A giant manta ray flaps across the sandbar under the spearmint blue water beneath my feet. A brown-footed booby soars overhead, while an egret swooshes to the water surface and nabs his catch for the day. We’re out on the beach taking a morning stroll, but scenes from the Animal Planet are unfurling upon us.
This is Heron Island, a coral cay located in the southern Great Barrier Reef. Supporting a wide diversity of marine life, the Great Barrier Reef is one of the natural wonders of the world and it has been a World Heritage site since 1981. A large part of the reef is protected by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, which helps to limit the impact of human use, such as overfishing and tourism.
Heron Island is one of the 14 islands that make up the Capriconia Cays National Park, an area of significant biodiversity. Fringing the massive Heron Reef, the cay and the water around it support around 900 of the 1,500 marine animals and 72% of the coral species found on the Great Barrier Reef. Thanks to a combination of its geography, climate and strict conservation rules, we’re surrounded by abundant wildlife — both on land and underwater.
Through all but a few months, Heron Island is a breeding and nesting sanctuary for a variety of birds, including the Black Noddy Terns and the Wedge-tailed Shearwaters. The cay is also a significant nesting location for two vulnerable turtle species, the Green Turtle and Loggerhead Turtle;the day we left the island we heard that two turtles had come up to shore to lay eggs just the night before – a pity we had missed the spectacle. Every June, whales also pass by Heron Island on their annual pilgrimage. It truly is a playground for all types of animals.
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Best Private Island Resort: Heron Island, Great Barrier Reef
Heron Island is just 72km from the mainland in Queensland, Australia but we might as well be in the middle of the ocean. Surrounded by sparkling, pristine water, the island feels untouched — thanks to the protection by the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. There is no fishing nor collecting shells on the island; there are also very strict guidelines on snorkeling and diving as well as turtle watching. The island resort takes the eco-consciousness very seriously – they run their own power generator, potable water producing and treating wastewater, and has also been awarded an Advanced Eco-Certification by Ecotourism Australia.
Besides being eco-friendly, the resort ensures that its rooms are television-free, with no mobile phone reception – its goal is to bring guests “back to nature”. Alberto and I were more than happy to kick back, be unplugged, and enjoy some time off work. We couldn’t have asked for a better setting: Every morning we awoke to a spectacular view of the sea and the gentle sound of the lapping waves, then we spent our afternoons going on educational walks or snorkeling off the island. The island is small enough to walk around in 20 minutes, yet it has everything we could wish for: a restaurant with excellent meals, a swimming pool and lecture rooms for evening presentations.
Unique Heron Island
Most importantly, Heron Island is not just any Great Barrier Reef resort – it’s a resort on the Great Barrier Reef. Reefs literally surround the island and stretch for miles beyond the distance. We loved snorkeling right off the beach in front of our room, swimming amongst dozens of manta rays, black-tipped sharks, and tornadoes of barracudas. We also went scuba-diving and even went on a reef walk during low tide. As our guide Amanda Ford said, “There are few places in the world where you can literally walk on the reef.” And we were the lucky few to have experienced walking the Great Barrier Reef (more stories on that later..).
An Open Air Classroom
But Heron Island is a lot more than just a resort – it’s an outdoor classroom that offers a crash course in nature. We went on a bird walk where the naturalists pointed out the birds that inhabit the island and interesting facts about them; we visited the research station – the biggest in the Great Barrier Reef; and we went for a talk on sharks and learned so much about this intriguing creature. There was so much to learn and do on Heron Island, we barely scraped the surface. We will be sharing more stories from island, but now, we’ll be dreaming about our time back in paradise…
How to get there: The Heron Islander provides transfer from Gladstone to Heron Island and the journey take two hours. A one-way ticket on the boat costs AU$99.50. Alternatively, there are helicopter transfers for AU$370 each way.
Prices: Room rates start from AU$398 per night for twin sharing; there are also diving packages and spa packages. Check this page for more details.
READ MORE: The Great Barrier Reef from the Air
Disclaimer: Our stay was made possible by Heron Island, but all opinions expressed above are our own.