GLADSTONE - HERON ISLAND - GLADSTONE
Week 3 of OUR BIG LAP is best summed up in this video... our Heron Island Escape! Watch or read on... #chooseyourownadventure
We had always planned to visit the Great Barrier Reef while on OUR BIG LAP, in part because it is beautiful and we love snorkelling, and in part because we wanted to take the opportunity to show Ava the reef while we were in town so to speak. We bought Ava her own snorkelling set about 6 months before we left on our trip and she has spent plenty of time snorkelling in the bath and the pool over summer honing her skills in readiness for the reef.
We had originally intended to head up to the Whitsundays and find a good standby rate for one of the islands but then came Cyclone Debbie. Fortunately for us she hit a few weeks before we were due to leave and so we were not caught up in the disaster. As we all witnessed on the news the Whitsundays and one of our favourite destinations in Hamilton Island was hit particularly hard, and sadly, the reef in these areas was badly damaged by Debbie as well.
Part of the beauty of a caravan trip like ours is the ability to be flexible with your plans, and so with a bit of Googling on Fraser Island and a few phone calls here and there, we changed plans from heading from Fraser back to Rainbow Beach for a night, to leaving Fraser, hitching up and driving to Gladstone in preparation to head out to Heron Island the very next day!
Suffice to say the day we left Fraser was a big one. We had to be up early to pack down our campsite and be back at the barge landing point all by about 8.00am – partly to give us plenty of time to get to Gladstone, and partly to beat the rising tide. Again this showed the benefit of our campground being so close to the barge landing point. Had we been camping hours further north as originally planned, we would have had to set off for the barge at around 5.30am.
>>> READ OUR ROOKIES GUIDE TO FRASER ISLAND BLOG POST TO HEAR ABOUT OUR FRASER ADVENTURE & FOR TIPS TO PLAN YOUR OWN TRIP TO FRASER ISLAND
Arriving back in Rainbow Beach we found our caravan safe and well where we had left it and happily the fridge had hummed along all week without running out of gas meaning a freezer full of meat (and perhaps the odd sneaky ice cream or two) remained uncompromised.
The onward journey to Gladstone was quite beautiful… fertile plains gave way to beautifully wooded mountains. The scenery was to us so idyllic, which was in stark contrast to the city of Gladstone which was as we discovered an industrial city that was in many ways in decline like so many other regional cities experiencing the inevitable bust that follows the boom.
The utilitarian nature of the town, as well as the caravan park we were staying in (the caravan park was mostly permanent residents and FIFO workers living in little cabins) was the perfect backdrop to what was to confront me upon arrival: 7 days worth of washing for four people, all of which needed to be washed, dried and then bags packed for a four night stay on Heron Island… all in about an 18 hour period.
I had our caravan washing machine going non-stop, gave the caravan park washing machines a good workout, filled every peg and inch of clothesline at my disposal and as night fell, put the caravan park dryer through its paces.
But I got there. And with bags packed with freshly laundered clothes, and snorkel sets at the ready we headed off to the Gladstone Marina to check in to the Heron Island transfer launch, the Heron Islander.
>>> VISIT OUR PHOTO & VIDEO PAGE TO SEE MORE PHOTOS FROM OUR HERON ISLAND ESCAPE
Needing to be at the marina ahead of the departure time to check in gave us plenty of time to explore what amounts to a really beautiful and peaceful marina amidst all the industrial endeavour going on around us. There was plenty of beautiful and shady grassed areas, a fantastic playground that was covered by shade cloth and catered to all ages, BBQ areas as well as a walkway running the length of the marina. The marina building offered a tourist information and souvenir shop as well as toilets and a fishing shop, but there was no food outlets so if you are planning to go to Heron Island, make sure you pack your lunch!
Being mid-week the marina and parklands surrounding it were quiet, but I could easily imagine that this would be a very popular spot for local families on weekends to come and enjoy a picnic and perhaps a spot of fishing.
It finally came time to board the Heron Islander which was met with out and out excitement from the kids and a fair dose of trepidation from the seasick-prone Lloyd. The trip out to Heron takes approximately 2 hours, most of which is across shipping lanes where swells are all but guaranteed. It was a hot, rough ride which left most people feeling a little green around the gills but that was quickly forgotten as we reached the calm waters around Heron and disembarked onto a picture-perfect island in the middle of the Southern Great Barrier reef.
The first thing you notice as you arrive on Heron is the stunning location and the crystal clear waters of the reef, the second thing you notice is the smell! Heron Island is part tourist resort, part research station and the whole island is a protection zone for not only marine life but also the bird life that calls Heron Island home… and that is a lot of birds and a lot of bird poo!!! The good news is that you quickly adjust and no longer notice the smell and you get used to dodging mutton bird nests as you make your way about the resort.
Heron Island is by no means a five-star resort, but it had all the right ingredients for a magical stay on the Great Barrier Reef. The main selling points for us were reef snorkelling right off the beach, a turtle haven meaning we had the opportunity to freely snorkel with turtles as well as try to spot a glimpse of turtle hatchlings making their way to the ocean. For the record we didn’t spot any this time around but saw lots of shells in nests which was just as fascinating for Ava. The staff are friendly but unobtrusive, there is a very, very laid back and relaxed feel on the island. There is even a team of naturalists and a marine education centre to cater for anyone who wants to get an education while you are on holidays. This compliments the guided reef walks, bird watching tours, scuba diving lessons and snorkelling tours for anyone who wants to venture to the edge of Heron’s reef. All in all I think you would be hard pressed not to enjoy your time there.
The kids were so excited to be staying in a hotel room and by the fact that we had to go to the restaurant for all our meals; and many an hour was of course spent in the pool and playing board games in and around the guest lounge area or simply walking around the island (it takes about 25 minutes to completely circumnavigate the island on foot) because when you can walk around an island you kind of feel like it is something you should do!
Ava had quite a few snorkels on the reef and best of all got to snorkel with a turtle. That was such a huge thrill for us all and a very special moment that seemed forever in the making that Lloyd got to share with his little girl out in the water. I got my flippers wet as well and had a magical afternoon snorkelling with some turtles myself. What magnificent creatures they are, and what an unforgettable experience that was enjoyed literally 3 metres from the shore!
The pace of life on Heron Island was right up our alley, especially after coming from Fraser Island where you are often on the go driving long hours and distances to reach different destinations, on Heron Island nothing is more than about two minutes away and the lazy rhythm of breakfast, pool, snorkel, lunch, nap, read, snorkel, dinner, sleep wasn’t too hard to take!
Our time on Heron came to an end all too quickly, and before we knew it we were boarding the Heron Islander for the return trip (gulp!). The seas were pretty rough once again, there were a few people a bit green around the gills again, but we all survived with our tummies intact! Returning home we spent one last night in Gladstone using the time to collect ourselves, do laundry, unpack and generally settle back into van life after spending only one night in the van in the previous 12 days. We were up bright and early the next day very ready to farewell Gladstone and itching to reach our next destination – BARRACRAB CARAVAN PARK in Clairview!
Thank you Heron Island for an unforgettable little family escape... until next week...
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