On the plane to Gladstone. Somewhere over QLD
Ok I'll be honest I knew nothing about Heron Island
before this trip. It's the typical dilemma of knowing and dreaming of foreign lands and not appreciating what is in your backyard. The only reason I've had the chance to go here, was due to my brothers advice. He was coming back to Australia for a wedding, and wanted a holiday whilst he was back for a month. I desperately needed a holiday bad. (Especially since my last one was over 19 months ago when I did the Trans-Siberian). So he said we should go to Heron Island. And off we went.
I'm not sure why I've never heard of it before. Why nobody has ever mentioned this fabulous island on the bottom of the Great Barrier Reef to me.
My brother looks excited on the ferry over
I'm not even sure if I should be writing a blog on it. It's one of those places you want to keep a secret as selfish as it sounds. Lest the crowds ruin a good thing. Maybe that is why people don't bring it up in conversation. It's like a secret club, you either know about it or you don't. Paradise is no longer the elusive place I search for all my life. As it is truly found at Heron Island.
The island itself is not easy to get to unlike the rest of the Great Barrier Reef. There is no direct flights there. Until civilians can drive submersible cars, you can't pick up your car and drive there. Not that there are any roads on the island. The only way here is a flight to Gladstone. Then either get a transfer by ferry or by helicopter. The reasons why you would take a helicopter are: you've either got too much money or you missed the daily ferry.
The pier you walk on to get off the ferry and on the island. I don't think I've seen a more welcoming island.
We got the ferry. Okay, having never gone deep sea fishing or on a small ferry crossing the ocean before I didn't think I would get sea sick. I mean, I've caught hundreds of boats and ferries before without incidence. So when they offered sea sickness tablets prior to boarding the ferry I was tempted not to take them. But the girl was pretty insistent that we take them. I'm not the kind of guy that is huge on medicine, going to doctors and taking pills. I'm not by any means some holistic vegan hippie. Or some paranoid person convinced society is poisoning us with too many drugs and false hopes. Although the last one might be slightly debatable. I just old school. Back in my day we didn't have shoes. We just wrapped barbed wire around our feet. None of this fancy new age medicine malarkey.
The human body is strong and can withstand a lot. Anyway I digress. So when she said it was pretty choppy out there today I didn't think too much of it. Maybe she was exaggerating and trying to scare the tourists. Anyway after some careful consideration I decide to take the tablets. Let me say I'm glad I did. She wasn't kidding. The ferry ride over was brutal. This might sound like an exaggeration, but it is not. There were times the ferry was literally at more than 45 degrees when driving through the waves. People were throwing up. Sick bags everywhere. Half way through the trip everyone moved to the back of the boat as it was better than sticking to the front where you would constantly move up and down 10 feet at a time. Even with the sea sickness tablets I think I was close to becoming sick at one stage.
I've never seen water as pretty as this. The most aqua coloured water ever.
The island is run/leased by a company called Voyages. Everything is done through them. Transfers, accommodation, meals. Everything. This is quite strange I must admit. Part of joys of travelling is having some choice. The thrill of getting a bargain. But with limited choices, at least you don't have to think too much and stress over the little things. Which is what this island is meant to do. Make you so relaxed you melt into the angelic white sands and stunning crisp aqua water.
Since its run by one company, they can literally charge what they want, and they do. It is definitely not cheap experiencing Heron Island. Which is why you'd be hard pressed to find backpackers. It's just not that kind of island. It's a island of indulgence. When we were there, me and my brother were the only singles there.
Beach to ourselves
The majority of people that come to the island are either on honeymoons or family holidays. I'll even go as far as to say that 95% of the people who go to Heron Island are either married or on a romantic getaway. I can't blame them. The island is stunning and perfect for when you just want to get away from it all. Which is what I needed to do. A quick recharge of the batteries. No drunken nights out. No music pumping through your walls. No mobile phone coverage. No wifi access. No communication with the outside world (except for 3 public phones on the island). Not much of anything, except you and nature. It feels like you've stepped back in time. I've forgotten what it felt like to not have a mobile phone or access to the Internet. Like a crack addict I was checking my mobile phone every 10 minutes.
Every time I checked it still had no reception. It's one of those force of habit things you unconsciously do. After a while, on this island having communication with the outside world is the least of your concerns. You just learn to relax and enjoy the serenity. I think my fingers enjoyed the holiday as well. No keyboards to tap at. No phone pads to mash at.
The island itself is really small. I haven't got my tape measure out. But I would guess it to be roughly 50,000 metres squared or so. Yes I know that is an odd measurement. I would use acres or hectares. But I can't remember how big they are relative to a square metre. So I guess I'll stick with sq metres. :) There would be roughly 60-70 bungalows on the island. When we were there I would have guess that only 15-20 of those bungalows were filled.
As it was raining most of the days we were there. Our days consisted of a lot of eating. A lot of sleeping and and lot of reading. My kind of holiday. Day 1
- After arriving in the afternoon we quickly put our bags in our room and made our way to the afternoon bird tour. Our guide handed us binoculars (some people actually brought their own), and gave us a quick overview of the birds on the island. Although I'd like to think I'm a nature boy of sorts. Birds were never my thing. I don't know. I've never really understood the whole bird watching phenomenon. But still I enjoyed the bird tour. There are quite a few different birds on the island. As always there was the junk food ones. The ones on the island would have given seagulls a run for their money.
Relaxing after a stressful day.
They would just feast on scraps left my tourists. Everything was on. I even saw one eat a pack of sugar. Maybe getting his/her sugar rush for the day. These birds have no shame. They would pull up a seat and eat from your plate if you didn't shoo them away.
Post bird tour we decided to walk around the island for a bit before dinner. As it was getting slightly darker there were no other activities available. The walk itself was pretty brief. It's quite easy to walk from one side of the island to the other in 10-15 mins. We are not power walking here as well. I think that is one of the qualities which makes this island so endearing though. It's just so small and remote. It feels like your own private island. You can't get lost in the sheer size of it. Yet you have the whole beach to yourself.
It's refreshing to be able to sit/lay on the sand and not see anyone else for hours.
Pre island walk, we had to check into the restaurant and make a booking for dinner. The usual procedure was to do it in the morning when your having breakfast. But since we only arrived on the island this afternoon we had to do it as soon as possible. We were booked in at 8:30pm. So after the walk around the island we went back to our bungalow for a pre dinner snooze. As you do. I did say it was a island of indulgence. So we were indulging in our inner sloth. :)
Dinner itself was great. A standard 3 course meal. With a few options. I can't remember what I had. But it was delish. Day 2
- I woke up in a bed of sand. That's what happens when you live on an island with no concrete paths to walk on.
I mean you take off your thongs (flip flops/sandals) at the door wipe your feet on the floor mat supplied but there is still sand. They is no way to get rid of all the sand on your feet. There is constantly sand in the room. You can sweep the best you can with the supplied broom, but still there would be sand. After a while you give up. It's a battle you can not win. The best you can do is brush the sand off your bed as best as you can every night and every morning. You might think that there is no sand when you go to bed. But lo and behold you'll wake up the next morning with sand in your bed. Maybe it's just me. Maybe someone comes in the middle of the night and sprinkles sand under my sheets just for kicks.
With no alarm clocks and no schedule of things to do, we sleep in.
I miss that feeling of waking up and not having anything that you must do. I think thats one of my favourite things about traveling. The freedom to feel lazy and not have plans and have things to accomplish for the day. Okay when I say sleep in. I don't mean the 11am-3pm students and backpackers are renown for. I don't know what it is. You reach a stage in your life where you can't 'sleep in' anymore. You wake up at 9-10am and its late. I think its just routine. I used to wonder how my parents could do this when I was younger. Now I know. Its a weird phenomenon. When you get older you need less sleep. I can hit the hay at 2-3am and still get up at 8am the next day. This was impossible 3 years ago. Anyway we stroll into the restaurant late at 9am and get what we always get.
The buffet. I'm not normally a huge breakfast eater. A few pieces of toast, or maybe a bowl of cereal or porridge depending on the season. But when your faced with a buffet for breakfast. It's a challenge you've got to accept. There was everything. Hot section with beans and eggs and bacon and sausages and evreything you could imagine. Cold section with cold meats and fresh fruits and cheeses and pastries and a whole lot more. Everything you would want and everything you don't as well. Anyway, you get the idea, there was a lot of food on offer. The next few mornings I would have to sit an extra 10-20 minutes to digest everything. And still I would crawl out of the restaurant unable to move.
Today was snorkel day. We were unable to do any diving as we missed the class for diving in the morning.
Acting silly with the star fish
where you have to sit and watch video and learn stuff. I told you we woke up late. Apparently that started at 8:30am. We made our way back to our bungalow, for a pre-snorkel nap. I think its written somewhere in the back that it was a must. Before we knew it, it was 11am and we had to make our way to the pier and on the boat which took us on a 10-20 minute ride to the outer rim of the reef. It was a gorgeous day for snorkeling. There was great visibility although a few grey clouds in the sky, and plenty of fish and coral in the water. It's a great feeling when you can swim beside a school of fish and really watch nature in its essence. You feel a little like a voyeur. You just skim along the surface watching. Never touching or interfering, just watching. Occasionally diving lower to get a better view of the coral and fish down below, before the pressure gets to you or you run out of air and have to resurface.
Another view of the pier
It's easy to forget that we live in a world where there is a lot beneath the surface and not everything is up on top. Whats the use of visiting thousands of different cities and only seeing half the world. The other half. The water kingdom is all nature. Whilst man has claimed the top bunk, nature was here first and got shotgun on the bottom bunk. Until we start to develop underwater cities or evolve and get gills. Being in the water is still a nice place to get away from it all.
After returning from the snorkel in the reef, rather than return our gear we decided to snorkel around the island for the rest of the day. There is great snorkeling around the island. The highlight of the day is definitely when we spotted a swarm of stingrays (I don't know the collective word for stingrays, so I just said swarm so don't shoot me if this is wrong) swimming along the beach.
Some shell on the beach
There were literally 10 stingrays swimming together 5 metres from the sand we were walking along on the beach. I actually got a photo of one of them. By now its starting to rain. But we don't care, as you get wet in the water anyway so why not snorkel. There were lots of fish and small sharks around the island, not so much coral. With coral bleaching, its been a losing battle for over 10 years. So if you plan on going to the Great Barrier Reef, do it now. As it won't be the same a few years down the track. I would have loved to have seen the reef 20-30 years ago when global warming and coral bleaching were not in the picture. Well not to the same scale.
Again the day was capped off with a fantastic meal at the restaurant, and more sand in my bed.
- Today was meant to be dive day. We woke up early enough. But when we were registering for the days dive and filling in the forms required we hit a stumbling block. Childhood asthma. My brother had childhood asthma, and apparently thats a no no when it comes to scuba diving. It just happened that the island doctor wasn't in, so couldn't give my brother the clear when it comes to lung capacity or whatever they needed verified. So rather than go by myself, I decided not to do it. It just didn't seem right that I would have fun whilst he bummed around the island.
With no plans, nothing to do, and a constant downpour of rain; I slept for most of the day. I actually didn't sleep all day, a lot of it though.
A sea slug. Apparently quite good at cleaning the sand
As I had finished the book I brought on the first day, I tried to read whatever I could get my hands on. Which happened to be the odd holiday brochure and newspaper article which I didn't read on the ferry ride over. My brother went to the spa in the afternoon, I took that as a cue to have a quick nap. That nap lasted me until dinner time. I'm not sure if my body was telling me it needed rest or it was the effects of oversleeping. But I just couldn't wake up. Even when my brother came back from the spa I went back to sleep. It doesn't make sense. Why does sleeping make you more tired and in need of more sleep. If I wasn't hungry and maybe suffering from a little cabin fever, I would have slept until the next morning. Day 4
- Last day on the island.
Placing the starfish back in his home
As the ferry that would transport us back to the mainland was to arrive in the afternoon, there was a limit on the amount of stuff we could do. We did a quick walk around the island and took what happy snaps we could before we left. We also took part in a reef tour. As the tide was low around early afternoon. We grabbed a sea scope (pretty much a viewing device to look at stuff under the surface of the water) and a pair of reef shoes each. I'm not a big fan of wearing other peoples shoes. What with the prevalence of tinea, toe jam and other fungal growth in peoples shoes. But I was the wise thing to do. As I didn't want to get my shoes and socks wet by walking through the water, plus coral is pretty sharp so its best not to walk bare feet.
The guided tour was actually pretty good.
The guide pointed out all the different coral around the island and different creatures in the water. Plus we got to see a starfish. Apparently you can't call them starfish anymore. I can't remember what they are called now. But it was quite ridiculous. If you start giving them name changes, where do you draw the line? Anyway, halfway through the tour it starts pouring. The skys opened and soaked us. Most of the people disbanded and headed back to the resort before it got too bad. After a while when your completely wet, there was no point in heading back. We couldn't get any wetter. So we took some more photos. That's when we started acting silly and posed with the star fish. We were soaked, but at least we were having fun. Once we realise that the rain was not going to stop and everyone was already resting inside the resort we headed back.
Look how far we have walked from the beach
Tip toeing around all the coral and weaving through the reef to find a safe path back.
As you would know it, by the time we reach the beach again and change back into our normal shoes the rain stops. We least we could dry ourselves now before we got on the ferry. Whilst we were waiting for our clothes and bags to dry we decide to play a game of chess on the oversized board outside the bar. I lost, but I didn't care. As I was able to kick the king down and concede defeat. The novelty of being able to kick and lift and play with oversized chess pieces will never get old with me.
Before we knew it. It was time to go. I can't say it wasn't without a heavy heart that I was leaving this island. The view you get when you leave is stunning. I couldn't have had a more relaxing few days.
Leaving the island with the ferry
I might not have done much, but I thoroughly enjoyed it. The simple pleasures of sitting down and enjoying a meal, staying in bed and laying on the beautiful sand were priceless. Few places can take my breathaway. This was such a place. In a few short days I've found my paradise, and now lost it again. At least now I can get back to my sand less bed.