Shipwreck off Heron Island in Southern Great Barrier Reef

How to spend a long weekend on Heron Island

Heron Island on the Southern Great Barrier Reef is heaven on Earth if you’re after a mini break but want to feel miles away from it all.

Blow out your weekend and take a few annual leave days to slip into the island’s routine of snorkelling every chance you get and finding every Finding Nemo character in real life!

It might be a tiny island off the Gladstone Coast, but it has a serious adventurous punch with an epic nature kick.


1pm: You have arrived!


You’ve spent around two hours on a boat passing a number of Great Barrier Reef coral cays but the one you’re approaching now is the one you have been waiting for. You spy the iconic shipwreck and jetty that marks the Heron Island marina. This will be your home for the next couple of days. Woo hoo!

Afternoon sesh

Snorkelling off Heron Island in the Southern Great Barrier Reef

After checking into your digs, make a beeline for the Water Activity Centre and get your snorkel hire sorted, stat. Find out the times for high and low tide, so you can organise your days around the best snorkelling conditions (at high tide).

Next, it’s time to walk around the island – even if you’re lolloping about, it will only take you about half an hour. If the tide is right, dive in and have a welcome swim or if it’s low tide, wade out to a coral formation to look for anemones and clownfish!

Plan to be back near the jetty to watch the sunset.

It. Is. Spectacular!

Turtle time

Turtle hatchlings racing to the Great Barrier Reef. Photos by @scottels.

Turtle hatchlings racing to the Great Barrier Reef. Photos by @scottels.

If you’re lucky enough to visit the island between December and February, make sure you’re on the beach at sunset. Baby turtles wait under the sand for the temperature to drop as a signal to make a break for the ocean.

Seeing these little turtles race down the beach is a glorious animal encounter you MUST tick off your bucket list! To see the mumma turtles coming up the beach to nest, plan a moonlight vigil or an early wake-up time at sunrise from November to January. Trust us: It’s totally worth your time, luck and patience.


Morning – Dive in


Heron Island is blessed with some of the best dive sites on the Great Barrier Reef – if not the world – with sites accessible within a very short boat ride. This island was made for diving holidays. You can be out exploring the reef up to three times a day and, with the right qualifications and conditions, jump back in for a night dive.

If you’ve never dived before, do an introductory dive while you’re here. Our intro dive was on the famous Heron Bommie Dive Site and we saw a mantra ray hanging out at a cleaning station on our very first dive!


Will be spent in the following ways:

  • Snorkelling right off the beach
  • Reef walking at low tide to spot clownfish and other reef fish
  • Spotting reef sharks and rays at the jetty
  • Naps on the beach
  • Sipping cocktails by the pool
  • All of the above




If you haven’t already, do yourself a favour and get up pre-dawn to make your way down to the beach for sunrise. It is a memory you need in your life – trust us.

If you’re on the island during Turtle Season, keep an eye out for turtles at this time.

Today is the day to take advantage of the great complimentary activities Heron Island has on offer, like the guided reef walk and talks.



The must-do is the guided tour of the University of Queensland Research Station. Station staff will give you an insight into how the station operates and the research that’s conducted. You’ll leave with a bit more knowledge and appreciation for the reef and the work that the researchers are doing for conservation and preservation.

You’ll hear about the interesting research projects happening on the island and have the chance to ask questions of the visiting scientists.

Before you head to the station, don’t forget to grab a copy of the Heron Times to read up on your turtle etiquette.


Snorkelling with a turtle off Heron Island

Squeeze in one more early morning snorkel, then sit back and practice holding onto that nice holiday feeling as the boat sends you home.

Have you been to Heron Island? What are some of your favourite memories?

This post was originally published in 2015 and was updated on 12 April 2019.