We drove to Gladstone from Hervey Bay on a Thursday afternoon. We spent that afternoon catching up with Nicole, taking a quick spin around Gladstone and playing with the kiddos. Jackson, who is almost 2, showed us his collection of cars and trucks (he LOVES anything on wheels), read lots of books with us (often about trucks) and taught us his personal rendition of Wheels on the Bus, which we are still singing over a week later! Once Brad came home from work we had an outstanding dinner of grilled lamb chops and a delicious couscous salad. Best meal we've had in Australia!
The next morning, we packed up and caught the 2-hour ferry to Heron Island. Heron Island is a small coral cay in the southernmost part of the Great Barrier Reef. It's about 40 acres and it takes 20 minutes to walk the circumference of the island.
Heron Island Ferry & Resort
There is only one ferry that goes to Heron Island and it leaves from Gladstone once a day, so everyone who goes to the island must stay over night. There is only one resort on the island where anyone stays as there is no camping allowed. This means no day-trippers visit the island, so it never feels crowded. We usually had the beach to ourselves, save one or two people passing by. The resort fees are all inclusive (except for drinks) so you don't have to worry about bringing food or choosing a restaurant at night. It's easy and very relaxing!
One tip: The ferry ride is really pricey (roundtrip $200 per person), however, there are many travel agencies in Australia that run promotions that include a ferry transfer which are often the same as the resort rates posted on the Heron Island website. If you plan on going here, consider contacting a few Australian travel agencies to get a deal and save yourself the huge ferry fares.
Here are some photos from our ride to the island:
Upon pulling into the jetty, you can immediately see all sorts of marine life below - colorful parrot fish, stingrays, sharks and a giant grouper named Gus.
When we arrived, the resort gave us a welcome drink and a quick briefing. Then Brad, Chris and I immediately went to the dive shop to sign up for a 2 dives the following day and collect our gear. After we sorted out our dives, we went for a walk around the island, followed by drinks at sunset and a great buffet dinner!
There are many activities available throughout the day and night on Heron. One of the night activities was star-gazing. Guests gather on the helipad and two staff members use a laser and a telescope to show various constellations in the sky. While the lecture was really interesting, the best part about this experience was seeing the night sky. It was spectacular. I wish I could have captured the starry sky on camera because my words can't do it justice. I can only remember one other time in my life where I saw a night sky like this, and that was when I was a kid on a boat moored on one of the small islands near Puerto Rico.
We saw thousands (millions?) of stars and planets including saturn (the rings were visible through the telescope), Sagittarius, Scorpio and the Milky Way. We even saw a few shooting stars! That night, I felt very small on this tiny island.
The next morning we all had breakfast together and then it was time for our first dive. Diving while on Heron is super easy. You meet at the jetty 10 minutes before departure time. Since the island is so small, it's usually no more than a 5 minute walk to the jetty. The crew does a quick briefing and then you are off to explore one of the many reefs within 20 minutes of the island. We did two dives - one in the morning and another in the afternoon.
Our morning dive was so-so. We went to a spot called Harry's Bommie, which was a beautiful massive section of coral reef. Apparently this is one of the areas they rarely go to as the conditions have to be just right. However, this also meant that we were to follow the professional guide throughout the dive. It was definitely better than Tweeds Head on the Gold Coast, but our dive guide rushed through the dive, so we were doing a lot of swimming and not as much observing our surroundings. We also had really small air tanks, which made swimming really easy, but only gave us about 15-20 minutes in the water. Once we surfaced, the three of us decided to snorkel a bit, but it just wasn't the same. The guide and a few other people in our group were underwater longer than us, which we found strange. We later learned that they snagged larger air tanks. Afterwards the crew assured us that we would get the larger tanks on the next dive since our first dive was so short.
The afternoon dive was pretty cool. Our guide brought us to Coral Canyons and told us that her style was to swim around slowly and look for wildlife. Perfect! She was great and we saw lots of different fish and tons of sea turtles. Brad and Chris ran out of air faster than I did, but still got about 35 minutes under water. My air lasted the full 45 minutes and I got to see some more turtles, one of which was massive. After the second dive, we understood what diving in Australia should be. It was amazing!
We didn't have underwater cameras but below are some shots before the dive. Also, Google has done an underwater Streetview of Heron Island so you can see the reef too!
On our second day on the island, we also tried reef walking. During low tide, you can walk really far out onto the reef from the beach. The resort provides you with reef walking shoes and an underwater scope so you can see the many different types of coral, sea cucumbers, giant clams and fish in the reef. We spent about an hour walking far out on the reef.
On the second evening we enjoyed sundowners, a massive seafood dinner of oysters (yay!), bugs (like mini-lobsters, a local specialty), mussels, prawns, salmon and lots more. After dinner, we celebrated our last night on Heron on the beach, under the stars with a bottle of champagne. The white sand glowed under the bright stars while everything else was pitch black. The little ones were dozing off in our arms and us big kids were getting tired after a day of activities, so after our glass of bubbles, we called it a night.
The best part of this trip was that we got to spend time with Nicole, Brad and their kids. We already miss Stella's sweet smile and Jackson's singing and enthusiastic WHOAs when he sees something cool. Here are a few shots of these adorable kids:
A HUGE thanks to Nicole and Brad for their hospitality and for introducing us to Heron Island. It was truly amazing!