Heron Island Bliss - a Family Diving Holiday
Contributed by Wandy Hochgrebe
There is just something about
having a holiday at a resort on an
island… Surrounded by sunshine, sand and blue water. Everything is
close by and generally there is no travelling from accommodation to
wherever you want to go during the day or evening.
So when the opportunity came up to
go to Heron Island at the end of
September with our little family, we packed our bags and made our way
to Gladstone from where we would get onto the ‘Heron Islander’ to drop
us off at the Heron Island Resort
Instead of taking the boat you can also opt to arrive by helicopter.
This is a great way to experience a 30-minute scenic flight with
amazing views of reefs and coral cays. What a spectacular way to start
and/or finish off your holiday!
Heron Island is a coral cay and is located on the Southern tip of
Great Barrier Reef, almost 90 kilometres off shore from Gladstone,
The island itself can be circumnavigated in about 30 minutes on
As the reef is close by, all dive sites can be reached in 15 minutes or
less. Easy snorkelling can be done right off the beach.
The Heron Island Resort can hold up to 200 guests and 100 staff and
located on the northwestern side of the island. There is also a
Research Station on the island as well as a permanent Ranger Station.
Even though we visited during school holidays and the resort was
catering almost to capacity at no time did it feel crowded or too busy.
Going on a (dive) holiday is
definitely different as a family. A
live-aboard for example is not an option with young, non-diving
children. And when they are older they might also want to join in the
fun (read: expensive) or maybe they have no interest at all to
participate and only want to hang out with their peers and chat how
boring we are.
Since we had our first child
three years ago things have
a little on how we go on holidays and especially what we bring. Trains
and cars, puzzles, books, nappies and wipes, emergency food supplies
and a basic first aid kit complete with child-strength Panadol and
Wiggles Band-aids have replaced my dive gear for now. This time I did
manage to remember to pack a mask and snorkel, but forgot about fins.
Wetsuit was left at home as I knew I couldn't possibly squeeze my
pregnant body into it.
A place like Heron Island is a great destination for families by
offering a variety of activities all throughout the day, catering to
people of all ages and interests. One can do a single boat dive and be
back to spend the rest of the day exploring the island with or without
expert staff, read books, hang by the pool or at the end of the day
join the sunset cruise. There is plenty of time to relax and no worries
about having to get any chores done.
This was reflected in the diversity of people we saw and met whilst
being there. From young families to couples of all ages - all obviously
enjoying their time at the resort.
We can’t wait to share our passion for the marine world and nature
general with our children that’s for sure. And our almost three-year
old was pretty much excited about anything we undertook during our four
day stay and kept telling us: “I am SO lucky!”.
The more than 20 dive sites are all very close to the island
long boat rides are necessary. All dives are single boat dives and you
can do a maximum of three dives a day. Night dives are organised on a
regular basis as well.
None of the diving would rate as difficult and the maximum depth
at 20 meters, which means that you can get plenty of bottom time to
admire the coral landscape and the critters amongst it.
About 72% of the coral species
found on the Great Barrier Reef can be
found around Heron Island with the Acropora genus being well
represented. Besides all the coral species plenty of fish and
invertebrates can be seen. A colourful combination of Anthias,
Parrotfish, Surgeonfish, Anemonefish, flat worms, nudibranchs, sea
cucumber and sea stars has turned the reefs surround Heron a busy, yet
relaxing place to visit.
Turtles are around all year, but obviously at mating and egg-lying
times (November through to March) their numbers increase dramatically.
Divers and snorkellers will see at least some sharks. The shark species
living around Heron Island include White-tip Reef Shark, Black-tip Reef
Shark and Lemon Shark.
Their close relatives the Eagle Rays, Cow-tail Rays and Shovelnose Rays
are very common as well.
Manta Rays are also regularly seen and apparently the best place to
encounter them is Pam’s Point.
Unfortunately, the weather we experienced meant that only one side
the island could be dived, but nevertheless Tim enjoyed his time under
water. He noticed that there were quite a number of different species
There are several snorkel entry points around the cay and depending
tides and surface conditions different sites are recommended on
different days and times. Snorkellers have the opportunity to swim with
rays and turtles and different kinds of sharks, including White-tip
Reefshark, Black-tip Reefshark and Lemon Sharks.
If you are a more confident snorkeller you can also book yourself on
one of the snorkel trips by boat, which will take you to the edge of
Our Beachside Suite was very
comfortable. As the bedroom area was
cleverly separated from the (small) living area by a sliding door, we
were able to relax, do some more reading, play board games or even have
a conversation once our child was vast asleep in his port-a-cot –
provided by the resort. I must admit that a couple of nights I went to
bed not long after Mr Toddler and thoroughly enjoyed falling asleep to
the sounds of waves lapping on the shore nearby.
Unfortunately, we weren’t blessed with the most perfect weather and we
had regular showers throughout our stay.
However, as soon as there was a break in the rain we managed to
the island, have a swim or snorkel and make use of the number of
activities the resort has on offer.
My husband a.k.a. dive buddy was
lucky this time around as I
couldn’t go diving due to being pregnant. Tim would do the two morning
dives and be back in time for lunch.
I made myself useful though and saw the opportunity to spend some
relaxing time with our son without having to worry about ANY daily
chores or work.
Typically, Mr Toddler and myself would wander down to the beach to
start our day after breakfast. It was great that the resort provided
buckets, spades and the like as we had forgotten ours at home. While he
was playing in the sand and looked at shells, sticks and coral
fragments, I was able to do a little reading or just gaze across the
water and occasionally admire his finds.
Afterwards we would have a quick coffee at the Pandanus Lounge
venture closer to the pool. From here you can look out over the water.
We saw Humpback Whales breaching from there and later in the day, just
before sunset, sharks and turtles come in close. This is a great
location to go snorkelling at the end of the day.
Visiting the pool made me realise there was an
travelling with a toddler as I would have never gone into the
reasonably cold pool voluntarily! Okay, I’ll be honest: at first I
envied the parents that were coaxing their older and more independent
off-spring to go for a swim by themselves while
they were lying on the
comfy deckchairs enjoying their coffees and books but after the initial
30 seconds it was great to be floating and swimming, occasionally
throwing our toddler around a little and feeling all invigorated
I was also particularly proud of my son splashing happily in
and putting his head under water looking for ‘Nemo’, whilst a father
vehemently tried to convince his kids take a lead from the ‘little boy’
and try out their snorkel sets, which they refused.
Other things to do are the very
informative, guided Reef Walks and Bird
Walks on offer every day at no charge, but with an almost three year
old with a limited attention span for adults who are talking about all
kinds of interesting things we could only do short bursts of looking at
the life. The seacucumbers with their outstretched tentacles were a hit
The resort provides reef walking shoes, balancing poles and,
importantly, Seascopes (large tubes with handles on the sides and a
clear bottom) as these allow a view of the marine life without
distortion of the water’s surface.
Plenty of birds to look at too, even though the breeding season had not
yet started. The Wedgetail Shearwaters, also called Mutton Birds, had
not yet arrived, but the Noddy Terns could be seen in pretty much every
tree, nodding their heads fervently when greeting each other.
Apparently a the peak of the bird breeding season there are about
150,000 birds nesting on the island!
Our toddler thought the Buff-banded Rails were great! It took a bit of
convincing that they were actually birds and not ‘little doggies’ since
they can’t fly.
None of the birds made us feel as if we were interrupting
seemed comfortable sharing their island with us humans.
One of the mornings, while Tim was diving, Max and I went to
look under the water with the resort’s semi-submersible. Our one hour
tour took us past the famous ‘Heron Bommie’ .
Unlike a glass bottom boat it feels
almost like you are part of the
underwater scenery because of the different point-of-view. We saw quite
a few turtles, lots of Cow-tail Rays, plenty of different species of
staghorn corals and of course fish. We kept a keen eye out for ‘Nemo’
or ‘Dory’, and although we didn’t get to see them we saw a lot of other
fish such as schools of fusiliers, trumpetfish, parrotfish and a
variety of surgeonfish and butterflyfish.
The turtle egg-laying and hatching season must be great to
Both Loggerhead and Green Turtles nest on Heron Island. In November the
females start coming on land at night to find a suitable nesting beach.
Once they have decided on a good spot they’ll come back several nights
to lay different clutches. Then from January onwards hatchlings emerge
from the sand, making their way to the ocean.
Despite a ‘busy’ schedule I managed to spend some time at the Aqua Soul
Spa where I received the Total Wellbeing Treatment. It was a shame they
didn’t have any options specifically for pregnant women, but the
wonderful staff managed very well to make slight adaptations and I felt
For families with older children Junior Rangers offers a great
opportunity for children 7 – 12 years of age to learn more about the
natural surroundings on Heron Island. Under the supervision of an
expert guide the kids get to enjoy hands on activities and explore the
island’s reefs, coral cay forest and woodlands. Definitely something I
would encourage my child to participate in, not in the least as some of
the parents probably learned a great deal as well.
And the meal times are just brilliant. Both breakfast and lunch offer
plenty of food – buffet style. Although our little man is not a fussy
eater it was nice to be able to pick out the bits that he’ll definitely
eat and are fairly healthy – I would then collect my goodies and end up
sharing that with him.
And can I say that it is wonderful to, as a pregnant woman, approach
buffet. You see the other guests look at you twice and then subtly, but
quickly side-step to let you through. No need to feel embarrassed about
having two different desserts either and pile a little extra on the
plate “for your toddler” who seems to eat an incredible amount all of a
Some of the evenings they had an a la carte menu for the adults and a
small special buffet for the younger kids instead of a buffet.
During the months November through until May turtle egg lying and
hatching can be observed. Both Green Turtles and Loggerhead Turtles
nest on the island.
Photos at the Information Centre show people riding large adult turtles
to the beach taken in the late 50s. Basically, staff would wait for the
female turtles to finish laying their eggs for the night and quickly
flip them on their backs. In the mornings they would collect the guests
and tell them they could go for a ride!
How times have changed indeed. The staff these days knows a lot about
the environment and encourage people to take notice of their procedures
that have been implemented to interfere on a minimal basis, only in
order to learn more about the wild life of the island.
We were very impressed with the great effort that has been taken to
keep the island in its natural state without skimping on comfort.
And last but not least I would like to mention the staff. We heard and
read plenty of compliments about the Heron Island Resort staff and it
is all true. Each and every staff member we got to meet was absolutely
professional and super friendly. Knowing that they live on the island
and therefore are at work pretty much 24/7 they did an excellent job
looking after us and all the other guests. No grumpy faces,
understanding and happy to help wherever they could to make your stay