Island is located at the southern end of the Great Barrier Reef, just
on the tropic of Capricorn. Access is via the port town of Gladstone
on the Queensland central coast which itself is an hour north of Brisbane
by air. After the flight there is a two and a half hour boat trip
out to the island, which can be decidedly choppy. An expensive alternative
is to take the 30 minute helicopter ride.
is part of the Great Barrier Reef National Park and comprises a privately
owned and run resort and a research station. The resort has good quality
accommodation and no camping or day trips. It offers great diving,
lovely beaches and walk-in reef snorkeling with an abundance of fish,
including many types of shark and ray. It also has up to 100,000 sea
birds, nesting turtles and, of course, lots of herons.
Having not yet
entered the no doubt exciting world of underwater photography, the
photographic aspect of this article is just about the opportunities
on terra firma.
is all about wildlife. Sure the beaches are beautiful but it's the
animals that will take your breath away. It's a good idea to start
with the ranger tours so as to learn the do's and don'ts with regard
to watching the turtles. The bird- and reef-tours are also worth going
on. After that you can quickly acquaint yourself with the island (it
takes only about an hour to walk around it) so that you know the best
spots for viewing and for photography.
Being in the
tropics, the weather is going to be warm all year round. Daytime maxima
range from about 20C in winter to 32C in summer, and night-time minima
range from about 13C to 21C. For year-round weather averages click
to stay. No choice here (unless you're doing research with
the University of Queensland). The Resort's web site is http://www.heronisland.com/
diary. For an overview of the monthly activity of the main
wildlife on the island click
here for the Heron Island Resort calendar.
Most of the wildlife on the island will allow you to get close enough
to not need long lenses. However, I would always recommend using a
lens of at least 300mm so as to a) not distress the wildlife and b)
to help cut out unwanted background. That said, if you are thinking
about bringing anything longer than a 400mm lens I wouldn't bother,
the opportunities for using it will be very limited. I would suggest
that something like a 100-400 zoom would be ideal.
I found no use
for a tripod but a monopod proved helpful for early morning shots.
Plenty of memory
capacity or film.
and brush - sand could be an issue.
to stay. I think you will pretty much exhaust above-water
photographic and watching opportunities within 3-4 days but a return
visit at another time of year would certainly be fruitful.
(mainly Green but also some Loggerheads) are found all around the coast
in the breeding season. They will haul up overnight and into the early
morning, returning to the sea having laid their eggs after a few hours.
Thus your best viewing times are early morning and this is is certainly
the best time for photography. Try to get some different angles without
getting too close and look for the first surfacing for air, a few seconds
after returning to the sea. Egg laying begins in November and continues
through to March. Hatching takes place from January to May so the best
time to visit for turtles is Jan to March. For the hatchlings be aware
that the experience is over in a matter of a few minutes so have your
camera ready at all times. Hatchlings which are still moving down the
beach after dawn are likely to be taken by the Silver gulls. Some may
find this a bit distressing but from a photographic point of view it
can be an exciting time.
Herons abound on the side of the island furthest from the resort
(although you will find them anywhere), in both white and grey phases.
Watch for fights on the beach for good shots as well as nesting activity
in the trees. Make sure you are shooting no more than 3/4 hour after
sunrise/before sunset. The herons are not nearly as tame as the other
birds on the island but patience will still allow you to get plenty
close enough with a 300mm to 400mm lens without the need for a hide.
Noddies are on the island in huge numbers. Those unfamiliar
with large colonies on tame birds are in for a shock. There are 70,000
on the island inhabiting everywhere that the pistonia trees exist. They
nest down to head height in some places but mainly it can be quite difficult
to get good nesting shots without having lots of white sky in the background,
so hunt around for good locations - they do exist. Morning and evening
you will see them leaving/returning to the island so getting in the
right place for flight shots is not difficult. Also, you will often
see them hovering to collect nesting material from the ground. Chicks
that fall from the nest will be taken by the gulls. Overcast conditions
are the best for photographing these interesting birds but some good
arty shots can be obtained of birds sunning themselves on the paths
around the island.
Shearwaters, or mutton birds (so called because they supposedly
taste like mutton) are also here in large numbers, and are also easy
to see. However, the fact that they only return to to their burrows
on the island after dusk means photography is difficult. Sometimes you
will see exhausted birds sitting in the open. Be aware if looking for
the arriving birds in the open, they are poor at landing and you run
the risk of being hit. However, the most notable thing about shearwaters
is the noise, something akin to a ghost being slowly murdered. Shearwaters
are on the island from October to May
birds. There are 30-40 species of endemics and migratory birds
on the island, including large numbers of buff-banded rails (below),
silver gulls, occasional white-breasted sea eagles and brown boobies,
and plenty of turnstones and lesser golden plovers in summer. Look for
overcast conditions to photograph birds that are in the forested areas.
For a full list of Heron Island's birds click here.
Humpback whales can be seen during their migration period of June to
October. However, sightings are likely to be limited to viewing from
the shore or whilst out on the scuba boat trip because at present the
Resort does not offer whale watching trips. Humpback whales are well
known for their tendency to breach, creating good photo opportunities
- if you can get close enough.
Heron Island is said to be one of the best locations on the
Barrier Reef for diving and snorkeling and is listed in the BBC's 'Unforgettable
Places to see before you die'. It is a true coral cay which means that
you can snorkel directly from the beach and the waters will at worst
be only slightly choppy. On top of that the sea temperatures don't go
below 20C and in summer are up around 27C. You are pretty much guaranteed
seeing turtles - green and loggerhead - if you go at the right time
of year (they may rest underwater during the day, waiting for nighttime
before coming ashore to lay), sharks and rays and of course an enormous
variety of fish and other sea creatures. Of course if you go diving
then it only gets better.
images copyright Gerry Pearce