Heron Island is one of Australia’s best Great Barrier Reef destinations and one of the top places to see and interact with wildlife in the world. This Heron Island review aims to help you plan your trip and make the most of your visit!
Described by Sir David Attenborough as “his most magical place on earth’ the island is uniquely located in the Southern reef making it a year-round destination that attracts tourists from all over the world, international celebrities and research scientists and enthusiasts.
This is a truly unforgettable place to visit and an easy weekend getaway in Queensland.
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Where is Heron Island?
Heron Island is located in the Southern Great Barrier Reef some 80 km northeast of Gladstone in Queensland.
You can fly into Gladstone Airport, currently serviced by Qantas, Virgin and Alliance airlines and then transfer from there, or drive to Gladstone which is a 6 hour drive north of Brisbane.
How to get to Heron Island
There are 2 ways to get to Heron Island from Gladstone.
If your budget can stretch to it we recommended arriving one way and leaving the other, that way you experience both a sea and air arrival/departure.
A courtesy bus departs from Gladstone Airport to the Gladstone Marina, to connect with the Heron Island ferry service.
The ferry departs Gladstone Marina at 9.30 am and returns again at 12.45 pm daily, except Tuesday and Thursday.
There are no launch transfers on Christmas Day, however, transfers do operate on Boxing Day instead.
The boat trip between Gladstone and Heron Island takes just over two hours each way. The Ferry is a good size and has a snack bar on board but the ride can involve a bit of rock and roll so if you are prone to seasickness take the tablets!
A helicopter ride between Gladstone Airport and Heron Island take 30 minutes and, as you can imagine, has some breath-taking scenery, particularly as you approach/leave Heron.
Baggage allowance for flight transfers is limited to one suitcase and one small carry-on item of hand luggage per person with a maximum of 15 kg per person.
Weight limits are restricted to a total carriage weight limit that includes both baggage and guests and can be weather and tide dependent. Guests will be asked their weight upon booking and will be weighed again before departure.
The Helicopter ride is expensive but it truly is an unforgettable experience. It is highly likely you will see marine life during the flight – perhaps sharks, dolphins or whales and more.
*TIP Your room may not be ready when you arrive on Heron so pack a change of clothes and a towel and sunscreen in your carry-on luggage to make the most of your time. And thongs/reef shoes too!
A day trip to Heron Island
It is not possible to do a day trip by ferry as the ferry leaves the island not long after it arrives. It also does not operate every day.
It is possible to do a day trip by helicopter or seaplane but this is, of course, a fairly expensive option. See Heron Helicopters for more information.
Home to two of Australia’s biggest smelters and several other big factories Gladstone is a fairly industrial coastal city with a pretty marina and close proximity to not just the Southern Great Barrier Reef but also the nearby attractions of Tannum Sands, Curtis Island and Town of 1770/Agnes Waters.
There is not a lot to see and do in the city itself but it does warrant a night or two on your way to or from Heron, Wilson Islands and some of the other GBR islands.
We like to stay at Oaks Gladstone Grand Hotel which has big rooms with great views and a surprisingly good restaurant and room service. Very affordable too!
approaching Gladstone Marina by air
When to visit Heron Island
The Southern Great Barrier Reef is a year-round destination due to its sub-tropical climate.
It is rare for the region to get the tropical storms and Cyclones that hit the northern Great Barrier Reef between December and April nor the deadly Box and Irukandji jellyfish that visit the waters of Northern Queensland between October and May.
Temperatures range from 24°C to 33°C in summer and 12°C to 24°C in winter.
Best time for diving on Heron Island
Diving and snorkelling are good year-round in the Southern Great Barrier Reef. September to November is the optimal best time when water temperatures are reasonable and rainfall rare which ensures good water visibility.
Best time for turtles on Heron Island
Turtles season on the Great Barrier Reef is between October and March. Female turtles lay 3 ‘clutches’ of eggs of around 110 each in a season, about 2 weeks apart.
Eggs take between 30-60 days to hatch depending on ambient temperatures of the sand so you will see more of them as the season progresses.
The very BEST time to visit Heron Island is November and early December – the turtles have started laying, the weather is glorious and the school holidays have not yet begun.
Heron Island Accommodation
There is only one place to stay on Heron Island and that is the Heron Island Resort.
Like a lot of island resorts in Australia, this is a pretty tired hotel in need of some serious renovations but the cost would likely add significantly to the tariff.
The beds are comfortable, it is clean and the service is well-intentioned. There is a restaurant with some reasonable offerings, a bar pavilion with live music, a good day spa, a small shop and a great range of activities.
It’s still not necessarily cheap either BUT you will rarely hear complaints about it. The fact is the surroundings and location are so incredible people spend little time in their rooms and quickly forget any shortcomings from the resort.
Keep your expectation low when it comes to the accommodation and you will have a great time!
* TIP It is worth upgrading to a beachfront room if you can. The rooms are not air-conditioned and those in the interior of the island can get very hot.
Also, may not be possible to book a specific room due to availability on the day but it doesn’t hurt to ask!
Best Rooms for proximity to Pool/Bar/Restaurant/Shops – rooms 40’s and 50’s or Point & Wistari Suites
Best Rooms for Turtles – rooms 120-140s & Turtle Family Rooms 12-15
Rooms closest to Jetty and Harbour – Turtle Family Rooms 12-15 & rooms in the 20’s
Dining on Heron Island
The tariff on Wilson usually includes breakfast which is served, buffet-style, in Shearwater Restaurant.
Dinner can either be enjoyed at Shearwater Restaurant or the Pandanus Bar. Be sure to book early at the restaurant if visiting in peak periods.
Like a lot of island resorts, the food is nothing amazing but it is surprisingly affordable. Even drinks are generally mainland prices.
The small shop on the island also sells snack and things like 2-minute noodles and cold drinks. If you can it may pay to bring a small esky with some extra provisions for lunches etc ( keep in mind most rooms only have bar fridges).
Heron Island activities
The Great Barrier Reef is home to one-third of the worlds coral and over 5000 marine and mammal species. More than 400 coral species can be found in the GBR Marine Park which it is a highly protected and important habitat. Snorkelling and diving on the Great Barrier Reef is considered some of the best anywhere in the world.
Heron island is located right on a coral cay and is one of the few places you can stay on the reef without having to do a boat trip. You can literally walk into the water right near your room and be swimming with Manta Rays, Turtles and fish within minutes.
You can book snorkelling lessons on the island who also run daily boat trips out to Heron and Wistari reefs. Cost: Adult $50 AUD Child $35 AUD.
*TIP Snorkelling equipment is supplied for free at the Marine Centre but be sure to pack some good quality reef shoes as well. You shouldnt stand on the coral anyway but in case you accidently do you will be protected and they will help walking in low tide on the beach as well.
Most good snorkelling spots also have great diving spots nearby and of course Heron Island is an incredible place to do it. The famous marine explorer Jacques Cousteau—lists Heron Bommie as one of his top 10 favourite dive sites in the world!
The water around the island is relatively shallow and is teeming with life. The island caters to all levels of divers and offer dive packages that include night dives.
Kayaking and Paddle Boards
These guided paddles take you over the reef and is a great way to see the wildlife below and around you, especially if you do not snorkel and dive. Book these at the Marine Centre and be early as they are often booked out!
Cost: Single Kayak $40 AUD, Double Kayak $70 AUD, Paddle Boards $40 AUD
Book a walk with one of the islands Naturalist Guides who take small groups either around the island, along the edge of the reef or on a Bird or Turtle Walk, explaining the various highlights along the way and helping people to spot and identify various flora and fauna. Each walk takes between 60 and 90 minutes.
With very little light pollution on the island the sky is ablaze with stars, constellations and comets. You can either book a Stargazing tour which takes places at the Helipad or take a towel down to the beach to enjoy the night skies yourself.
*TIP Download an App on your device like Star Walk 2 which will help you identify everything you see, including space stations and satellites!
Turtles on Heron Island
Turtles nest on Heron and Wilson Island from November until March and hatchlings are seen from January through to May.
A female Green Sea Turtle will lay around 110 eggs in a ‘clutch’ and will do that 3 times over a season, 2 weeks apart. She will return to where she herself was born some 20-30 years earlier.
Eggs take between 45-70 days to incubate which depends on the temperature of the sand environment for the clutch of eggs.
Bird nesting season starts around November each year and ends in March although there is a significant bird presence year-round.
During nesting season there are thousands of nests in the trees made by the White-capped Noddys. These are medium-sized terns with black feathers and white caps who use their droppings to harden leaves to make nests that their offspring sometimes sadly fall out of in a strong wind. There are over 80,000 Noddys on Heron during breeding season.
Another bird that is very common on Wilson Island is the burrowing Shearwaters aka Muttonbirds. These black birds come back to their burrows each night and their distinctive wail can be heard through the night.
Beauty Treatments and Massage
The Aqua Soul dayspa on the island is located in the newest building and they have some lovely treatments to choose from in a very tranquil setting. The spa has three single treatment rooms, one couple’s room, locker rooms and a private steam room (for up to 2 people). See the spa menu HERE.
Be sure to book as soon as you arrive or you may miss out.
The University of Queensland Research Station
The University of Queensland Research Station is one of the universities major research facilities and they open to the public to discuss their current investigations and experiments in and around Heron Reef.
To check availability and pre-book your visit, contact Reception at email@example.com. Cost: Adults $10 AUD Children $3 AUD
Junior Rangers Program
This is a great activity for the kids and help them have an immersive reef experience that is fun and informative.
Developed by Heron Island’s team of marine biologists, with the cooperation of the University of Queensland and QLD Parks and Wildlife the program runs during the school holidays and is designed for kids 7 to 12. It offers walks out on the reef and around the island exploring the various habitats and the friendly rangers will help the kids do things like find hatchling and spot Manta Rays.
The UQ research station
the interior rainforest
Heron Island is a very special place and one that you will never forget visiting.
It is located right in the middle of one of the healthiest parts of the Great Barrier Reef and despite the fact that the resort itself needs an update the location and the abundance of wildlife and nature more than makes up for it.
We hope this Heron Island review has helped you plan your visit and has helped you make the most of your trip!
If you like the sound of Heron Island you will absolutely LOVE nearby Wilson Island!
This smaller neighbour is run by the Heron Island operators and offer luxury eco-glamping tents in paradise. Tariffs are all-inclusive and are surprisingly good value.
Read our full review here, including how and what to book and how to get there.
There are other options for the Southern GBR which may suit too: