Lady Elliot Island vs Heron Island

The Southern Great Barrier Reef

Heron vs Lady Elliot Island

The Southern Great Barrier Reef is these days recognised as having the best colour, diversity and accessibility for visitors wishing to experience one of Australia’s most iconic natural attractions.

Over the past decade, due to rising water temperatures, the mid and northern Great Barrier Reef regions have suffered a number of wide-spread bleaching episodes, damaging some of Queensland’s most-visited reef destinations. Whilst the reef is slowly receding in the north, research has shown it is now growing at an equal rate from its southern boundaries. Hence the newer and less visited reefs in the south display far more colour and diversity offering visitors a vastly superior experience.

Apart from the amazing visitor experience, the Southern Great Barrier Reef offers better water clarity (particularly in the storm season Dec – Apr), no deadly irikanji jellyfish (stinger suits are not necessary whilst swimming off these southern islands), and cheaper, more convenient access for visitors with limited time in Australia.

We have spent over a decade helping visitors plan the best itineraries and packages to experience Queensland’s amazing natural attractions. The Heron Island vs Lady Elliot dilemma is common, as it is very difficult to compare prices. So which island is best?! What follows is our best advice and comparison of these two amazing destinations to assist with your trip planning …


It is difficult to directly compare the cost of visiting these 2 islands as Lady Elliot has an all-inclusive rate structure, whereas Heron Island has a base accommodation tariff and charges extra for everything else … eg activities, transfers, park fees, snorkel equipment, kids club etc.

Lady Elliot Island : per person accommodation charge includes – buffet breakfast and dinner, free use of snorkel equipment, 1 x glass bottom boat and guided snorkel tour, all ranger guided tours and activities except scuba, all National Park fees.

Heron Island : per room accommodation charge includes – buffet breakfast. EXTRA charges for – National Park fees, lunch, dinner, hire of snorkel equipment, boat to snorkel on reef, Kids Club etc

In order to directly compare a stay at the 2 resorts we have calculated the cost of a 2, 3 and 5 night stay for 2 adults at both resorts as per the following analysis. NOTE: we have included the commonly available discounts for both islands (ie Stay 5, Pay 4 on Lady Elliot and Stay 4, Pay 3 on Heron).

Lady Elliot Rates

Heron Island Rates

Lady Elliot On Island ChargesAccessibility

Lady Elliot Island : Only accessible via plane (40 minute flight) from Hervey Bay or Bundaberg. The flight / airline is owned by the island and must be booked at the same time as accommodation. Direct flights available from Sydney and Brisbane to both Hervey Bay and Bundaberg. It is also possible to fly from Brisbane or the Gold Coast direct to Lady Elliot, however these flights are at a substantial premium. It is nearly always better to work your itinerary into departing from Hervey Bay or Bundaberg.

Heron Island : Accessible by boat (2 ½ hrs each way) or seaplane (20 minute flight) from Gladstone. The boat transfers do NOT operate on a Tuesday or Thursday. The boat and seaplane are operated by a 3rd party. Direct flights from Sydney and Brisbane to Gladstone.

Heron Island Map


Both these destinations offer a 5 star plus reef experience – the best you will get on the east coast of Australia!! These are both true coral atolls, fully enclosed by a fringing reef teeming with coral and marine life. If you are looking for a once in a lifetime snorkelling, reef and sea bird experience then these islands tick every box – bigtime! Please note, however, that these are NOT 5 star resort experiences!! Accommodations at both destinations are comfortable, adequate and environmentally responsible. Meals are buffet style and buffet quality. If you are looking for a resort experience then head to the Whitsundays! (BTW the Whitsunday Islands do NOT lie on the Great Barrier Reef – they are all sand islands.)

Eco Focus / Sustainability Initiatives

If you are an environmentally conscious explorer who is passionate about protecting the environment just as  much as experiencing it, then Lady Elliot is miles ahead of ALL comparable destinations in Australia (and probably much of the world).

Lady Elliot produces and stores over 85% of its power requirements with a growing hybrid solar plant, and is aiming for 100% sustainability in the near future. All guests are given a comprehensive arrival briefing covering all aspects of reef and wildlife preservation and practices. There is a policy of preservation and protection that is entwined within all areas of resort management and guest experiences! Absolutely 5 Star for Sustainability!

I would love to see Heron Island, under its new ownership (Feb 2017), embrace a similar passion and commitment to sustainability and education. Historically there have been reports of inadequate guest briefings, irresponsible lighting of resort facilities during turtle hatching season, and a reliance on generated power and fossil fuels that are barged in from the mainland. A new long-term preservation plan would be fantastic for the island, the business and the reef in general. That said, the University of Queensland run a world-class research facility on the island, and run an independent tour of the research facilities and station that is well worth while.

Good Things to Know

Heron Island

Transfers – Boat transfers take 2 ½ hrs from Gladstone. These can be rough, and guests are often sea-sick. Boat transfers are not available on Tuesdays or Thursdays!! (Curiously you can book accommodation starting on these days and then find no way to get to the island!?! The transfers are operated by a 3rd party.)

Boat transfers leave the mainland at 2pm and arrive on the island at 4:30pm. Return transfers leave the island at 10am and arrive on the mainland at 12:30pm. So your first and last days are virtually wasted. (It would be far better for guests if the transfers were run the other way around.)

Seaplane transfers are available (20 minutes), but are extremely expensive ($349pp 1 way). If you take the seaplane you will need to wade ashore in knee deep water.

Snorkelling off the beach is a little underwhelming, so you will want to take the boat out to the drop-off each day for the good snorkelling (extra charges – I have included this in my comparison). Snorkelling in the harbour is quite good, but it is closed from 8:00am to 5:30pm due to boat and seaplane traffic.

Bird life is more intense and varied than Lady Elliot.

Reef Fishing trips available – ($235 for 2). No fishing Lady Elliot.

Snorkelling – take your own gear!! You will save $20pp / day!

Heron has recently changed owners (Feb 2017) and is now owned by a Canadian company. Reservations and issues are handled by an offshore reservations and call centre.

Lady Elliot Island

Transfers – only by plane. For 1 and 2 night stays you can fly across on the 8:10am flight and back on the 4:00pm flight. So you get a full day for your arrival and departure days. For 3 nights or more flights across depart at 10:30am or 1:00pm, with flights back at 9:30am or 11:30am.

Snorkelling is available in the lagoon 3 hrs either side of high tide every day (excellent!). The fringing reef drop-off on the lighthouse side of the island can be accessed straight from the beach at all times of day (ie no boat transfers required).

Glass bottom boat tour is included in your tariff (on Heron the glass bottom sub is $50pp).

Lady Elliot (because of all the above) is a HUGELY popular destination at present. You will need to book at least 4 months in advance if you are planning anything other than a single night stay.

Day Tours are available (fly over / back … $375pp all inclusive) giving you 7 hrs on the island to snorkel and explore. If you are short on time this is a great value option to tick the box on your Great Barrier Reef experience.

Divers should note that you cannot dive / fly on the same day, so you will need a minimum of 2 nights on the island to dive.

VERY family-friendly – kids are well catered for.

Locally owned and operated with a focus on education, experience and the preservation of our reef environment.

Value and Conclusion

If you are going to visit Heron Island you should plan for a 3 to 5 night stay, as the transfer times result in you losing your arrival and departure days (ie with a 3 day / 2 night stay you really only get 1 day to do anything).

Snorkelling and reef quality at both islands are superb! Accessibility to the best quality reef is much easier at Lady Elliot (step off the beach).

Without doubt, if you are planning on visiting the Southern Great Barrier Reef, then the BEST VALUE is for a 3 Day / 2 night stay on Lady Elliot, where you can be on the island at 9am on the day of arrival, and depart at 4pm on your last day, so you get 3 full days to explore and experience!! So the marginally more expensive price for a 2 night stay is hugely returned in time available to explore and participate in activities. Alternatively, if you are divers then look at the Stay 5, Pay 4 specials for 5 nights which will allow you plenty of time to fit in all activities and some good dives as well!

If you are planning an itinerary as an international visitor, Lady Elliot affords less lost time in transfers and travel days. Travelling through Hervey Bay also opens up the opportunity to visit World Heritage Listed Fraser Island which is a totally different, but amazing National Park experience. If you are lucky enough to be travelling between July and October Hervey Bay is also the best place in the world to experience Humpback whales up close and personal.

Disclosure : We are Lady Elliot’s biggest domestic agent. We are passionate about the reef, nature, our natural environment and the preservation of our dwindling natural spaces. Through helping people experience the best of our amazing World Heritage Listed destinations we hope so many more people will recognise the importance of preserving these amazing habitats for our future generations.

We have put together some fantastic packages and itineraries which highlight the best of our region, including Lady Elliot Island Prices and Packages, Fraser Island Packages and Hervey Bay Whale Watching Packages. Please visit our website for all the details, prices and availability. For up to date rates and specials – Lady Elliot Island Rates and Packages

If you are just looking to visit Lady Elliot or want some more information, availability, tips or prices, feel free to email myself or Yong directly using or call any time +61 (0)7 4124 5500. We are regional experts for all tours, restaurants, activities and anything else to do with Hervey Bay, Lady Elliot, Fraser Island and the Fraser Coast, and would be thrilled to help you plan the best itinerary for your visit to our “naturally” blessed region!

By Rob Lennon        Emeraldene Inn & Eco-Lodge, Hervey Bay

Please stay with us in Hervey Bay      Emeraldene Inn & Eco-Lodge

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Fraser Island – World Heritage Wonderland

All you need to know to plan your adventure!

Fraser Island Self Drive

We were thrilled to recently be featured in an article by Expedia entitled ‘Experience the Best of Fraser Island’. We were chosen for our “outstanding hospitality” and “insider knowledge” of the best places on the island, how to get there, and the best way to experience its beauty.

Fraser Island lies just kilometres from our verdant Eco retreat and is the world’s largest sand island. The island is a world heritage site famous for its wildlife, seabirds, birds of prey, dingos, magnificent sand dunes, perched freshwater lakes (including the turquoise waters of Lake McKenzie and deep green Lake Wabby), and a rainforest that grows entirely out of sand. It is a must-see on any itinerary along the east coast of Australia.

A four-wheel drive is needed to negotiate the all-sand tracks on the Island, which include the famous Seventy-Five Mile Beach highway running along the surf side of the Island. The “beach highway” offers some of the best beach fishing in the world!

If four-wheel driving seems daunting to you, ask us to help you organise a tour – this way you can be sure you see all the amazing sights at their very best without the stress of organising a vehicle, permits and barges.

Alternatively we have an AMAZING new Fly / Drive package which allows you to experience the thrill of a self-drive adventure, but eliminates the difficult, dangerous and time consuming island crossing. Check out the details of this fantastic new Fly & Drive Package!

Our home, Emeraldene Inn and Eco-Lodge is a peaceful and relaxing boutique resort set back from the busy Hervey Bay Esplanade. No matter what’s on your itinerary, we look forward to welcoming you to our slice of paradise and sharing some of the area’s best kept secrets.

Check out the following resources from our blog for all the inside knowledge necessary to plan an adventure to suit your budget, skills and itinerary.

Fraser Island – Tour or Self-Drive?

Which Fraser Island 1 Day Tour?

Fraser Island 4WD Self-Drive

Fraser Island History & Legends

Fraser Island Indigenous History

We have been visiting Fraser Island for over 40 years, and as local experts would love to help you organise the best way to visit this amazing natural destination. Drop me an email and I would be pleased to help!

by Rob Lennon       Emeraldene Inn & Eco-Lodge, Hervey Bay

Please stay with us in Hervey Bay   Emeraldene Inn & Eco-Lodge

Email contact

Hervey Bay Restaurants

Tantalise your Taste-Buds

Coast Restaurant

If a big part of your holidays and weekends away is great food and fresh local produce, then you are in for a treat in Hervey Bay! There are some amazing dining experiences in this region, featuring incredibly fresh local produce and fantastic locations and outlooks.

The Fraser Coast offers a vast array of locally grown, caught and organic products. In fact the region is home to two of cooking’s most prized natural ingredients – the Hervey Bay scallop and the macadamia nut!

Hervey Bay scallops are the most highly valued scallops in the world, appearing on menus throughout Europe, and prized for their appearance, texture and flavour. If you see Hervey Bay scallops on the menu whilst in Hervey Bay it is an obligatory order – they are amazing!!

Bauple Mountain, just down the road from Hervey Bay is widely acknowledged as the ancestral home of the macadamia nut – historically (and sometimes even today) known as the “Bopple Nut”. You may see some nut vans on the side of the road as you travel throughout the region – they are always worth a stop to sample these wonderfully oily nuts that can be flavoured in some imaginative ways!

Prawns, whiting, honey, lychees and a vast variety of organic (flavoursome) local fruits and vegetables will be found and featured on local restaurant menus (and often for sale in roadside stalls). Don’t be shy to ask what is local and fresh! And best of all …. Hervey Bay locals don’t even own a collared shirt, so whilst the quality of the food, location and experiences are top notch, you don’t need to overdress to enjoy an amazing meal!

My Top Recommendations

Breakfast / Brunch

Enzos on the Beach – a shack right on the beach … amazing outlook! Best value ($12) Eggs Benedict in the world!!! … I also recommend “Eggs on the Beach” – scrambled eggs with smoked salmon, baby spinach and avocado with hollandaise sauce served with toasted sour dough. Open 7 days a week from 7am.

EAT at Dan & Stephs – Dan & Steph were the 2013 winners of My Kitchen Rules! Try the Reuben or the sausage (Dan makes his own awesome snags!). Open for breakfast and lunch.

Arkarra Tea Gardens – open for breakfast on weekends and lunch Wednesday to Sunday, the Arkarra Tea House is just a 5 minute drive out of town on the Burrum Heads Road. Indulge in the freshly cooked cakes and scones sitting under your own Balinese hut within beautifully peaceful gardens. Don’t forget the camera as there are some lovely walks around the lagoons with lots of birdlife.


Goodys on the Beach – a 10 minute drive north on the Burrum Heads Road, this is a local secret! Set on the mouth of the Beelbi Creek, Toogoom features little more than a cafe and a small restaurant (Guy Sebastian has a holiday house here). The little jetty out the front with drying sand banks and little old men fishing from beaten up tinnies is a photographers dream. Goodys is the place to be for a Sunday lunch when they also feature some cool acoustic guitar players.

Bayswater – a pub near the iconic Hervey Bay pier, the Bayswater has a great balcony with a beautiful outlook over the water and the 1km long Hervey Bay Pier. This is a pub with pub standard food, but it is consistent, great value and the view is pretty special (you can see the west side of Fraser Island in the distance). Try the Szechuan Squid or one of their lunch specials before walking it off with a 2km round trip stroll to the end of the pier and back.

Badger & Brown’s Burgerie – our friends at the amazing Coast Restaurant have opened a flash burger bar! Eat in or take away, the burgers here feature flash ingredients and flash flavours in a very casual “Happy Days” style setting close to the beach. Pick a booth and keep your eyes open for the Fonz!

Badger & Brown's Burgerie


Coast Restaurant – our number 1 pick – this place is amazing! Named as one of the top 10 restaurants in Qld, and the only restaurant north of Brisbane to be awarded a “Hat” by the Good Food Guide, Coast is a true dining experience. Their “sharing” style menu features heaps of great local produce, slow cooked meats, amazing seafood, and specialty desserts. My favourites – slow roasted lamb shoulder or the masterstock pork belly with chilly jam.

Coast Restaurant Hervey Bay

Santinis – I had guests from Rome recently that told me that this was the best Italian food they had eaten outside of Italy!! A cheap, cheerful and simple trattoria this place is always busy, so be early or make a booking. Save room for their amazing home made Gelati.

Black Dog Cafe – casual dining in a small local restaurant. Sit outside on the street and order fresh local seafood off the blackboard menu. Try the Barramundi Sunset, with barramundi, local scallops and king prawns – yum! Pop next door to the Irish pub for a Guiness for dessert.

 Registered Clubs

If you are staying in town without transportation, the local clubs are a great option, with courtesy buses, fantastic value meals, some excellent entertainment, and the usual poker machines and sports bars to try your luck.

Boat Club – the Boat Club has a fantastic bistro – huge servings, consistently good quality meals and a beautiful outlook over the Hervey Bay Marina. Their courtesy shuttle will also pick you up and drop you back to your accommodation!

RSL – the RSL features all the usual poker machines, sports bar, great bistro, courtesy shuttle as well as some incredible entertainment. Be sure to check out their quarterly free guide (Premiere) that is available from most accommodations in town for a guide to what entertainment is scheduled – you might find some amazing (and cheap) shows and bands.


Maddigans – a beachside town should always be about seafood. Maddigans does the best fish and chips in town. Grab some fish, chips, fresh oysters, scallops and salads and head to the park or beach for a picnic – perfect!

Smithy’s Pizza – great pizza with fresh ingredients, Smithy’s also does fantastic take away pasta meals as well. If you are on holidays and want a night in, Smithy’s will deliver to any accommodation in Hervey Bay. Try the Capricciosa with anchovies.

 Fun, Food AND Adventure

Hervey Bay Gourmet Adventure

Fraser Gourmet Adventure Package

This has got to be the BEST way to satisfy your hunger for great food and exciting adventure! Our newest package features …

  • 2 nights accommodation at the award winning Emeraldene Inn
  • Champagne Sunset Sail aboard Blue Dolphin
  • Exclusive and private full day tour of Fraser Island (inc sumptuous picnic lunch!)
  • 4 course dinner at the amazing Coast Restaurant (including limousine transfers)

From only $425 per person!

Check it out on our website now!

by Rob Lennon       Emeraldene Inn & Eco-Lodge, Hervey Bay

       Please stay with us in Hervey Bay   Emeraldene Inn & Eco-Lodge   Book Online

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