Whether you lack time or budget, you may be looking at going to Heron Island only for one night. Is it worth it? I surely recommend staying longer if you can as there is a lot of things to do on Heron Island. But one day on Heron Island can be enough to enjoy most of what the island has to offer… if you plan it right! Great news: I’ve shared tips below that should help you plan your one-night stay on Heron Island.
Heron Island gets often booked out, so make sure you book as soon as possible (see availabilities here*) to avoid disappointment.
What you can do in one day on Heron Island
Even if you only have one day on Heron Island, you’ll get to see many exciting things. In the first 24hrs of our visit, we had already gone scuba diving and snorkelling, and we saw turtles, sharks, rays, stunning corals and an uncountable number of colourful fish.
Some prefer to relax and enjoy the views from the beach. But if you want to experience the best of Heron Island in a short time, you’ll need to be prepared for a hectic program.
How to see the most of Heron Island in one day
Of course, the times and activities are subject to change according to the weather and wildlife is never guaranteed.
12.30 – Arrival on Heron Island
Unless you have the budget for a helicopter transfer to Heron Island, you’ll have to take the transfer boat to get there. The three-hour trip is a bit long and often bumpy, so I always sleep on the way there. If you are awake, make sure you enjoy the views when you arrive near the lagoon. The different blues are mesmerising.
Once on the jetty, open your eyes. It is your fist opportunity to spot wildlife. Rays, sharks and turtles often swim in the harbour or under the jetty.
Your stay on Heron Island starts with a briefing from the naturalist on site. It’s a great opportunity to learn a few things about the place, especially if you are not familiar with the Great Barrier Reef and how to protect it. Make sure you listen to the guided activities that are offered that night or the next morning. If you’re a bird lover, you may want to sign up for the bird walk for example.
13.30 – Check-in
You’ll have to check in for your room, and they’re sometimes not available before 3 pm. But with the objective to see as much as possible during a limited time on Heron Island, the room isn’t the most important part.
The other important check-in to maximise your time on Heron Island is at the Marine Centre. If you don’t have snorkelling gear, you can get a set for the duration of your trip there. You’ll also find tips on the best places to snorkel from the island that day according to the weather and the tide.
To explore Heron Island as much as possible, I recommend booking a tour for diving or snorkelling on their 14.30 trip. You can email save in advance to save a spot as they sometimes get fully booked.
14.30 Scuba diving or snorkelling trip
You can snorkel from the island, but it’s recommended to check out the reef a little bit further. The boat trips are not long and take you to beautiful coral walls and commits.
Are you covered for scuba diving by your travel insurance? I recommend avoiding bad surprises if an incident happens. If you don’t have insurance, you may be interested in reading more about DAN and WorldNomads*.
16.30 Snorkel from the shore
I loved our late afternoon snorkelling sessions. Ask the staff at the marine centre about the best spot. We like going around the wreck and finish in the harbour. You’re likely to see sharks, turtles, shovelnose rays and eagle rays. Under the jetty, as you approach the end of the day, groups of fish gather, including giant groupers.
Sunset at the jetty or night dive
As you get out of the water after your snorkelling session, stay for a little bit longer near the jetty. It’s one of the best spots to watch the sunset.
If you’re travelling to Heron Island at the end of the year or at the start of the year, you’re lucky: it’s the turtle season. From sunset, adult turtles come up to lay eggs on the beach (Nov-Jan) and hatchlings emerge to reach the ocean (Dec-April). Sunset is a good timing to try to spot them as there’s still a bit of light left.
Don’t forget to also look in the water. Sharks often hang around waiting for the baby turtles to arrive.
If you’re very lucky, the conditions will be good for a night dive. We organised a few multi-day trips to Heron Island and only managed to do a night dive once. If you’re keen on trying to do a night dive, let the marine centre know by email before you arrive, and then – if the conditions are okay – say it as many time as possible to as many staff as possible once you’re on the island.
After dinner, you may want to take another chance at spotting turtles. The island also becomes alive with many birds coming back for the night.
I love early morning walks on Heron Island. It gives you another chance at getting wildlife. If you have to wait between activities, I also recommend hanging at the pier. We saw a few eagle rays jumping a few times and it’s always exhilarating.
Then, it’s already time to check out. You can leave your main bags at reception and keep your day bag to enjoy the few hours left on the island. you want to keep with you all your scuba or snorkelling equipment, clothes to wear for the trip back to the continent and the beach towels from the resort.
9 am Scuba diving and snorkelling trip
This will be your last chance to go on a boat trip to snorkel or dive at Heron Island. When you come back, you’ll have just enough time for a shower at the marine centre.
Responsible tips: Be extra careful with your fins when you snorkel or dive on a reef not to damage the coral! If you can use shorter fins, you will reduce the risk of accidentally hitting the coral.
11 am Departure from the jetty
You’re likely to be waiting at the jetty to receive the green light to board the ferry. I’ve said it before: the jetty is one of my favourite spots to hang out on Heron Island. Stay alert and watch the water to see rays, turtles and sharks swimming around.
Did you go to Heron Island for one night only? Share your experience in the comments below!
Where is Heron Island?
Heron Island is one of the most southern islands on the Great Barrier Reef. It takes about three hours to get there via a ferry from Gladstone.
If your time is limited and you cannot spend one night on Heron Island but have time for a day trip, check out these two islands even more south: Lady Elliot Island (but you’ll have to fly there so you cannot dive) and Lady Musgrave Island (departure from Bundaberg).