One of the jewels in the Capricorn group of islands within the Great Barrier Reef is Heron Island, a coral cay surrounded by pure white sand and crystal clear turquoise blue waters. The Heron Islander launch leaves Gladstone marina for the 2 hour journey and you get a wonderful view of Gladstone and the islands which protect it from the open sea and make it a safe harbour for shipping, and also pass some of the other coral cays before reaching Heron Island.
We enjoyed a few days on Heron Island staying at the resort, which offers excellent accommodation, a high quality restaurant, a swimming pool, a bar with terrace overlooking the ocean and the most amazing sunsets. If you can drag yourself away from the fantastic snorkelling and diving, there are some interesting guided walks that can be taken, including reef walks, bird watching, night stargazing and a walk to the research centre based there. The island has developed over the years, from a turtle soup factory and turtle back riding to an Advanced Eco-certified resort, where you can see the wonderful spectacle of marine and bird life living in and above the water. The memories of our visit will remain with us for a long while to come.
On returning to the busy port of Gladstone we travelled north to Rockhampton, the ‘Beef Capital’ of Australia, and checked into BIG4 Discovery Holiday Park. It was a hectic weekend of sport activities and competitions in Rockhampton so the park was very busy, but we had a powered site for our Apollo Motorhome, shaded by the numerous palm trees planted throughout the site, and close to the excellent shower block.
Next to the campsite is a very good bistro, and as we were in the beef capital, we thought we should try the steaks, – we were not disappointed, they were delicious and extremely tender.
Adam, the manager of the site, and his wife Fiona, had organised a ‘sausage sizzle’ for breakfast next morning in aid of cancer research, so we tucked in before we had a look around the park. There are 2 swimming pools for the guests, a tennis court, games room, an excellent laundry and a shower block which includes a full size bath!
After leaving Rockhampton we drove inland to Rubyvale gemfields, the sapphire mining and cutting centre of Australia. Here you can take a tour of an underground mine and learn how the early mines back in the 1870′s were dug by hand using picks and shovels, and where some of the worlds most famous and valuable sapphires have been found. You may be lucky and find a gem yourself by fossicking with a bag of river wash and sifting through to look for that elusive valuable sapphire.
Accommodation of all types is available in the gemfields, and we stayed at Rubyvale Gem Gallery and Cabins. The newly built self-contained holiday units are tastefully fitted out and extremely comfortable, the nearby cafe serves delicious coffee, breakfasts and lunches. The owners, Peter and Eileen Brown also own a mining, cutting and jewellery making business, Peter works hard to mine the gems, which are then cut, polished and beautifully set to create wonderful items of jewellery, which you can watch being skillfully produced, and these can be purchased in the gallery.
We enjoyed our visit to the gemfields and now know that sapphires come in a range of colours, not just the blue of Kate Middleton’s engagement ring!