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Guide to Heron Island

Heron Island contains everything you want from a Great Barrier Reef island: wildlife, fabulous snorkelling and diving and eco-celebrity endorsements.

By Katrina Lobley

As a stunning coral cay in Queensland’s Southern Great Barrier Reef, Heron Island could easily rest on its picture-postcard laurels. Yet it’s much more than a snorkelling and diving tropical paradise because it’s also home to extraordinary wildlife.


From Gladstone, a regional city that’s 515 kilometres (320 miles) north of Brisbane, take a 2 1/2 hour boat ride or a seaplane to reach Heron Island in the Southern Great Barrier Reef.


  • See two turtle species nesting and hatching on the beach
  • Make like Sir David Attenborough, who filmed a documentary here
  • Head to one of Jacques Cousteau's favourite dive sites

Heron Island highlights


Follow in Sir David Attenborough’s footsteps

The world-famous naturalist included Heron Island in his recent documentary series on the Great Barrier Reef. Make like Sir David Attenborough and spot some of the island’s birdlife such as black noddies that perch in the pisonia trees. Birds often make a big impression on visitors because up to 100,000 of them breed on this coral cay.

See a turtle's cycle of life

Green and loggerhead turtles return to Heron Island each year to nest in the same spot where they hatched up to 30 years earlier. There are strict guidelines for visitors so they don’t stress the turtles as they crawl up the beach to dig their nests. When it’s time for hatchlings to emerge, guests can gather outside their rooms to watch the tiny creatures skedaddle down to the water’s edge. Turtle season runs from October to April.

Snorkel and dive as much as you want

Heron Island is a snorkeller’s paradise. No boat trips are required to spy something special: simply pull on your flippers and enter the cerulean waters from the beach to encounter bright blue starfish, sea cucumbers and more. The island is also near 21 dive sites, all within 15 minutes travel. Undersea explorer Jacques Cousteau named Heron Bommie (a large underwater coral arrangement) as one of his favourite dive sites on Earth.

Go for a dive (without getting wet)

Take a seat within the hull of the island’s semi-submarine I-SPY to see underwater creatures – sea turtles, manta rays, bright fish, sea snakes and more - without getting wet. A tour guide will point out the highlights that can be seen through the large windows.

Visit Heron Island research station

A research station has been part of island life since 1951. The Southern Hemisphere’s largest island research centre has a base team of 10, which fluctuates as research students arrive to delve further into their special subject, which could range from snails to whales. Resort guests can learn more about the station’s work on a one hour tour and guided walk.

Stay at the resort

With no day-trippers allowed, the only way visitors can come to Heron is to book into the 109-room resort. Accommodation ranges from rooms secluded within the bird-attracting pisonia forest to a freestanding house with exclusive access to the beach. An on-site restaurant serves meals, with a seafood buffet available on Saturdays. For a secluded lunch, order a picnic hamper and head to the beach.  

Tick off the Great 8 marine animals

Just as Africa has the Big Five, the Great Barrier Reef has the Great Eight. Around Heron, it’s possible to work through this list of incredible marine animals: manta rays, whales, turtles, clownfish, potato cod, giant clams, maori wrasse and sharks. 

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