THE border-tropical Heron Island, within the Capricorn and Bunker groups of islands, is known for its coral reefs, but few realise it is also a paradise for visitors not wanting to get their feet wet.
World-heritage listed, Heron is a nature lover’s haven, where all flora and fauna is protected and the emphasis is on soaking up the splendid, largely untouched surrounds and glorious weather.
After a sea-crossing from Gladstone – a 30-minute sightseeing trip by chopper or a relaxing, air-conditioned two-hour passage on a 175-passenger, 34.3-metre power launch – you are struck by the contrast of shimmering white sand, luminous aqua water and the island’s prolific tree life.
A wreck sitting on the reef crest is another sight visitors take in as they near the harbour.
This “forgotten” steel hulk is all that remains of Australia’s first naval vessel, HMCS Protector, which served in three wars and was one of the most powerful gunboat cruisers of her time.
To the left of this is a wooden structure, The Gantry, which was once used by resort staff to offload freight and supplies.
A minor man-made reef, it is now a snorkeller’s delight.
My mum, Cheryl Fryer, who accompanied me to Heron Island for her 60th birthday, was astounded by the cacophony of noddy terns, boobies and mutton birds that unofficially welcomed us to the island, among the thousands of nesting birds that have taken haven there.
Guests of Mother Nature, neither of us was surprised that many of these birds became regular visitors to our apartment’s veranda and were neighbours to us on the sun lounges surrounding Heron’s infinity pool and the adjoining Pandanus Lounge and Baillies Bar.
As the bar attendants will quickly warn you, keep an eye on your food and drinks while the cheeky characters are around! These bold feathered friends claim ignorance of the island’s strict non-feeding policy.
Plenty of guests visit Heron to relax on this idyllic drop in the ocean.
Little mobile phone service is available, and accommodation is without television and radio.
Technology, however, is at your fingertips if needed.
Visit The air-conditioned Wistari Room is open for evening news, movies and sporting events. Catch satellite sport or view feature films advertised at the daily activities centre.
Witness a stunning Heron sunset when you head to the Pandanus Lounge and Bar for an evening of live entertainment or enjoy a cocktail in the entertainment lounge or at the mezzanine-level library, where a widescreen television is also available for scheduled programs.
And then there is the food.
On Heron Island, the metres-long buffets, served daily for breakfast and lunch, and often including fresh fruits of the sea, are a gastronome’s fantasy materialised.Special diets are also catered for.
Lock-up security and safes, however, are on hand for valuables, such as cash and passports, for people concerned about the resort’s unusual open-door-style approach.
Go beyond the people, the pool, sun lounges, pool tables and life-size chess that overlooks the northern side of the cay, and a hectic biological schedule of migrating, breeding, nesting, feeding and hatching is in various life-cycle stages.
Dozens of visitors, including my mum, were in awe of the small, white-tip reef sharks congregating at high tide near an erosion berm hugging the island’s poolside, their strategy seemingly to round up bait fish for a noon feed as their fins sliced the shallow water in a calm, organised routine.
Heron Island is surrounded by marine national park and conservation park zones, and the owners, formerly Voyages Hotels and Resorts and now Delaware North Australia Parks and Resorts, which acquired the island last November, have taken seriously the role of ensuring the island remains environmentally friendly.
This includes a strict management plan to ensure the resort’s operation causes minimal disturbance to the environment, and advanced eco-tourism certification for accommodation, and dive, snorkel and semi-submersible coral-view tours.
Delaware North Parks and Resorts sales and marketing director Michelle Kenna describes the company’s new ownership of the resort as “a privilege”.
“We have the opportunity to showcase a World Heritage-listed area to the world that listed it,” she said.
“The Great Barrier Reef may be one of the few natural phenomena visible from deep space, but we will take people inside the reef, among the fish, the nesting turtles, the reef gardens and the bird life.”
“Heron Island resort is unusual because it appeals to couples, friends and families, rather than being more exclusive to one or two of these groups.”
“The thing is it’s both relaxing and exhilarating, providing the experience of one of the world’s great natural environments.”
“This is one of the things that makes Heron Island different that we want to retain.”
While thorough research and investigation went into the island’s purchase from a business perspective, Ms Kenna says decisions about how the multi-national organisation will invest capital in it will be evolutionary, based on more intimate knowledge of the island’s history and natural ecosystems.
“We want to maintain the quality of the resort as a reflection of the quality of the place and this famous environment,” she says.
Ms Kenna said the business was an exciting adventure for Delaware North as it got to know its new Australian resorts, which include the exclusive Wilson and Lizard islands, and Kings Canyon Resort in the Northern Territory, among others.
“We know we need to care for the natural history, the environment and the culture of these special places if the resorts are to provide the experience our guests seek,” she said.
“This is why we are called ‘Parks & Resorts’. We provide far more than excellent accommodation and great perks in a resort area and we set aboutproviding experiences in some of the world’s most amazing places.”
And amazing Heron Island is, with each season carrying a strong nature-guide calendar, including whale migration and protected green and loggerhead turtle hatching.
Whales are migrating south to the Atlantic with their calves – sightings of breechings still common as the enormous transient creatures start their new cycle – and protected green and loggerhead female turtles have started to emerge at high tide to lay their eggs on the beach.
Their hatchlings appear about a month after the eggs are laid, at which time they scramble desperately, in a bid to avoid predators, to the water’s edge.
With the reef a few steps off Heron Island’s pristine beaches it is no wonder it is a well-established holiday resort. Visitors can enjoy bushwalking, bird watching, diving, snorkelling, coral viewing, beach walks, playing tennis, boat trips and sunset cruises and more.
And it is what you do not see that sets Heron Island apart from many other reef resorts.
You will not see buildings above the treeline and you will not bump into daytrippers. The experience is exclusively for guests.
Heron’s relaxed, island lifestyle is special: a sophisticated yet casual resort atmosphere that can satisfy every human being’s need to recuperate and be happy.
To make a reservation or to inquire about Heron Island visit your travel agent, phone 1300 233 432 or (03) 9413 6288, or email email@example.com.