avoid both the birds and their burrows. During breeding season there can be up to 30,000 mutton birds on the island.
There is a resort pool, resort shop and dive shop. The resort shop has basic supplies like sunscreen, souvenirs, drinks, ice creams and swimwear. Aqua Soul Spa is located in the heart of the islands Pisonia forest and offers an array of treatments.
There is just one restaurant that caters for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Breakfast was included in the room rate and offered a good choice of hot and cold food. There was an a la carte lunch menu which we generally skipped in favour of an early dinner with a buffet or a la carte option. We had no issues with the food apart from the number of choices, but you are on an island 72km off the coast. Baillie's Bar offers drinks, snacks, pool tables, an outdoor terrace and a giant chess table. Sunset views from the terrace are spectacular.
It's a beautiful walk around the island and you can do it in around half an hour. Keep your eyes peeled for turtles, reef sharks, eagles, hatchlings and an amazing sunrise.
There were a few tours and programs unavailable when we visited but the sunset tour was well worth doing and the complementary island walk gave you a good grounding on the history, flora and fauna of the island. There was also a free discovery reef walk at low tide, a bird walk, a turtle walk (seasonal) and a stargazing tour of the night skies. There was little to no entertainment arranged at night apart from a trivia quiz.
Heron is a nature paradise first and a resort second. It's not five star and this is reflected in the basic accommodation and facilities. Where else can you witness the birth and early life journey of turtles, snorkel and dive on the pristine and untouched waters of the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef and experience the unique and amazing bird and sea life.
Come prepared for a rough boat transfer. If you get seasick then you may need to take something to get you through the trip.
Over 100,000 black noddy terns nest on the island in spring. The smell and noise can be overwhelming.
Turtle nesting season starts in November. The first hatchlings will appear in early January.
If you're snorkelling off the beach you need to go just before and after high tide.
There is supposed to be wi-fi available but it wasn't working. Based on some reviews I've read it's never working. There is a public phone available that works with a phone card (available at the resort shop).