20 Amazing Things To Do In Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef
Looking for things to do in Heron Island in Queensland? If you’re lucky enough to visit this amazing Southern Great Barrier Reef island, look no further. Whilst Heron Island in Australia attracts visitors from all over the world for its abundance of marine life, you’ll find it’s a popular place for turtle nesting and it has also become a bird sanctuary over the years.
Whether you’re coming for the Heron Island turtles, birds or to go diving or snorkelling, we’re here to help you discover the many amazing things to do in Heron Island in Great Barrier Reef.
We’re starting this guide with a Heron Island map so you can get your bearings before you arrive onto the island. It takes about 30 minutes or so to walk around the whole island.
1. Go On A Turtle Walk In The Evening
The most amazing thing we did on Heron Island was to go on a turtle walk in the evening. Just make sure you put your name down for the walk at the Information Centre as soon as you arrive. If you miss out on the tour, you can just walk around the island yourself. It’s better to go on a tour because you’ll be able to ask loads of questions and find out so much more about the turtles and their journey back to Heron Island.
We saw so many turtles nesting during our evening walk, it was absolutely amazing! We saw turtles all lined up in the water, waiting to come onto the shore. We also saw turtles making their way up the sand to find their nesting spot, turtles digging their hole to lay their eggs and we saw turtles heading back into the ocean. It really was an absolutely mind blowing experience everyone should witness in their lives.
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 🙂
2. Snorkel The Ship Wreck
One of the reasons I wanted to come tom Heron Island was to snorkel around the famous ship wreck. Because it’s located just off the beach, you don’t need to do a tour to get to it, you can simply swim over. Although it’s located just off the jetty, you can only snorkel around it before 8am and after 5pm because of the boat traffic coming into the island during the day time.
We went at both sunset and before 8am and had completely different experiences. Make sure you do both because it really is totally different each time you go out there. At sunset we were greeted with turtles and reef sharks and the water visibility wasn’t super clear. In the morning, the visibility was really clear and the water was so calm and flat. We saw more turtles and stingrays in the morning.
If you’re looking for things to do in Heron Island, put snorkelling at the top of your list. It’s amazing!
3. Snorkel At North Beach & Shark Bay
Although we didn’t personally snorkel on the other side of the island around North Beach and Shark Bay, we found out just before we left the island that there is usually a couple of manta rays hanging around these beaches. If we had more time, we definitely would have checked it out.
4. Walk Around The Island
If you’re coming to Heron Island on the ferry, you’ll arrive at 11:30am. Because check in isn’t until 3pm, we suggest having a small bag ready with your swimmers in so you can walk around the island when you get there. It takes a good 30 minutes or so to walk around it, and there are walking paths through the pisonia forest if you want a break from the sand.
Tip! Bring Reef Shoes
If you don’t have a pair of reef shoes, ask reception about borrowing some because the sand is quite harsh on your feet. After two days of walking on it, my feet were quite sore.
5. Go On The I-Spy Boat
If going snorkelling or diving in Heron Island isn’t your thing, we suggest jumping on board the I-Spy which is a semi submersible. The hour long tour has often seen manta rays, turtles and sharks from the boat. You’ll also learn all about the reef around Heron Island and can ask any questions to the experts on board.
There is a charge for this tour which starts at $40 for kids and $60 for adults.
6. Go On A Snorkel Boat Tour
With there being 20 dive sites and snorkelling spots around Heron Island, you’ll be spoilt for choice with the snorkelling tours. Whilst we did go on a snorkelling tour just outside of the island, we only saw one turtle on our trip and actually saw more marine life on our own snorkelling adventure around the jetty and the ship wreck. But it’s all about luck! It was nice to see the island from the boat though!
7. Go Diving In Heron Island
We were unsure which would be better to do, either go snorkelling or diving on Heron Island. It turns out whichever you choose, you’ll be on the same boat, going to the same spot. The divers only go down around 15 metres and although it’s a shallow dive, they’ll be able to more close up.
Heron Island is quite famous for its diving so if you do want to go scuba diving in Great Barrier Reef, book in advance. We made this mistake and they were booked up so we weren’t able to experience it on our trip.
8. Go On A Bird Walk
We didn’t actually realise that Heron Island is home to a large bird sanctuary. When we asked if we could bring our drone to film the island we were told it’s a no drone island to protect the large amounts of birds on the island, and they were right. As soon as we arrived, we realised there would be no way you could fly a drone because there’s literally thousands of birds everywhere.
Go for a walk in the Pisonia Forest and you’ll find hundreds of birds nests in the trees. We’ve never seen anything like it! Just make sure you where a hat to avoid any bird poo 😉
9. Go On The Reef Discovery Walk
This free 1h30m reef discovery walk is one of the best things to do in Heron Island. You’ll learn all about the reef around the island, discover loads of awesome little sea creatures and learn all about the famous coral in the Great Barrier Reef. Make sure you wear reef shoes when you go on this walk.
10. Learn More About The Island In A Nature Presentation
Keen to learn more about Heron Island? As one of the only conservation islands in the Great Barrier Reef, you’ll have the opportunity to learn all about turtles, sharks and everything to do about the conservation and preservation of the island in a free one hour talk.
11. Go To A Morning Yoga Class
We didn’t know until we arrived on the island that they hold daily yoga classes at 9am. If we hadn’t booked ourselves on the 9am snorkel tour, we would have gone along to the yoga class which is held at the Aqua Soul Spa.
12. Catch The Morning Sunrise
The best place on Heron Island to watch the sunrise is from North Beach or Shark Bay. I wondered whether I would get better photos from the jetty or in front of Baillies Bar where the remains of the old jetty was. But as soon as I went out onto the beach, it was clear that the best place to watch the sunrise is from Shark Bay and North Beach.
Make sure you leave your room a good 15 minutes early so you can get down onto the beach in time. And most of all stick around until after it rises as the light will completely change.
One of the most fascinating things about watching the sunrise at Heron Island is being able to see the many turtle tracks from the nesting the night before. Whilst we saw a good five or so turtles, there were so many turtle tracks all up and down the beach.
13. Watch The Sunset From The Jetty or The Bar
We were torn with how to spend our one sunset on Heron Island so we actually went down to the jetty and went snorkelling around the wreck just before sunset. This means we had fantastic light to snorkel with turtles and sharks and then ended back on the beach in time to watch the sun go down over the wreck.
If you’re spending more than a night on the island, go and get a drink from the bar and watch it over by the old jetty.
14. Take photos At The Old Jetty
We absolutely love the old jetty at Heron Island. It’s a beautiful spot and makes for a cracking photo (especially for Instagram!) during low tide.
15. Get A Spa Treatment
We actually had a $50 voucher for the spa but we didn’t have enough time to check it out. If you’re looking for some pampering whilst on the island, they offer plenty of packages including for massages, body scrubs and much more. Check out the spa menu here.
16. Play A Game Of Pool
Looking for more things to do on Heron Island at night or out of the sun, hang out in Baillies Bar and play a game of pool with your loved ones.
17. Go On A Paddle Boarding Tour
If the idea of floating around in crystal clear water sounds like your kind of fun, book a paddle boarding tour where you’ll learn all about reef life and even see some reef sharks and rays from your board if you’re lucky!
The paddle board tour lasts for about an hour and costs $40 per person.
18. Hire A Kayak
Heron Island also offer kayaking tours around the island as well. It’s a great way to get perspective of this beautiful small island as you’ll be immersed right into the reef. Expect to see reef sharks, mantas, sting rays, turtles and so much more, if you’re lucky!
The kayaking tour costs $40 for a single kayak and $70 for a double kayak and lasts 1 hour.
19. Go On An Adults Only Sunset Cruise
Heron Island is famous for its sunsets and there would be nothing more romantic than to jump on board an adults only sunset cruise around the island. The 1 hour tour includes a selection of Australian wine and cheeses to enjoy during this special moment.
The adults only sunset cruise lasts 1 hour and costs $50pp. The cheese platter is optional and costs an extra $15.
20. Stay On Wilson Island
Heron Island’s sister island is called Wilson Island which is just 15km apart from each other. The newly opened Wilson Island is an adults only luxury glamping experience which only has nine permanent reef safari tents. You can only get there via Heron Island so the two islands would make a great island hopping trip.
Whilst the island will only host a maximum of 18 guests at any one time, this is the ultimate luxury castaway island, which would be a perfect add on to a romantic getaway in Australia. Although you need to stay at least 2 nights at $1000 per night, all of your drinks and meals are included making it $500 per person.
It’s a Great Barrier Reef island we are super keen to tick of our list one day!
Please note, Wilson Island is closed between February – April for the bird breeding season.
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.