In 1989 I went to Heron Island twice for a week's diving. Even now when I look back, I think that these two holidays were as good as it gets for diving trips. The first week was in June when I went on a trip with some friends. This was organised by Byron Bay Dive Centre (which back then was the best dive shop in Byron and probably one of the best in NSW). The second trip was in November for the dive festival. This was the second year of the festival (at least this time around) and it was a great event. As well as being able to dive some great dive sites, you had the chance to dive and speak to some great figures in the dive industry. Not only that, there were lectures and fun things on every day.
Heron Island is located off Gladstone on the Queensland coast. It is about 72 kilometres straight out and in the fast catamaran it is only a couple of hours. Heron is not big, you can walk across it in a few minutes and right around in far less than 30 minutes. The island is a sand cay with a fringing coral reef. The reef is shaped like an upside-down teardrop with the pointy end up north. The reef is quite close on the northern and eastern sides. Most diving is done on the northern and north-eastern sides as well as on the nearby Wistari Reef.
Accommodation is in a mixture of types, ranging from shared to private. It is all pretty good, pick what is best for you. Food was included when I went there as there is nowhere else to eat, it was pretty good back then so I assume it still is now.
Diving is easy. The shop is a short distance away from the accommodation. Tanks are taken to the wharf on the "harbour" where the boats are kept. The boats used to be hulls from houseboats. Very wide and flat, they were quite stable and easy to dive out of. I am not sure if they still use this type of boat.
Normally two dives are held each day, with sometimes a night dive. The dives are one in the morning and one in the afternoon. The dives are quite shallow, with the deepest I got to being only about 18 to 20 metres. This is not because I was a new diver, but this is how deep the water is just around the reef.
There was a nice little dive shop that had a reasonable amount of gear for sale if needed. They also had a lot of hire gear and plenty of tanks.
The island has a swimming pool (two I think) as when the tide is out, it is a long way to the water across the reef top. There is not all that much to do on the island apart from relax, but that in itself is a great attraction.
When we were there the procedure was up for breakfast, dive, relax, lunch, dive, fix up dive logs, drinks, dinner and fun. We sometimes went for walks around the island and at night we also went for walks looking for turtles hatching. While we did not see any coming up out of the sand, people did find some in the daytime and these were kept in a bucket of water at the ranger's office till night time when they were released.
Non-divers used to go on walks to the reef's edge with one of the guides and even snorkel once they got out there. There also used to be a semi-submersible submarine that gave non-divers and non-snorkellers a great view of the coral reef and fishlife as it went along the reef edge.
On our trip in September and October, one thing that could get a bit annoying was the number of birds on the island. These were muttonbirds (wedge-tailed shearwaters) and black noddies. There were thousands of them all over the island. Every pandanus tree had a nest of noddies in every fork. They were everywhere. During the day you inevitably got shit on at least once (always wear a hat and sunnies).
At night, the muttonbirds would put out a baby-like cry that sounds like someone is torturing a poor little child. When walking back from the bar at night, you could easily trip over a muttonbird lying on the pathway (they really are stupid birds). The smell can also get to you but after a while, you stop noticing it.
Despite this, both times we were there were great. The water temperature in June was about 20Â° to 21Â°C while in October it was a little warmer at 21 to 22Â°C. You will need a full 5 mm suit at least for this period. I am not sure what the temperature gets to but I suspect that in December to February it may get to 25Â°C.
Note this article was written in 2008 so my memory may be a bit out with some aspects of the place and this are certain to have changed in the almost 20 years since I last visited there.
|A map of the dive sites of the northern side of Heron Island|
Click to enlarge
Note this map was drawn in 1990 by Clarrie Lawler - used with his permission
The following is a list of the dive sites that I did and links to more detail descriptions and maps.