Heron Island

Such a beautiful place to stay, you can snorkel off the beaches or take a short boat trip to the outside edge of the reef.

Shark Bay, Heron Island

The 2 hour ferry ride from Gladstone to Heron Island was smooth and uneventful. The ferry can carry 100 people, but there were only 40 on board.

Arriving at Heron Island.


Our accommodation was lovely, set in the bush with ‘cottage’ style buildings, quite secluded and private. Built in the 1990s, all of the resort is a little tired looking but is quite comfortable. The resort can hold 300 guests; there were only 35 guests when we stayed, due to it being off season and cooler weather, as well as COVID cancelations. So, it was like having the island to ourselves: we rarely saw anyone else. The staff were fantastic, so friendly and helpful, we got to know a number of them quite well. Most of them are backpackers from various countries who got stuck in Australia when COVID hit.

Around the island

Reef Walk

Rachael, the resident Marine Biologist, took us on a reef walk at low tide. They have PVC tubes with Perspex on the bottom, so you can see the various creatures and plants more clearly than looking through the water surface. They work really well.

Island Birds

The birds on the island were entertaining.

There are no Herons, on Heron Island. The sailors that named the island back in the 1880s thought the Egrets were Herons. There are also no sharks at Shark Bay on the Eastern side of the island; they thought the shovel nose rays were sharks. (A little too much rum perhaps.)

A variety of birds live or migrate to the island. In summer the Shearwaters aka Mutton Birds nest here by the thousands, along with the Black Noddy Terns. During summer an estimated 200,000 birds nest on Heron Island. Apparently the noise is deafening and guests can expect their clothes to be dotted with poop.

Snorkelling from the beach

The biggest attraction for us was the snorkeling. Please excuse my rough editing, but this is a map of the island and the areas we snorkeled off the beach.

Snorkelling the Western side.

These pictures are when we snorkelled from the Gantry in the West around to the harbour.

There were a lot of stingrays camouflaged on the sandy floor. I was terrified of standing on one. They were huge, an average of a 1 metre wing span.

Can you see this one?

Turtle Cleaning Station

There is a Turtle cleaning station on the SW side of the island. We have seen many cleaning stations while snorkelling over the years. Not only for turtles but manta rays, fish, sharks etc. It’s fascinating to watch.

Wikipedia- A cleaning station is a location where aquatic life congregate to be cleaned by smaller creatures. Such stations exist in both freshwater and marine environments, and are used by animals including fish, sea turtles and hippos.

The cleaning process includes the removal of parasites from the animal’s body (both externally and internally), and is performed by various smaller animals including cleaner shrimp and numerous species of cleaner fish.

When the animal approaches a cleaning station, it will open its mouth wide or position its body in such a way as to signal that it needs to be cleaned. The cleaner fish will then remove and eat the parasites from the skin, even swimming into the mouth and gills of any fish being cleaned. This is a form of cleaning symbiosis.

The harbour has low concrete walls on either side to protect the coral, so you know not to enter the area. Boats come and go during the day and cannot always see snorkelers.

Night time at the Jetty

It’s worth going to the jetty at night to see all the sea life. Its like a highway, so many turtles, stingrays and fish. Once we saw 5 stingrays swimming together. And as there is no light pollution, the night skies are glorious.

Snorkelling the South/East side.

This time we snorkelled from the S/E side of the jetty, out to the ship wreck, then down east to the edge of Shark Bay.

A green turtle eating algae off the coral took no notice of us hanging around. He was picking up large pieces of coral, and using his flippers to get it into his mouth.

Ribbon worms, like the one below, can grow up to 30 metres long. This one is about 3 metres.

Shark Bay

Shark Bay on the east side of the island, is actually named after shovel nosed sting rays, mistaken for sharks. We saw dozens of small ones on the edge of the water, they do look a little like a shark.

Other things we saw at Shark Bay included a black tip reef shark. (He clearly didn’t get the message about no sharks.)

Spaghetti Worms are difficult to spot. Their bodies are buried into a rock or coral and their multiple tentacles are like thin strands of spaghetti. There are two different ones below.

Christmas Tree Worms are easier to spot. They are bright fluffy orange but quickly disappear into their hole when they sense danger around. They drill a hole and make a tunnel deep into a piece of coral.

Tour of the Queensland University Research Centre

The island had been used as a turtle cannery for turtle soup in the 1920s, until turtles became scarce 8 years later. It was then taken over as a resort in the 1930s. A number of researchers travelled to the island from the 1930s using the resort facilities. The island became a National Park in 1943, and the research station was built in 1951. Today the island is divided into three sections – the resort, research station and National Park.

Snorkelling from a boat on the outer edge of the reef

There are two boats, each goes to the outer reef three times a day. They each hold 20 people. During our stay, only one boat was used due to the lack of guests, and only about 8 people on board each time. It went out at 9am, 11am and 2 pm every day, taking snorkelers and scuba divers to various sites depending on wind direction (see map below). Each group had a staff guide. Tim and I were the only two snorkelers on the three occasions we went, so we had a personal guide every time. There were only 4 or 6 scuba divers on each of our trips and many of those were off duty staff who can only go when there are vacancies. They were all incredibly friendly and we got to know some quite well.

The boat would drop us off on the reef edge, we would snorkel with the current (sometimes quite strong) then an hour later pick us up where ever we were, same with divers. Such a great idea as we didn’t have to swim against the current.

This is a map of the island and snorkling/scuba diving sites on the outer reef edge.

Gorgonia Hole

Rare Egg Cowries below. About the size of a large chook egg. The black starry part you see is the mollusc, the animal, they wrap around the shell while feeding. They seemed to glow, not sure why. You can just see a little of the white shell. The common cowrie shell is speckled and slightly more elongated and the molluscs a browny red colour.

The Green Sea Turtles shells are so beautiful, and the turtles are very chilled out and graceful.

As with Turtle Cleaning Stations, we have also seen many fish cleaning stations on coral reefs. This coral trout is getting cleaned by two little cleaner fish. They go into her gills and her mouth. Once she leaves, another fish will arrive to be cleaned.

Blue Pools

This very large pufferfish has such big eyes.

Sharks, the highlight of our trip so far.

For some years now we have been trying to film reef sharks at various Australian reefs. They are shy and fast and usually travel solo, so we have never been very successful. Our snorkel guide at Blue Pools was on the look out for us and as we snorkelled up a coral canyon we came across a group of sharks. They were absolutely fantastic. White tipped reef sharks, black tipped reef sharks and a large Tawny Nurse shark. We stayed for quite a while and they just swam around us not taking much notice, swimming away, then coming back. Even our guide had never seen so many sharks gathered in one spot before. One was even pregnant (not that Tim and I could tell).

Harry’s Bommie

Another common sight on reefs is coming across a large collection of fish, all different varieties, all busily eating at one spot, like it’s a popular restaurant. The three photos below are of three different ‘restaurants’ at Harry’s Bommie.

Heron Island Sunsets

Always spectacular, always unique.

Heading back to the main land now.

Cheers til next time, Helen and Tim.

This post is dedicated to our beautiful son Daniel, who was taken from us too soon by a melanoma. Our hearts are broken, we miss him more than words can say. If you’re reading this, please go and get a skin check, it could save your life.