No words but paradise.
Budget: $AUD347 per night (cheapest option for two people at the resort, includes breakfast) + $64AUD ferry one way
*disclaimer: this is not a budget travel destination, but is in my opinion a MUST SEE location if you can hack it while in Australia. Lots of sites offer all inclusive discount rates as well. Or you could get a job here and stay forever which is what I would do.*
Heron Island? Never heard of it.
Heron island is a small coral cay (known as “keys” in the US eg. Florida Keys) at the southern portion of the Great Barrier Reef, about two hours off of the coast of Gladstone, QLD, Australia. The island lies at the head of a hamster-shaped lagoon encircled by a platform reef, and is home to nesting sea turtles, more fish than I can count including both smaller reef sharks and larger pelagic sharks, and tons and tons of coral.
It takes fifteen minutes to walk around the whole island, if you walk slowly, and adorable birds called Noddy turns make their shitty nests out of leaves and, well, shit, in the branches of the Pisonia trees that cover the entire cay.
The island houses both a resort and a research station, the latter manned by the University of Queensland which is where I’ve been studying for the past three months and why I got to come out to Heron for class.
What was I doing
This connection to the university let me and my classmates spend nine days on this amazing island, planning, executing, crying over briefly, replanning, analyzing, and finally presenting research projects of our own design. Luckily, my professor is a snorkeling fiend who gets mad if you spend too much time inside, and forced us to design projects that got us in the water the most we could be without completely shriveling up.
My project looked at the association of different coral shapes and surrounding fish, so I spent my time with a slate and a measuring tape, staring at coral heads and counting and naming the fish around them. For anyone who knows me, they will know that I love fish and this is a dream come true for me, so I had a good time.
My days on the island basically went like this:
5:15 - Wake up
5:30 - Morning snorkel
7:00 - Breakfast
8:00-10:00 - Boat snorkel, dive, or research
10:30 - Morning tea (this is a crucial snack meal that Australians have in between breakfast and lunch)
11:00-12:00 - Research
12:00 - Lunch
1:00-3:00 - Reef walk or research
3:00 - Afternoon tea (also a crucial snack meal, held between lunch and dinner)
3:30-5:30 - Research
5:30 (on the dot) - Harbor sunset snorkel (The harbor is closed between 8 and 5:30 every day for boat traffic but has, in our opinion the best freediving out of any of the surrounding reefs so the second it opened in the evening it was time for sunset snorkel)
6:30 - Dinner
7:30 - Meeting
9:30 (at the very latest but hopefully earlier) - Pass out
Getting there on your own budget
Heron island is going to be one of those rare places that I write about that isn’t necessarily affordable. Due to its remote location, small size, and ideal vacation conditions, traveling to the resort can be a bit on the pricier side (see budget).
The good thing is that in order for people to get to stay on the island, the facilities need staff. I spoke to a bartender who told me she found a job listing on indeed.com (yes, indeed) so if you’re looking to do your work and holiday visa (link to the visa page) in Australia like I hope to later on, and don’t mind spending your time on a tiny remote island surrounded by some of the best coral reefs and amazing wildlife, I’d recommend looking for jobs instead of vacationing here. From what I saw, positions include basic hospitality jobs like bartenders, boutique employees, and cleaning staff, as well as more specialized positions like working in the dive shop (dive master or instructor) or acting as a biology specialist for the tours the resort gives to the research station. The research station (run by UQ) also employs cooks and office employees.
Overall, I would recommend selling your left arm and a kidney to get out to Heron Island. Out of all the places I got to visit while in Australia these three months, Heron takes the cake as being the most surreal. (but nice).