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Andrew and Serena Mevissen

Heron Island

Nature's playground

Andrew Mevissen goes on a father-daughter holiday to Heron Island, a haven where turtles play, coral sprawls through the waters and nature rules supreme.

We missed him by just three weeks – the legendary nature broadcaster, David Attenborough, that is. The same man who once declared that our very own Great Barrier Reef was the planet’s greatest natural wonder.


An idol for my nature-loving teen, Serena, Attenborough and his documentary crew had spent a week on the Queensland coral cay, Heron Island, for a TV special that’s set to be released in late 2015. Just weeks later, we were on Heron to discover for ourselves the magic of this tiny 18-hectare island in the World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, 72 kilometres north-east from Gladstone.


The trip was a reward for Serena after completing her HSC. She had long harboured a desire to visit the Barrier Reef and, as our seaplane spectacularly swooped over the idyllic islet, surrounded by the reefs of the opalescent Coral Sea, her dream had come true.

Image credit: Heron Island

Embracing a digital detox
From Heron you don’t need to travel to the reef like you do from most Queensland resorts...because you’re actually part of it, immersed in a wondrous sanctuary for birds, marine life and also humans wanting to come face to face with the largest living structure on earth. More than 70 per cent of the reef’s coral species and 60 per cent of all its varieties of fish can be seen in Heron’s turquoise waters.


Heron is also a sanctuary for families seeking a technology detox. Parents have often been dismayed, flying their brood to an exotic location only to find their kids preoccupied by digital devices. But without any mobile phone reception and with Wi-Fi only available for a fee in the resort’s lounge, kids here are usually buried in sand castles and not buried by their laptops or phones. Without digital distractions and with no TVs in any rooms, families on Heron can truly reconnect and discover the island’s incredible natural attractions together.


Small enough to walk around in 20 minutes, the island is home to a dazzling array of fish, turtles, harmless reef sharks and more than 100,000 mutton birds and black noddy terns. Aside from Heron’s scientific research station, which is popular for school camps, the 109-room Heron Island Resort is the only place to stay. Without electronic distractions, each day is governed by the sun and tides which dictate when you can walk, dive and snorkel. The only noises are waves lapping the beach and birds chirping in the trees, creating a soporific, tropical air that relaxes the most stressed holidaymakers – even harried parents.

Image credit: Heron Island

In nature’s rhythm
We rise before dawn each day to watch one-metre-long turtles lay eggs and crawl across the beach back to sea. In stark contrast to our busy, big city lives back home, all life on Heron moves slowly and you soon find yourself matching the island’s lazy rhythms. Before and after an afternoon nap we snorkel at different locations in the open aquarium and watch intently as birds feather their nests and tend to their young. One morning we also board Heron’s ‘mini submarine’ – a boat with an underwater viewing chamber that allows you to see life in the reef up close without getting wet.


The resort offers guests free eco talks and walks guided by Heron’s staff that are as passionate about your enjoyment as they are about the wildlife. A comprehensive Junior Ranger programme also offers children aged seven to 12 the chance to learn about the reef through fun treasure hunts and games. The resort’s reef-view restaurant offers a delicious buffet, à la carte meals and kids’ dishes, and there’s the option of a bed and breakfast tariff or a package that includes all meals.

At each sunset, my daughter and I work our way through the poolside bar’s mocktail menu and, because everyone spends each day exploring and swimming, most guests tend to hit the sack early and sleep incredibly well. ‘Finding Nemo’ is playing on the catamaran as we travel back to Gladstone (and yes, we did find Nemo and his clownfish cousins while snorkelling), and as the boat departs we watch as Heron fades into the distance. When the mainland appears two hours later, our mobiles buzz back to life, signifying an end to our sojourn on the reef.


Later this year we’ll certainly be watching Attenborough’s documentary, helping us relive a very special holiday that my (now adult) daughter and I will always cherish.

Andrew and Serena Mevissen

Image credit: Heron Island

Heron Island

Report Card


Getting there
Seaplanes make the trip from Queensland (near Gladstone) to Heron Island in 25 minutes, while a catamaran takes two hours.


Stay
Heron Island Resort offers family-friendly packages in a range of resort rooms, with beachside suites the best for families, offering space, beach frontage and water views.
www.heronisland.com


Thumbs Up
The lack of mobile reception and internet access allows families to spend quality time together and affords a far more relaxing holiday for everyone. Also, being on the southern end of the Barrier Reef and distant from the mainland, stingers are not a problem at Heron and protective suits are not required in summer.






Image credit: Heron Island

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