After completing a lap around Australia one of the highlights (possibly the number 1) was Heron Island. I didn’t think places like this existed, where you can stand on the crystal-clear sand in knee deep turquoise water and have turtles, sharks and rays swim around you…and not because anyone is feeding them.
Heron Island really feels like a natural aquarium there is so much marine life there and the best bit is everything happens so close to the shore. It’s also easily to find turtles nesting and hatching as you can walk around the island in 30 minutes, so you usually see people congregating once they’ve spotted something.
We had the luxury of being able to check the weather before we booked although this is almost impossible over the weekend and weekends are usually booked out well in advance. However, after almost deciding to skip Heron Island we got very lucky and a weekend became available and sunshine was forecasted for both days. It is a sunny type of island though, so you’d have a different experience if the weather was raining while you were there.
Best Time to Go To Heron Island
The best time to go to Heron island is in January to March when the turtle mating season and hatching seasons overlap. This means you’ll be able to see the turtles leaving their children and heading into the water. The hatching season runs from January to May and during this time you can see newborn turtles make their way down from the nest and into the water.
Things to Do In Heron Island
Scuba diving is available and costs. We went for two dives and saw 2 manta rays dancing around us, the experience was incredible.
Snorkels sets are provided free of charge for the duration of your stay and you’ll definitely want to use them. You don’t need to be a strong swimmer because you don’t need to go far from the shore (or at all) to see wildlife. There is a shipwreck you can snorkel around otherwise just head anywhere else and you’ll see sharks, rays, turtles. The only place off limits is around the jetty between 8am to 5pm because of the occasional boats coming and going.
Kayak and Stand-Up Paddle
Tours are run daily, go for about an hour and cost between $40 to $70. Guides take you to locations where you can paddle over a variety of coral life, tiny sharks, and rays.
Watch the Sunrise & Sunset
Being such a small island means you can watch the sunrise over the
ocean in the morning and then watch it set over the ocean in the evening.
Wildlife on Heron Island
You can walk into the water from the beach and be surrounded by sharks and rays. Some of the sharks are large enough to make you feel uncomfortable even if you’ve dived with sharks before.
When we were there, there were hatchings born in an area which had rocks between the sand and water. we watched them make their way down to the water but couldn’t make it over the rocks, it was difficult to watch the birds grab the baby turtle as they tried to make their way over the rocks. We spoke to one of the rangers and they informed us it would be ok to help the turtles along the way. We frantically grabbed as many of the baby turtles we could to help them over the rocks and into the water. with Heron island being such a small island it’s not difficult to find hatchings making their way down to the ocean. You can also spot people gathering round or birds trying to get them.
There are lots of sharks visible from Heron Island and it was the first thing that shocked us when we arrived. The Blacktip and Whitetip Reef sharks come right up to the shore so you can see them from Barries bar or the beach. Shortly after arriving we got the complementary snorkel and swam with the sharks in the shallow waters. Lemon sharks are also around Heron Island but less common. The only time I felt uncomfortable was when a large lemon shark swam quickly towards me when I was in waist-deep water but I think it was going after a ray and wasn’t interested in me at all. It was an amazing experience.
Just like the sharks there are lots of Rays around Heron Island visible from the beach. You can walk into the water up to your knees and the Rays will come to you. We saw Eagle Rays, Shovel-nose Rays and a few other types which we didn’t recognise. While scuba diving we saw a pair of Manta Rays seemingly dancing in front of us which was absolutely amazing.
The island is full of birds. Despite January being the mating season when the bird population increases dramatically you will see a huge amount of birds anytime you visit Heron Island. Black Noddy Terns are the most common birds on the island but there are a few other varieties and although their numbers are in the thousands we didn’t feel uncomfortable at all. However, if you’re not a bird lover then you might want to stick to the beach or restaurant and bar areas.
During the winter months of June to September you can see humpback whales from Heron Island. Although we weren’t there during that time it proves that Heron Island is a year-round destination.
There’s a range of rooms and suites available from the cheapest Turtle Room to the more expensive Suites and up to the two-bedroom superior suite. We stayed in the cheapest room which was $300 per night but has since gone up to $385 per night.
Our Turtle Room was very comfortable and comes with a queen bed, bathroom, outdoor patio and some basic kitchen amenities including a fridge. There is no wi-fi or TV’s in the rooms but there are both available in the bar area.
Food & Drinks
The Island has three areas to buy food and drink; Baillie’s Bar; Pandadus Lounge and Shearwater Restaurant. Both are reasonably priced considering everything must be brought over from the mainland.
Baillie’s Bar overlooks the ocean where you can buy snacks and drinks. Wifi is available as well as a big tv. Shearwater Restaurant is where the buffet breakfast is served as well as the lunch and dinner which you’ll need to make a reservation for when the island is busy.
How Much Does it Cost to go to Heron Island?
Night in Gladstone = Depends on the hotel but we had a private room at Gladstone Backpackers
Ferry to Heron Island = $170 return per person
Accommodation = $385 per night minimum
Breakfast = Included
Lunch = You can buy snacks from Baillie’s Bar of for a full meal at Shearwater Restaurant. We had one fo the toasties from the bar one day which was fine and the second day we had a meal at the restaurant.
Dinner = $50 per person buffet
Drinks = As always it depends how much you drink. We had a few beers each evening, but we regretted not bringing our own drinks to drink on the beach or in our room. Prices are similar to the mainland.
Diving = $80 per dive plus $50 for equipment hire.
Overall Heron Island is expensive but our experience on the Island was one of the best thing I’ve done in Australia. Definitely in terms of wildlife let alone marine life.
Return airfares to Gladstone from Sydney can be as low as $350 but you will have a stopover in Brisbane and a night in Gladstone before taking the ferry to Heron Island.
How to Get to Heron Island
To get to the island you can either take a boat or a helicopter. The boat takes two hours, costs $85 each way per person and is operated by the same company that owns the resort on Heron Island. The boat ride over was very bumpy and there were a lot of people sick on the way over. We both took sea-sick tablets so were fine, however we were lucky because we bought the last tablets in the little shop at the terminal. Alternatively you can take the helicopter which costs $470 one-way per person.
Where to Stay in Gladstone
Heron island is located in the southern Great Barrier Reef close to Gladstone. There isn’t much to do in Gladstone as it’s an old mining town which feels run down in places. Gladstone Backpacker is a cheap place to stay with private and dorm rooms available. It’s actually in a house which makes it feel like you’re at a friends place hanging out in his backyard. There is a bar and a pool so it really feels your at an Aussie bbq hanging out in your mates backyard house party feel. It’s also a 15 minute walk to the Heron Island Ferry Terminal so you wont need to worry about a bus
If you’re after a bit more comfort than a hostel (which I guess most people going to Heron Island would be) then The Oaks or the Mantra are two, four-star hotels in Gladstone. I’d recommend The Oaks because it’s under 20 minutes walk to the Heron Island Ferry Terminal so you can leave your main luggage at the hotel and just walk over to the terminal with whatever you need for a few days on Heron Island.