An island so dreamy and biodiverse that Sir David Attenborough visited it twice; Heron Island packs in plenty for a quick tropical getaway on the Great Barrier Reef.

 

We acknowledge that this adventure is located on Gooreng Gooreng, Gurang, Bailai and Taribelang Bunda Nation, the traditional Country of the Gooreng Gooreng, Gurang, Bailai and Taribelang Bunda people who have occupied and cared for this land and water for thousands of years. We pay our respects to them as the Traditional Custodians and recognise that sovereignty was never ceded.

Highlights

  • Flamboyantly colourful reefs and equally as flamboyant marine life
  • Incredible native wildlife at all times of the year
  • Postcard-perfect beaches
  • Starry skies
  • Cocktails!

Heron Island

Heron Island, whose Traditional Custodians are the Gooreng Gooreng, Gurang, Bailai and Taribelang Bunda peoples of the Sea Country, is an idyllic, easily-accessible jewel on the southern Great Barrier Reef. With no WiFi or mobile reception, it’s the perfect place to disconnect from the antics on the mainland and reconnect with nature. 

 

Photo by Tim Beckers

 

There’s only one accommodation on the island, Heron Island Resort, which offers rooms for couples, families and everything in between. Breakfast at Shearwater Restaurant is included in the accommodation rate, where lunch and dinner are also served. There’s no need for a map on the island as you can walk around it lazily in less than an hour. A long weekend is the perfect amount of time to spend on this tiny island.

Diver’s Paradise

Heron Island has some of the best snorkelling and diving spots on the Great Barrier Reef, with many of these just minutes from the shore. The shallow waters (averaging around 10-25m in depth) are bustling with tropical fish, turtles, reef sharks, and nudibranchs. You may even spot whales or manta rays if you visit between June and September. Vibrant corals cover the reef, with 72% of the corals found on the Great Barrier Reef calling Heron Island home.

Read more: Great Barrier Reef Drive – The Road Trip From Cairns That Has It All

You can grab complimentary snorkelling gear from the Marine Centre or book a scuba dive to experience the incredible marine world. The centre also posts information on the best snorkelling conditions depending on the tides.

Hot tip: Be sure to check out the shipwreck and jetty at the entrance of the island, plenty of animals like to play there.

 

Wildlife Watching

No matter what time of year you visit, Heron will provide the wildlife goods. Be expected to be thrown into the throes of nature, where sea turtle hatchlings are plucked up by seagulls and black noddy terns succumb to their deaths by the sticky pisonia trees.

Many seabirds breed on the island, with an estimated 200,000 birds visiting between September and April. The cacophony of sounds and smell of guano may assault your senses but that is all a part of being immersed in nature.

If you visit between November and March, you’ll have to dodge large sea turtles making their way past shore to lay their eggs. November also signals the annual synchronised mass spawning of corals (coral baby-making) on the full moon.

Hot tip: Check 365 Days at Heron for a calendar list of wildlife.

 

Take a Tour

Join a resident naturalist guide on one of the many free tours to learn about marine ecosystems and the flora and fauna on the island. Tours are subject to weather conditions and the activity schedule will be available to you on arrival. 

The Reef Discovery Walk identifies critters hiding in the shallows and explains their interesting survival adaptations. You may even be lucky to catch a glimpse of an epaulette shark or mantis shrimp. The Island Walk takes you through the pisonia forest towards Shark Bay and explains Heron’s history and nature. Guided bird and turtle walks are also available.

Read more: Why Birdwatching Will Improve Your Next Adventure & How To Get Started

Sun and Star Gazing

Be an early bird and catch a sunrise (or a worm, depends what you’re into). Head to Shark Bay on the eastern part of the island to watch birds wake and the sunrise over the Coral Sea. On the flip side, Baillie’s Bar is perfectly positioned so that you can sip a colourful cocktail while watching the sunset. 

Read more: Remember to leave no trace!

With 80km between the island and any source of light pollution from the mainland, Heron is ideal for stargazing. If you have no idea what you’re looking at, join the free stargazing tour that meets on the helipad to have a peek at the cosmos through a telescope.

 

Essential Gear

How To Get There

Depending on your budget, you can either catch a boat or fly to Heron. 

The Heron Islander boat takes about 2 hours and costs $75 one way. 

A helicopter flight with spectacular views of the reef will set you back $940 return. Both transfers depart from Gladstone.

 

Feature photo by @jessicanikia