Heron Island is a small coral cay on the southern part of the Great Barrier Reef near the Tropic of Capricorn. We visited the island back in 2006 and enjoyed it so much that we decided to visit it again. Our previous visit of four nights on the island just wasn't enough time. This time we decided to spend eight nights so we could experience everything that we desired.
After a short helicopter ride from Gladstone we arrived on the island and I immediately thought that we had made a mistake in choosing to spend so much time there. Last time we visited the island in winter and this time we were visiting in the late spring. Heron Island is a natural nesting site for a few species of sea birds, so now the island was overrun with tens of thousands of birds with all of their accompanying sounds and smells. There were so many birds that it was not a matter of “if” you were going to be pooped on, it was a matter of “how many times” you would feel the soft plop of bird poo on your head or shoulder.
My apprehensions, however, soon faded away. It is quite remarkable how soon people's senses adapt to their environment. After just a few hours the smell from the birds became negligible and I even found myself enjoying all of the different sounds the birds made. It is amazing what you can hear when you listen (and when there is no television available).
As I said earlier, Heron Island is small. It is so small that one can walk completely around its perimeter in around 45 minutes. Some people might think that one would get bored on such a small island, but for me nothing could be further from the truth. This is most likely because even though the actual land mass is small, the island is surrounded by a coral reef. The reef itself is actually quite large and this makes it a snorkeler's and diver's paradise.
I could not wait to get into the water and start exploring. I was not disappointed. While snorkeling I saw thousands of brightly colored fish, turtles, sting rays, shovel nose rays, and reef sharks. Swimming with sharks and sting rays may sound dangerous, but in reality it is quite safe. The most important thing that you have to remember is to “look but don't touch” anything. One of my most exciting moments came when I was swimming about 20 feet from the beach and I noticed that I was surrounded by about 10 to 15 reef sharks. As none of the sharks were over four feet long I felt at ease, so I stopped swimming and just floated by observing their behavior. They seemed to ignore me completely, swimming under and around me, giving me the ability to get a very close up view. What a wonderful experience.
On our fifth day on the island I decided to take the “Exploring SCUBA” course offered by the resort. After a short classroom and pool training session I was diving in the open ocean. I was accompanied by a certified dive instructor who basically did everything for me so I could really pay attention to my surroundings. We dove to a depth of about 30 feet and saw turtles, fish of all shapes and sizes, and lots of coral. I had so much fun that all I can think about is getting dive certified so I can do it again.
The last thing I'll write about is turtle watching. Besides being a nesting site for birds, Heron Island is also an egg laying site for Green Turtles and Loggerhead Turtles. The turtles come ashore during the evening's high tide, which was midnight or later during our time on the island. I will not go into specifics, just in case Maya wants to write a more detailed post (she absolutely loved the whole turtle experience), but I will say that we saw turtles coming ashore, laying their eggs, and returning to the sea.
In the end I felt that eight days was just about the right amount of time to spend on the island. I was never bored, which is saying a lot for me, and I had plenty of time to enjoy the many great things Heron Island has on offer.