We sat around for a while in Gladstone Harbour until the boat was loaded then we boarded. The boat departed about five minutes late, but no worries, and took its course out of the harbour and off towards Heron Island. A bumpy crossing with a good breeze but no ‘mal de mer’ evident. Arrived at Heron Island after the two hour boat trip, a brief welcome and orientation then on to our room.
Too late to snorkel today as it was now low tide so we just relaxed until dinner time. Buffet dinner, we ate far too much, collapsed into bed.
A noisy night from all the birds. There were the white-capped noddies who nested in just about every tree in the resort, there were thousands of them, and the shearwaters or mutton birds who lived in burrows and ‘moaned’ all night. They almost sounded like human babies crying, what a din! It was also hot and humid.
We got up and went along to the Marine Centre to check in for my diving and for Ruth to book a snorkel boat trip. I had to do a ‘refresher’ at 8 so we went off for some breakfast. Duly breakfasted and ‘refreshed’ we wandered back and kitted up for snorkelling. We swam out to the wreck (alongside the entrance channel) about 200 metres offshore, saw quite a few reef fish three turtles grazing, a couple of blacktip sharks and some beautiful large parrotfish. Not a bad snorkel though we have seen prettier reefs.
Lunch. Just a sandwich, and as we were seated outside waiting for it, a gull stole a bag of crisps from the couple opposite flew off, upended the bag and polished off the crisps before the couple could get there! Two minutes later a (Buff banded) Rail flew up and took a bite (beak full?) from the woman’s sandwich while she held it in her hand. Cheeky birds. They did not do the same to us as we were a bit more watchful.
Then time for my dive. Joined the boat, there were three of us to dive plus the dive leader and lots of snorkelers. Out to the edge of the reef to the south east of the island we dropped down to the bottom at 18 metres and just drifted along the reef in the quite strong current. Lots of reef fish, some turtles, one quite large loggerhead circled our group a couple of times, a small nurse shark, a bull ray, several large groupers, groups of trevallies and so on. A good dive but I was getting quite cold by the end, despite water temperature of 24 degrees and my wearing a wetsuit. Back to the resort as the wind was getting to blow quite hard. My ‘buddy’, Gary runs a wine production business; will have to find out a bit more.
Ruth had been catching up on sleep and decide to stay in bed a bit longer so I went for a walk, out onto North Beach to take a few photos. Found an epaulette shark searching around the rocks only recently submerged by the rising tide. A very pretty thing, tan with black spots and about a metre long. Sunset time; a few photos then back to the room. Dinner then early bed.
A quieter night bird-wise but very windy early morning. Off to breakfast, lots of leaves and pandanus fronds on the paths. Discovered the diving and snorkelling boat was cancelled for the day due to the weather; hopeful of it moderating for tomorrow.
The only area recommended for snorkelling was North Beach, in the lee of the island, so we kitted up walked down to the beach - only a few yards from our room. The snorkelling was very disappointing, it was mostly sand, little coral and fewer fish. So, showered and changed we headed off to Shark Point (apparently there is a resident breeding pair of wedge-tailed eagles nesting in the tallest tree) A gentle stroll through the pisonia forest, with many, many black (white-capped) noddies sitting on their nests, screeching at us if we got too close. This is prime nesting time for these birds and they were sitting on their eggs. Pisonias are the predominant tree species on the island with just a few casuarinas and some other smaller shrubs.
The wind was still quite strong as we emerged from the forest and onto the beach. A fenced off area was marked as a turtle egg incubator - eggs of the endangered loggerheads had been moved here for a better chance of hatching. We walked, downwind along the beach, saw a few turtles swimming just off the beach, in the shallow waters of the tidal flats, struggling in the strong wind. Lots of egrets, both the white and the dark grey - very attractive birds. Shearwaters, noddies and gulls whizzing overhead. Once round the end of the beach and out of the wind we really felt the effect of the sun - it was hot!
We walked on to the jetty to see black-tip sharks patrolling the waters, many looked over two metres long, but allegedly they do not attack humans. We’ve swum in shallow waters elsewhere and encountered smaller black-tips and they just swam away.
Back for some lunch and a little rest before the guided reef walk at 4. Sewed one of my thongs part of which had become detached.
Reef walk a bit of a disappointment; too many people and only one guide. The water was knee deep and choppy in the strong breeze. Interesting to learn about sea cucumbers and clams and coral. Walked out to the lagoon at the edge of the reef and then walked back.
Not much else to do, dinner, bed.
Woke at 4.30 to go and see the turtles. Sunrise was due at just after 5 but the sky was already lightening. We reached the beach to see one loggerhead turtle just entering the water, heading out to sea, struggling in the very shallow water of the tidal flats, and several tracks of turtles going up and going down the beach, job done. But, there was a set of tracks heading up the beach with no return track.
Sure enough, watched by about a dozen people, was a turtle at its nest. She had laid her eggs and was now backfilling. We watched, and watched, and watched as she slowly filled in the nest hole. She paused frequently to rest before deciding the nest was properly covered up and she made her way slowly down the beach. By now, 6 o’clock, the sun was up and getting very warm but the turtle edged closer and closer to the water and as the tide was now on the rise the water was now deep enough for her to swim and she swam briskly out to the reef edge and back into the ocean. Success! What an amazing sight.
Breakfast and then I kitted up for diving at 9. Struggled into this 7mm thick wetsuit, an alternative to the 4mm shortie wetsuit I wore two days ago and got cold in, but the longjohn suit was a bit of an overkill and very difficult to put on.
The dive was great, another drift dive lots of fairly pretty coral but few soft corals here. Large ray, many reef fish, nurse shark, barracuda. As we exited the wind had started to get up a bit though we all got safely back onto the boat. Back to the dock with twenty minutes to spare before dive two. Met with Ruth briefly before heading back to the boat for the second dive.
This dive was right by the entrance to the channel to the island, apparently named as one of the top ten diving sites by no less than Jacques Cousteau! Not sure I agree with him but it was a good site. This was Heron Bommie, three bommies close to each other with good corals and plenty of fish. (Apparently bommie is an aboriginal word for mountain.) About a dozen turtles swam by as we dived; it is mating season for turtles though we didn’t actually catch any if them in the act. Nice drift dive, lots to see.
So, back to the resort, grabbed a spot of lunch, checked the dive centre out (they hadn’t been sure about the afternoon boat trip because of the increased winds); the trip was on. Kitted up, we both joined the boat for snorkelling. Still a bit windy but we got into the water and had a good ‘drift’ snorkel along the edge of the reef. Plenty of reef fish and another turtle. Large clams, groupers, parrot fish etc
Just as we were pulling into the dock, one of the boat crew announced it was someone’s birthday and they duly produced a couple of very chilled bottles of beer complete with stubbies, while one of the crew sang ’Happy Birthday’, in French! Thanks to Jack for organising this.
Having reluctantly returned all the kit and showered, we headed off to walk North Beach, round the end of the island and along to the jetty. Saw a sea eagle soaring high above us. Sunset, red streaked through the clouds, an amazing sight
Up again at 4.30, wandered along the beach to find several tracks up and down the beach, but no turtles, they had all been and gone.
Breakfast, finish packing, checked out, now to wait until 9.30 to board the boat for Gladstone.
So, Heron Island. Not sure we could recommend it, the food was excellent, as were the restaurant staff. The dive team were a bit offhand to begin with but were friendly enough when they got to know us. Accommodation was ok. Snorkelling from the shore was restricted to two hours either side of high tide, due to the shallowness of the tidal flats and was pretty poor. The boat trip for snorkelling was the only way to see good corals and reef fish, but at $50 per person, it was certainly a cost to factor in for a holiday.