The magic of Heron Island… Or should I say Heaven Island!
I realised it had been two years since I wrote a blog – where on earth does the time go… seriously! So, I thought why not download some photos and share he wonderful time our family recently had at Heron Island. Or as I should have said, Heaven Island. Heaven is just how we described it, as soon as we got off the boat ride (note to yourself, make sure you take sea sickness tablets, let’s just say it can get a little rough on the open ocean!). The island is referred to as a coral cay and has never been attached to the mainland. It’s located 72 km northeast of Gladstone and has only been in existence for some 6,000 years! This teeny tiny coral cay of about 800 m in length and 300 m wide (about 16 ha) is a small dot in the Coral Sea surrounded by 24 hectares of coral reef and part of the Capricorn Group at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef.
Once you arrive, your heart is immediately caught up in the crystal-clear blue water, white sand (which is actually heaps of crushed up, munched up and pooed out coral, about 90% of it is Parrot Fish poo, that is they poo out clean sand/coral, how cool is that!) and vibes of the natural wonderland that is Heron Island.
Within the first few hours, we started to unwind, relax and get to know the small dot of land that will be our home for the next week. We also start to check out the tide times, where the best spots to snorkel for the day are and the temperature, which even in the middle of winter hovered nicely around 24 degrees every day. This became a daily routine, as well as checking out what free activities with the awesome naturalist guides were available. We took advantage of the whole lot exploring the reef at low tide, a bird watching and island history walk and a fantastic tour of the world-renowned University of Queensland research station. The kids also took part in Junior Ranges programs learning about turtle conservation and sharks and rays.
Remember the famous quote from Romeo and Juliet: "What's in a name? That which we call a rose/By any other name would smell as sweet." (Shakespeare, 1594)
It’s a funny thing names, usually to name a thing is to know a thing, but with Heron Island, there are a few little quirks that make for some interesting insights. It was named after the birds which frequent the island, which were thought to be Herons, but were actually later named as the Eastern Reef Egret. These beautiful birds are all over the island and can be seen hanging out in pairs on the sand, straddling the rocky shore, perched up in the overhanging she-oak trees or flying over the reef. There are two morphs of this species: the white and dark morph. So, another possible name emerges… Egret Island? Another quirky name fact, there is a snorkelling area they call ‘Shark Bay’ but the sharks it was named after are actually the shovel-nose ray – not sharks!
Unfortunately, I didn’t have any underwater camera gear to capture the beautiful sea life. A whole new world lives under the surface of the water. We felt so privileged every day to swim with green sea turtles, cow-tailed stingrays, black-tipped reef sharks and hundreds of fish species. Anyhow, I ended up taking many walks with my camera to capture the terrestrial life on the island. It was relatively quiet, as come spring and summer there are thousands of black noddy terns which breed on the island, I hear it’s hard not to get pooed on at that time of year! Still I found lots of juvenile terns coming in to take a rest during the day throughout the Pisonia Forest. A few other terns such as the crested tern and black-naped tern could be seen on the shore.
A fascinating story started to emerge as I walked through the forest and read more about the black noddy terns’ symbiotic relationship with the Pisonia trees in which they make their nest. They create a very weak and loose stick nest which they make predominantly out of the Pisonia leaves which they collect from the forest floor and stick it together with bird droppings (everything is used for something in nature). The sticky seeds of the Pisonia trees fall to the ground which create a sticky mat on the forest floor. The sad part is some of the weaker young birds fall out of their nests and get stuck often getting caught and dying. The thought is that the decaying birds provide nutrients for the Pisonia trees to grow. With many terns also surviving this curious relationship continues. It’s a tough world for the birds and it truly is survival of the fittest.
A few other birds I photographed were the Ruddy Turnstone (I just love that name!) and the cute little finch, Capricorn silvereye, a sub-species of the Silvereyes and the only endemic bird species to the Great Barrier Reef.
Another plant that grows on the island is the Octopus bush and I found as this was in flower it was a-buzz with lots of lovely insect-pollinators, including native bees, a few different varieties of native flies, some with amazingly beautiful iridescent colouring and several butterfly species, including the ubiquitous Caper White Butterfly.
I personally find the practice of searching for birds and insects such a joyful experience and great way to connect with nature. Its mindful and exciting at the same time.
I have shared a heap of photos from our time at ‘Heaven’ Island. I truly recommend it as a safe, relaxing place to be with a young family or even on a couples long weekend away. It is not commercialised as some of the other reef resorts and the Great Barrier Reef is such an awe-inspiring place to experience, it brings a tear to my eye just thinking about it, and I can’t even fathom it not being part of this world.
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