The sky is beautiful tonight, black except for a quilt of silver stars. They flicker over my head and into the distance, while twinkling reflections bounce off the water. The tide crashes against wet sand, the waves folding onto the beach. It’s gentle, therapeutic, repetitive.
I flick my torch off, and crouch down. Salt tickles the skin under my nose, and I strain my eyes towards the ocean. After twenty minutes, the silent, agoraphobic black nothing unnerves me.
My legs cry out for some circulation, so I exhale, stand, and freeze. A round silhouette in the water gets my attention. Slowly, a moving, floating boulder is bobbling into shore.
It’s a turtle.
I am on Heron Island and it’s the middle of December, prime egg laying season for Green and Loggerhead Turtles. Around the start of November, they make their way to this coral cay to lay their eggs for the season. Each nest is carefully chosen, and the mother looks for a dark, safe place to store her offspring who will hatch and scuttle out from the sandy nest, into the water. And it’s not just the turtles who bring people to Heron.
More than just an island oasis of the Great Barrier Reef, Heron is an education in conservation and a sanctuary of environmental awareness. Only 72 kilometres from the Gladstone mainland, you can get here by helicopter or boat, and once you arrive, you’ll never be satisfied with non Great Barrier Reef snorkelling or diving ever again. With some of the most amazing underwater life in the world, Heron will raise the bar and cement it in place forever.
It’s easy to arrange a snorkel or dive trip once you arrive on Heron, and if conditions are right, you can often jump into the water outside your room. But for true magic, book a session out on the reef. As you peer through the tropical water, you’ll be overwhelmed by blooming corals, some with arms that flow with the current like silk scarves. You’ll find fish life in so much abundance and glowing with colours that make you wish you had bigger goggles.
And the variety of animal life doesn’t stop when you return to shore. Heron is also home to a variety of nesting birds and, you guessed it- Herons. It comes as no surprise that the island is National Park, and just a few moments on this 18 hectare coral cay is enough to fall in love- trust me.
Back on the beach, I sit mystified by the creature in front of me as she heaves her way out of the surf and up the sand. Strong fins propel her solid shell, the movement leaving a tractor-esque track mark behind her. She slowly reaches her desired spot, and flings fin-fuls of sand into the air; a celebration perhaps.
I take the hint and crawl away on all fours, making a getaway toward my hotel room. Flicking my torch back on, I leave the lady and her eggs, in peace.