Heron Island Review 2020: The Ultimate Guide To Paradise
Looking for new places to visit in Australia? We’ve documented as much as possible to bring you our Heron Island review.
If you’re looking for Southern Great Barrier Reef Islands, and one of the best islands in the Great Barrier Reef, look no further. Heron Island in Queensland is absolutely spectacular, we spent the entire time wondering if we had been transported back to the Maldives!
Table of Contents
Why Is Heron Island In Australia Popular?
Heron Island resort in is best known for the abundance of turtle hatchlings in Australia which takes place between November to March each year. It’s also home to some of the best diving in Australia and best snorkelling with turtles in Australia too!
Because Heron Island is a two hour ferry ride away from the mainland, you’ll find clearer waters and more marine life than you would in other Great Barrier Reef islands which are closer to get to, such as Whitsundays for example.
And Heron Island become a huge bird sanctuary where thousands of Noddy Terns come to the island to mate between November to March.
David Attenborough stayed at Heron Island resort when he filmed his series about the Great Barrier Reef which you can watch on the ferry on the way over to the island.
Find out what it was like when we visited this hidden gem in Great Barrier Reef at the end of October in our Heron Island review.
Watch Our Heron Island Video!
Our Heron Island Highlights
Our main highlights during our trip to Heron Island was snorkelling around the ship wreck, going on the turtle walk to watch the turtles nesting, and walking around the island. The water is absolutely pristine and it certainly made us feel like we were in another country.
Heron Island also reminded us of why we love to travel. It made us feel like we were island hopping, even though we weren’t. We would certainly go back in a heart beat.
Looking For More Great Barrier Reef Islands To Visit Nearby?
Heron Island’s sister island is the beautiful new Wilson Island. This adults only Great Barrier Reef island looks absolutely spectacular and is only accessible from Heron Island. With just 9 glamping tents, experience a secluded castaway island in luxury. From $1000 a night with. a minimum 2 night stay, it’s on our list too!
Our Fourth Southern Great Barrier Reef Island Visit
Since we moved to Agnes Water in Queensland, we’ve been ticking off as many of the Southern Great Barrier Reef Islands as possible. With Heron Island being our fourth island we’ve been fortunate enough to visit this year, we wondered how it would stack up against the rest.
The best time to visit Heron Island is between October – March for the turtle season and bird mating season. We visited on the full moon which is a fantastic time to see the turtles comes out of the water to nest. We found the experience completely mind blowing and it’s something that will stay with us forever!
If you’re looking to see as much as possible underwater, it might be best to visit Heron Island in winter. Although the abundance of marine life is incredible on the island year round, you’ll more likely see manta rays and whales during the winter months between May to August.
How To Get To Heron Island
Wondering how to get to Heron Island? You have three options for getting to Heron Island from Gladstone which is a 6 hour drive from Brisbane.
If you are flying, you can get a flight from Sydney for around $400. You’ll need to transfer at Brisbane airport, but the connecting flight to Gladstone literally takes 30 minutes.
Take The Heron Island Ferry ($75 pp / one way)
Leaves Gladstone Marina at 9:30am, and arrives at Heron Island at 11:30am Leaves Heron Island at 12:30pm, and arrives at Gladstone Marina at 2:30pm
From Gladstone airport, Heron Island transfers will pick you up and take you to Gladstone Marina to take one of the below three options over to the island.
The cheapest option is to take the Heron Island ferry which takes 2 hours and leaves at 9:30am. You need to check into Gladstone Marina by 9am at the latest to jump on the ferry. We just parked right outside the marina for free. If you’re worried about finding parking, you can contact Heron Island Resort and they’ll get back to you about where to park.
There’s a lovely little cafe with bean bags out of the front of the marina called Flavours Marina in Gladstone which serve up classic Aussie breakfasts like smashed avo.
Take sea sickness tablets as the way over was quite rough and people were sick during a small section of the journey, but the way back was really flat.
You can either sit inside the boat and watch the famous Heron Island documentary David Attenborough filmed, or sit outside on the back of the boat in shade or in the sun.
There is a bar on board, but they don’t serve hot drinks and the only food on offer is chocolate bars.
You’ll need to book your ferry tickets to Heron Island separately with Gladstone Marina on the following number: (07) 4972 5166.
Take the seaplane
You can contact Australia By Seaplane for further information about taking a scenic flight to Heron Island.
Heron Island by helicopter ($530 per adult / one way)
Takes 30 minutes with a limited 15kg luggage per person.
Take an amazing helicopter to Heron Island if you want to get any arial views or drone worthy shots of the island. FYI There’s no drone photography allowed on the island at all to protect the bird sanctuary.
Heron Island Weather
We were expecting the Heron Island weather to be really hot when we visited at the end of October. Although it can be quite hot during the day in Heron Island, there’s a lovely breeze and it didn’t feel humid at all because it’s so far away from the mainland.
At night time, it was quite windy and I wish I brought a lightweight jacket for dinner because the restaurant is really open. We also went on a turtle walk after dinner, so it might be wise to bring a long sleeved top or a hoodie.
Also, if you’re coming on the ferry, bring warm clothes. They crank up the aircon and although they do give you blankets, it’s so cold, I tried to put on as much as possible to keep me warm.
Although the water is lovely and warm, if you go on a snorkel boat tour like we did a bit further off the island, the water is freezing. Make sure you hire a wetsuit.
Option For A Day Trip?
Unfortunately there isn’t an option to go on a Heron Island day trip as we looked into it too. To be honest, you would want to spend at least one night on Heron Island anywhere because it’s just so beautiful!
There are always plenty of Heron Island deals to find as we noticed one pop up on our Facebook feed offering $179 per night for a room during turtle season.
Heron Island Resort Accommodation & Costs
We paid $300 for our Heron Island accommodation which included breakfast, dinner, free snorkel hire and we were upgraded from a turtle room to a beach side room. Our room is big and spacious with a huge bed, and almost a separate room with two day beds, a desk and a rattan chair. The bathroom is big as well with a shower. The ocean view is spectacular and we feel like we’ve made it to paradise.
In terms of how much we paid for the entire one night stay, it ended up being $600. We spent $100 on a snorkel boat tour, $42 on a t-shirt and snacks from the shop and $150 on the ferry, plus $300 on the room.
Heron Island Resort Review
If you’re looking to stay in a five star resort, Heron Island might not be for you. This conservation island is all about protecting the animal species which live on the island and around its reef. It’s not about five star luxury as it’s an accessible island for all nature lovers. On the flip side, you cannot camp on Heron Island.
Although it’s quite hard to maintain, understandably there’s a lot of bird poo throughout the resort grounds because it is a bird sanctuary. Once you understand that Heron Island isn’t going to be a Whitsunday’s resort, you’ll be able to appreciate it more.
Bring a hat to protect you from the bird poo when walking around. The birds are absolutely beautiful on the island and although I had a bit of a fear of birds in general, it actually really helped me get over it by staying at Heron Island.
Heron Island Food
There’s a big bar called Baillies Bar and a restaurant to dine at as well. Breakfast consists of a standard Australian hot breakfast, as well as muesli, juice and water. There is a coffee machine, but you’ll need to pay for any hot drinks on top of your package. Steve bought a large latte which cost $5.50 at the time of visiting.
For lunch at the bar, there’s just an option of sandwiches or cheese & ham toasties. Be careful when eating outside, a bird literally tried to take Steve’s toastie off him!
At dinner, you’ll be given a form to fill out with the option of choosing between five or so dishes for each course. We had a package which consisted of two courses, so we went for the mushroom and feta tart, and I had the beef with pumpkin puree for my mains.
Just a note you might want to bring some water with you. Although we only visited for the night, they use desal water which is filtered ocean water. Because it’s desal, the minerals are taken out of the water which means you could drink litres and litres and not be hydrated.
The bar had also forgotten to order any bottled water when we visited so they only had sparkling water. If we were staying for longer than a night, we would have wished we bought more with us.
Heron Island Staff
The staff at Heron Island are all from various countries around the world. We had an English woman greet us for breakfast, a woman from Colorado serve us drinks and a few Australians kicking around to teach us more about the conservation of the island.
We particularly liked Rachel who took us on the turtle tour. Her passion for the turtles really was second to none and it definitely makes the trip when you’re surrounded by passionate people who love their job.
Heron Island Map
Although Heron Island is small, it’s always good to have a Heron Island map to understand where everything is. We walked around the island not long after we got there just to get our bearings. It took us about half an hour to walk around it all.
There are some walking paths in the middle of the island which take you through the Pisonia Forest where many of the birds live. It was quite incredible to watch them all in their own birds nests, like it was their little bird city in there.
Where To Watch The Sunset & Sunrise
The sunset is best seen from Baillies bar or from the jetty. We had been out for a snorkel around the wreck just before sunset, so it was perfect timing to watch the sun set right under the wreck.
For the sunrise, go and watch it from North Beach and Shark Bay. This is the best spot on the island to see it.
Where To Go Snorkelling On Your Own In Heron Island
The best place to go snorkelling on Heron Island is around the wreck by the jetty. Although you can’t swim or snorkel around the jetty between 8am-5pm because of the boat traffic, you can swim and snorkel on the left hand side of the jetty when facing out to the ocean. The best time to snorkel the wreck is at high tide so we went in the morning at 7am and again at around 4:30pm, but check with reception on the tides when you visit.
We loved snorkelling around the wreck, it was absolutely beautiful as we saw stingrays, reef sharks and plenty of turtles.
We did hear some manta rays might be around North Beach and Shark Bay although we didn’t snorkel in that area when visiting.
Paid Snorkel Boat
We paid $50 each to go on a snorkel boat on Heron Island which was really fun. We wondered whether it would be worth doing and although we didn’t see much from the boat at the time, the coral was really beautiful.
Heron Island Diving
Like us, if you’re wondering whether to go diving or snorkelling in Heron Island, you go from the same spot regardless of which one you choose. There are 20 dive sites at Heron which are quite shallow at around 15 metres. Although you’ll be able to see more of the marine life closer up, we were told by all staff that diving is ultimately better at Heron.
But it can vary as we were told us one day the people snorkelling saw a mantra ray whilst the divers missed it. If you do want to go diving in Heron Island, make sure you book ahead because we tried to book when we got there and it was too late.
How many turtles did we see?
Whilst we ultimately saw more turtles whilst snorkelling at Lady Elliot Island, it was so fascinating to be able to experience the turtles coming on shore to nest. That in itself was an absolutely magical experience. We saw around four or five turtles when we snorkelled around the ship wreck on Heron Island.
Can You Take A Drone To Heron Island?
Unfortunately no drones are allowed on Heron Island because it is a bird sanctuary and they are protected species. We took our drone just in case, but when we were all briefed when we got onto the island, they mentioned it was strictly no drone zone. Obviously we respected that and quickly realised that it would be too dangerous to fly it because there are just so many birds flying around there.
We were informed that although there’s no mobile phone reception on Heron Island, you can purchase wifi. This was the same on some of the other Southern Great Barrier Islands we’ve visited. It’s actually something we love knowing that we can be completely away from our phones and computers when go away. We always love immersing ourselves into the nature and getting as far away from every day life as possible.
It’s a Keyless Resort
We were told it is a keyless resort which although I know many people might feel a bit dubious about, it didn’t bother us at all. In fact, it was really nice to know everything was safe on the island and we didn’t have to worry about finding the key everytime we left the room.
Things To Do On Heron Island
Looking for things to do on Heron Island? We’re going to break down our entire experience on the island so you can get an idea of what to do. Whilst we only stayed a night, you won’t be wondering what to do on Heron Island after you’ve read this article!
When we landed on Heron Island, we were taken into a conference looking room and informed about the island do’s and don’ts. It was really well presented and a great insight into learning more about the island and not to touch anything on the island, especially the cone shells which are poisonous!
Walking Around The Island
We were told check in wouldn’t be until 3pm, so we had a quick cheese toastie from the bar and I signed us up for the evening turtle walk. We then went and walked around the island in awe of its beauty, feeling like we were in a tropical paradise. When we returned from the walk, reception told us the room was ready an hour and a half early!
We found our room which we loved, put our swimmers on and headed over to Shark Bay for an afternoon of swimming and lazying around on the beach.
Snorkelling Around The Wreck
We then made our way back over to the jetty to start our first bit of snorkelling around the wreck. Unbelievably, we were the only people snorkelling which felt like an extra special moment for us. We swam with turtles and sharks and just loved being in that moment together.
Although we were told to snorkel at 5:30pm we went out a bit earlier which had the perfect light and was timed so well we could could on the beach in time to watch the sun go down.
When we returned to the shore, we joined the other guests in watching the sun go down over the wreck. We truely felt like we could have been in another country whilst we sat there in paradise.
Evening Turtle Walk (the main highlight of our stay!)
We then went back to our room and got ready for dinner. When we were coming over on the ferry, we met one of the staff from the island who told us to book our dinner a bit later than the designated time we would be given. We decided to book for 6:30pm which would give us 1h30m to have dinner before strolling over for the evening turtle walk around the island. We had just enough time to do this.
The turtle walk was actually the main highlight of our stay on Heron Island. We have seen turtle hatchings in Sri Lanka near Tangalle, but it wasn’t that exciting because we had to walk for ages in the pitch black and we saw just one turtle.
On Heron Island, as soon as our turtle walk started, we came across a turtle digging its hole to lay its eggs. We couldn’t believe it! As we continued on with the walk, we started to notice turtles all lining up in the water, waiting to come onto the beach to lay their eggs.
We then witnessed a turtle going back into the ocean after they had nested, and again another two come out of the water as they started the slow process of heading up to the beach to find their place to lay their eggs. It was honestly an amazing sight to witness, especially as it was a full moon so it was really light.
Turtle Watching Tips
If you ever see a turtle nesting, do not take a photo with the flash on. It won’t only startle the turtle, they will stop nesting and head back into the water. If you happen to see a turtle coming out of the water, you must crouch down onto the sand because they’ll think you’re just a rock. It’s really important to not disturb them 🙂
When we got back to our room after the mind blowing walk, I looked over our balcony to find another turtle right outside laying their eggs. We couldn’t believe it.
Heron Island Turtle Facts!
There has been up to 150 turtles nesting in just one night on Heron Island! The best time to witness the turtle hatchlings is between December to January.
The turtles spend months making the journey from the Solomon Islands to lay their eggs on Heron Island. They lay their eggs in the same place where they were born and come back every 5-8 years to lay their eggs.
It’s a mind-blowing experience when you think about how that turtle not only survived being born, it has survived ghost nets, plastic and so much more to make it to back to Heron Island.
Waking Up For Sunrise
After an amazing night, we got a fantastic sleep in our huge bed and I woke up the following morning in time to watch the sunrise at 5am from Shark Bay. It was quite incredible to walk around the island, to see so many turtle tracks around. We saw five turtles that night but there would have been so many more making their way to the island.
When I returned to our room an hour or so later, I woke up Steve and we went down to the jetty to snorkel at the ship wreck again at high tide. It was such a different experience to snorkel early in the morning. The water was completely calm and as we saw loads fo stingrays hanging around the jetty, we got in straight away. We were greeted by turtles and rays as we swam over the wreck, being the only people around. It was a beautiful start to the morning and we just loved it.
When we finished our snorkel in paradise, we went for breakfast at the restaurant which included a hot breakfast, cereals, fruit and yoghurt and juice. You can order hot drinks but you’ll be charged extra (Steve had a large latte for $5.50).
We booked ourselves onto a snorkel trip for 9am which cost us $50 each. As we boarded the boat with the divers, we were in the water within a 10 minute boat ride futher out of the island. Whilst we didn’t really see any marine life on our trip, the coral was really beautiful.
When we got back to the jetty, we spent our final hours sitting on the beach not wanting to leave this paradise of an island!
The ferry on the way back was much calmer than on the way there and as we got back into Gladstone marina, we both felt like we had an amazing holiday in another country, even if it was just for the night.
We hope our Heron Island review has enticed you to want to visit this hidden gem in Great Barrier Reef! It’s an absolutely stunning island, you too will wonder if you’ve seen anywhere more beautiful in Australia.
Don’t Forget To Watch Our Heron Island Video!
Read More Southern Great Barrier Reef Island Guides
Check out Southern Great Barrier Reef guides which include videos of our experience.