Recover and discover: a long weekend on Heron Island
Queensland is home to plenty of short stays with big offerings – a long weekend on Heron Island is absolutely no exception.
Feel miles from it all. Connect with nature. Immerse yourself in the sun and the sand that this stretch of Queensland is famous for.
Take a quick trip off the Gladstone Coast to an island getaway that feels further from civilisation than it actually is. While Heron Island’s reputation could easily rest on its aesthetic, it’s home to so much more: turtle hatchlings, research centres, incredible wildlife and a unique eco-tourism experience for all visitors, age groups, and interests.
Take a few days to explore one of the east coast’s most petite adventures, set amidst the famed turquoise waters that play home to the Southern Great Barrier Reef. There are few places better suited to a quick long weekend than Heron Island.
1pm: Getting to Heron Island
Choose which style you’ll arrive to Heron Island in, with transfers leaving Gladstone by boat, seaplane or helicopter depending on your budget. The Heron Islander is a two-hour cruise from Gladstone that makes a return trip each day between the mainland and Heron Island, so best to plan ahead and book your seat in advance.
You’ll spend a couple of hours on deck. Settle in and enjoy the coral cay views through the glassy waters as you glide through Queensland’s precious wonder. Once you’ve laid eyes on the shipwreck and jetty that marks the Heron Island marina, you’ll know you’re home for a few days.
Late Afternoon: Check in and check the place out
Island accommodation at the Heron Island Resort comes in all shapes and sizes, so whether you’re a couple escaping the daily grind, or you brought the entire clan along with you, there’s a range of rooms to choose from. For couples, book a Turtle room set amongst the Pisonia Forest, alive with bird song during nesting season, or the Beach House complete with a deck and water views. Families should look at the Reef and Turtle family rooms or for a little more space book the secluded Point Suites.
A long weekend on Heron Island is a snorkeler’s paradise, so let your first activity be to stop at the Heron Island Marine Centre to pick up a set of complimentary snorkelling gear for the long weekend ahead. Exploring the nearby waters is easy, and the centre posts information on high and low tides so you can organise your weekend around the best snorkelling conditions – high tide. Being right on the doorstep of the Great Barrier Reef means you can dive right into the coral.
Next, fit in a gentle walk around the island and get to know your surrounds, even a meandering pace will take you around half an hour. If the tide is right, dive in and enjoy a welcome swim, or if it’s low tide, wade out to the marine life and wish the clownfish a happy Friday.
Sunset: Heron Island’s famous turtle sightings
If you’re lucky enough to visit the island between December and February, make sure you’re on the beach at sunset. Baby turtles wait under the sand for the temperature to drop as a signal to make a break for the ocean.
Seeing these little turtles race down the beach is a glorious animal encounter you MUST tick off your bucket list! To see the mumma turtles coming up the beach to nest, plan a moonlight vigil or an early wake-up time at sunrise from November to January. Trust us: It’s totally worth your time, luck and patience.
Morning – Dive into the day
Heron Island is also blessed with some of the best dive sites on the Great Barrier Reef – if not the world – with nearly 21 dive sites accessible within a 15-minute boat ride. You can be out exploring the reef up to three times a day and with the right qualifications and conditions, jump back in for a night dive.
If you’ve never dived before, do an introductory dive while you’re here. The guides at Heron Island will take you on the famous Heron Bommie Dive Site to get you started in spotting sea life deep beneath the surface.
Afternoon: Explore the natural surrounds
There’s plenty to be uncovered on Heron Island, especially when you’ve got a few days of uncovering to be had. Spend the afternoon in nature and take one of the island’s complimentary walking tours that shares fascinating natural phenomena from turtle habitats and bird watching to the coral reefs and stargazing – all for free.
Evening: finish with food and entertainment
The Heron Island Resort has three restaurants and bars, so you can unwind inside or out depending on your mood.
Head to the Pandanus Lounge for evening drinks and some local entertainment to fuel your Saturday mood. Sip a cocktail or two before heading on to finish your evening at The Shearwater Restaurant, a relaxed dining room with an outdoor veranda, perfect to watch the sunset over the Great Barrier Reef.
Morning: Rise with the sun and snorkel
With three days on Heron Island, there’s plenty of opportunity for a sleep in before rising to the occasion on Sunday morning. Set your alarm early and head for the beach in what will be a bucket list, east coast experience. If you’re on the island during turtle season, keep an eye out during this time.
Your last full day on the island is the perfect opportunity to make the most of some great complimentary activities like reef walks and more snorkelling.
For beginner snorkellers, practice in Shark Bay, named after the harmless reef sharks or the Gantry, right in front of Pandanus Lounge. More seasoned snorkellers can book a tour and reach the more complex reef by boat. Tide times are posted daily in the Heron Times and displayed outside of the Marine Centre.
Afternoon: Take a tour
Take a walk with one of the naturalist guides and learn about the history of Heron Island. The guided tour takes you through the forest to Shark Bay and then back along the beach. You’ll learn all about the island’s formation, coral cays, local species of plant and wildlife and the importance of the birds and turtles that return to Heron Island year after year.
Learn more about the surrounding ecosystems and take a guided tour of the Heron Island Research Station. The staff there will give you an insight into how the station operates and the important environmental research conducted there. Leave feeling better acquainted with the reef and its important preservation, along with the opportunity to question the resident scientists about their upcoming projects.
Squeeze in one last early morning snorkel to soak in the last of your long weekend on Heron Island. Head back to the marina to catch the Heron Islander back to Gladstone.