All the way out to Heron Island…
Aussisms for today:
- Garbo – A garbage removalist. Another example of the Aussie penchant for abbreviating words, the suffix ‘o’ being just about as popular as ‘ie’.
- Send her down Hughie – Please make it rain (Hughie was traditionally a bush-dwellers epithet for God).
- Muddie – A Queensland mud crab, also known as a mangrove crab and considered a culinary delicacy.
Location: Gladstone, Queensland
Weather: Scattered clouds, bits of blue – Simpson’s sky! Strong winds. 23°c
Sunrise through the windows of the train was pretty special, a quick bite of breakfast before jumping off the train at Gladstone into the very welcoming arms of Trevor and Cindy, our contacts here for the next stage of the Island Reef Job adventure.
A quick tour of the town, to prove that Gladstone is more than just a jumping off point for the islands, a little introduction to some of the volunteers at the tourism centre and another quick bite of breakfast….that’s two already, not good for the ever increasing waistline.
Question – Pancakes for breakfast – Sweet or savoury? Australians do the sweet thing…Canadians do the savoury thing with bacon included. Interesting.
To get out to Heron Island, the first of our two destinations and part of the Capricorn group situated 75kms from the mainland, we’re onto another high speed catamaran, which isn’t a bad choice considering the swell out in the open water. Big rolling waves causing us to list from side to side resulting in a fair few green faces and even the odd passenger racing to the toilet. I am so pleased I don’t suffer from sea sickness!
We pass the more placid waters round the sheltered reefs of Masthead and Erskine Islands and on the horizon the iconic image of a desert island appears – low lying land punctuated by short trees and in the foreground surf breaking on the outer reef. Here comes the good stuff.
The final approach to Heron is spectacular, as you close in on the wreck which protects the deep water channel the colours of the reef become vivid and bright. Light blues over the sand, greens over the coral and browns where the dropping tide expose the head of the bommies (coral covered outcrops around which marine life thrives – Bombora is the Aussie description of a mountain underwater, follow the usual practice of shortening the word and adding ‘ie’!!)
We join the group of people arriving on the island for a quick familiarisation tour, the resort (although you can’t really relate it to a true resort as it’s too small and nothing like a touristy-filled monstrosity) subtly blending into the Pisonia Forest at the western end of the island.
There’s a few different accommodation types on the island, all nestled amongst the Pandanus trees, from the waterfront properties to the smaller apartment-style rooms each offering a retreat far from phone reception, noise and the hustle and bustle of daily life – if you want to get away from it all this is the place to do it.
The promise of some of the best snorkelling and diving on the Great Barrier Reef here on Heron Island has been banded around by a few people and after the incredible experiences of Lizard and Hayman Islands there’s so much to play for…who’ll come out on top I wonder!? If the scene outside my bedroom’s anything to go by then Heron’s surely looking good. A quick snorkel in sight of the room on the incoming tide confirms a mass of aquatic life here; a small turtle, several white and black tip reef sharks and parrotfish galore. Bring on our scuba session tomorrow….
Now I’m known for loving sunrise – but sunset comes a very close second. Living on a small island offers both….having a few clouds makes it better…..but stick a wreck into the picture and suddenly you have as iconic a photo as an African elephant by a watering hole!
One of the many ‘in-touch-with-nature’ activities on offer here is the Sunset Cruise so we head out on a motor launch across the rowdy ocean and find the perfect location to witness the great fiery ball dropping behind the horizon for another day. I only hope the pictures do it justice.
Dinner seemed well overdue when we got there; the long day was starting to catch up with me, so a simple choice of three items for starters and then again for mains eased the usually complicated process of deciding between, excessive eating and satisfying my desire to eat awesome Aussie red meat everywhere I go.
End of day location: Heron Island
Distance travelled: 75kms
Location: Heron Island
Weather: Grey clouds, strong winds, light rain. Not exactly the weather for a tropical island paradise!
Sunrise didn’t happen; not as I wanted it to anyway. Grey clouds all around aren’t the best omen for quality diving. Let’s get the blood pumping then – Bre and I left the comfy room and headed out onto the beach for a lap of the island. At 1.8kms round the outside, it’s a great way to settle the breakfast and immerse yourself in island life by taking in the flora and fauna, which thrives here. The White and Grey Egrets are my morning favourite and look to be such glum things – as though it’s been raining everyday of their lives. At the windward side of the island it becomes clear to see how these sand covered cays become islands over hundreds of years…here’s a summary:
- Coral forms an underwater bommie or reef
- Sand piles up on the obstruction gradually forming a small cay
- Sea birds rest and use it as a new island and toilet dropping seeds on the surface
- Seeds root and bind the surface together allowing more creepers and plants to establish
- Bushes and trees eventually grow providing habitat for all forms of life
- An island is made!!
When you walk around an island such as this you can see exactly why it all happens too, pumice stone from volcanic activity across the ocean washes up on the tide line along with a huge range of seeds in all shapes and sizes – if I was a seed I’d setup home here for sure. Mangroves being a particular favourite with their love for mud and sand and their ability to root in saltwater situations.
Dive time finally and a chance to test out my lovely new dive gear, which I’ve been dying to get wet for the last few weeks; the promise of manta rays, turtles and sharks running through my head as I climbed aboard our dive boat anxious to get in the water to see what was on offer.
“Follow the anchor line down and I’ll meet you at the bottom” our divemaster said, a quick squeeze of the air release on my BCD (buoyancy control device) and down I sank, dropping 12m to the ocean floor scanning the horizon for any aquatic beauties. Didn’t take long either – a green turtle gently propelling itself out of sight behind a bommie, the first to be spotted. The first of six we’d see today but the elusive rays staying well out of sight even though the dives before and after ours spotted them….funny how that happens or is it just a sales pitch!?!
Forty minutes flew by, Bre had been huffing air like a whale and her dive computer showed limited supplies so we headed to the surface, got out of our gear and tried to warm up in the sunlight…the difference in water temperature here noticeable at 19°c compared to the 23°c of the Whitsundays.
Hopefully tomorrow the sun will come out for real as we have two dives in the morning, today was a little disappointing. Rolling ocean swell and grey skies reduced the visibility with the bottom being stirred up limiting our chances of seeing everything we’d come to witness – I only hope the wind and swell are in the right direction tomorrow to give us a chance to dive at Heron Bommie, described by Lonely Planet as “The Best Fish Dive on the Great Barrier Reef,” an area which has had almost every film, documentary and story about the reef shot here.
Total for today’s dive: 7.5/10 just above average.
Day Two’s diving was altogether different. The wind dropped off, the skies cleared and the sun shone through the ocean illuminating the reef below and its inhabitants – this is exactly what I wanted, a chance to see the multitude of fish and marine life up close so that filming it would be not just a rewarding process for me but also for you the viewer. It’s be easy to bang on for ages about quite how good the fishes were but instead I’ve put together a little video, which will allow you to see for yourselves, so please sit back and enjoy the Heron Island compilation of the two days we spent above and below the water:
Total for today’s dives: 9.5/10 almost perfect – just one Manta Ray would have been good that’s all!
Location: Heron Island
Distance travelled: 5kms by boat, 500m diving.
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