I handed the clerk our reservation forms and in exchange boarding cards and an assortment of anti-nausea medication was firmly pressed into the palm of my hand. So far, it was just as the brochure had promised: A picture perfect day, glass-like aquamarine water, and our sleek, modern, and ultra-fast catamaran was docked and ready to whisk us away. I was near heady with the romantic anticipation of traveling at high speed in luxury while gazing out over the expansive Coral Sea, visions of playful dolphins racing along port-side as we made our way to Heron Island. Lost in this constructed utopian thought of mine, I clutched the small pills which should have been the clue of the real adventure that was about to unfold for us.
Once past the shelter of the harbour, the Reef Voyager accelerates dramatically with exhilarating speed. Mere minutes into our journey we discover that a catamaran can actually become airborne as it hurdles and bounces itself like a bucking bronco over the waves. The Reef Voyager claimed the stomachs of more than a few of it's passengers that day. While each table offered a supply of wipes and handy paper 'catch bags', not all were fortunate enough to use them in time. The captains announcement of our imminent arrival feels like near spiritual salvation.
When your green to the gills, your bodies natural response when stepping onto land is to draw in a deep cleansing breath of air to calm the demons in your belly. This would work for any place other than Heron Island where you're greeted with the overwhelming stench of bird guano that is powerful enough to give your nostrils a full brazilian at no extra charge. When the brochure stated that Heron Island was rich with bird life, they failed to mention that 100,000 Black Noddy Terns would migrate during December to this small seventeen hectare coral cay island paradise. My first mental note was to never look up with my mouth open.
Heron Island is located on 'One of the Seven Wonders of the World', The Great Barrier Reef. It is listed as a World Heritage area and rightfully so, protected at all costs. The reef was to be observed and respected and minimally disturbed. This policy was in place for all things on the island as well, including the smelly Black Noddy Tern. At that point, I really was of two minds regarding the Terns.
Directly outside our room was a small tree that was home to about fifty of these nesting Terns. Luckily, the two sliding doors off the patio offered an ocean breeze that gave us some reprieve from the astringent smell of the bird guano. In fact, it actually gave us a unique opportunity to observe these sleek black birds and come to appreciate their docile behaviour without needing to carry an umbrella or plug our noses. Perhaps things were looking up for us and we could venture out and explore the rest of the resort and beaches.
The resort is laid out as a series of buildings, with each offering stunning vistas of the ocean, and are connected by a boardwalk and series of groomed dirt pathways. The lounge is contemporary and the glass walls completely open up towards the ocean. I could envision relaxing in the comfy deep-seated chairs with a cold beverage after a long day of snorkelling. The kids fell in love with the pool that overlooks the turquoise ocean. Just below off the side of the boardwalk is a crystal clear natural tidal pool where during the early evening hours when the tide has come in you can spot all sorts of marine life such as stingrays, wrasse, and even the occasional shark are spotted. It feels surreal to know that tomorrow morning, with my husband as our guide and teacher, the kids and I will be attempting our first snorkel ever in this magnificent setting.
Being an insomniac at the best and worst of times, much to my amazement I found my eyes closing the second it made contact with the pillow. It was to be one of the best nights sleep that I had in a very long time. I woke feeling rejuvenated and even found myself whistling along with those Black Noddy Terns outside. I could barely wait for the Marine Centre to open so that we could get ourselves outfitted with snorkelling gear.
Our wetsuits and gear made us feel like a pack of seals. I seriously hoped a shark wouldn't mistake us for a tasty meal. We submerge our masked faces into the warm, clear water and swim out along the jetty to discover the real beauty of this island actually lies below the surface of the ocean. It's an underwater universe with coral gardens, flourishing marine life both big and small, in an abundance of colour far beyond my wildest imagination. I now understood why Jacques Cousteau named one of the dive sites, 'The Heron Bommie', as being one of his top ten favourite dive sites. Heading back towards shore, with a child in either hand we float over a smooth bank of white sand and a mere six feet below us is a pod of a dozen or more stingrays hovering in the oceans gentle current. The vision was an expansion of consciousness and the rare opportunity to share it with my children brought tears to my goggled eyes. I wish could stay here forever.
Sadly the final day had come and the staff kindly reminded us not to forget our anti-nausea medication before departing for the voyage home. We wait in queue for the clerk behind the counter who is doling out the small pills for eagerly awaiting hands. We pop them into our mouths and hope they do a better job this time. Somehow the impending voyage feels like a very small price to pay for having experienced one of the best and most memorable vacations of my life.