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GBR Snorkel Whitsundays vs. Port Douglas vs ???

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Jan 12th, 2013, 12:14 AM
  #1
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GBR Snorkel Whitsundays vs. Port Douglas vs ???

I'm planning our itinerary for a 13 day Australia trip. We plan to have time in Sydney, Melbourne and the great ocean road and travel up to the GBR.

We aren't divers, so snorkeling is how we'd see the reef. While we're keen to snorkel, enjoying a leisurely stay at a beach hotel and enjoying swimming and pristine water is just as important to us. An empty beach walking out to snorkel is a dream, a great boat tour would be nice too. We're willing to splurge on this portion of our trip, but would want the cost to be worth it.

So I'm looking for where we should head. Any opinions on each of these:
* fly up to Cairns and stay in Port Douglas (seen some nice hotels)
* stay on or near Lady Eliot island / Heron Island
* stay around / on one of the Whitsundays islands

Again, since we're not divers, it's unclear which might be best.

--scott
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Jan 12th, 2013, 12:25 AM
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I neglected to mention that our trip is in early February (if weather is at all a factor)
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Jan 12th, 2013, 08:00 AM
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From Cairns, Port Douglas and the Whitsundays, a one to two hour boat trip is needed to get out to the outer reef, the best part. (Some Whitsunday islands have fringing reefs of various quality.) Heron Island (which, unlike the Whitsundays, is a coral island) sounds like it is closest to your ideal. Daytrippers are not allowed, so the beaches are close to empty. There is also good snorkeling from the beach, even better if you take one of the snorkel boats out to the reef edge (5-10 minute ride). There is just one resort and you can walk right around the island in 45 minutes. Recommend at least 3 nights to give you 2 full days.
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Jan 12th, 2013, 02:54 PM
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I agree with Ralph, Heron Island sounds like it would be ideal for you. Just bear in mind it's a national park and there's lots of wildlife so while it is a resort there's a huge emphasis on the visiting wildlife. It will also be the turtle hatching season while you are there--there may even still be some turtles laying their eggs. Also the shearwaters will be nesting--they make an incredible noise like howling babies all night long. I actually really like the noise but I'm a bird nerd. The noddies are also nesting on the island in summer.
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Jan 13th, 2013, 11:22 PM
  #5
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Ralph and Susan, thank you for your responses. I love the idea of Heron Island, seems to suit us. I am concerned though in reading the recent tripadvisor reviews as many people have had a bad experience of late. I'll do a little more digging...
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Jan 14th, 2013, 09:13 AM
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scott..I took a look at trip advisor. Indeed some very mixed reviews of Heron Island! But at least everyone agrees it is a beautiful island and the reef experience is top notch.

Have to confess it's been over 11 years since I was last there. At that time, they we just remodeling and rebuilding the facilities, which at the time we found very nice and comfortable. In five trips, we always found the food to be good to excellent. Seafood night on Fridays was to die for. But alas, it seems the new owners have a different idea.

But people have to realize, the island is a national park, a speck of land a long way from the coast. Resources are limited so the fact there is limited electricity for air conditioning and other things isn't a surprise. And the birds...the island has always been a shearwater rookery, it part of the ecology of the barrier reef. Do people really expect them to be cleared out so they don't have to deal with noise and poop? What kind of national park would that be? If they don't want the birds, pick another island or avoid the nesting season Nov-Mar.

Bottom line, Heron Island is a unique natural paradise, not an artificial, antiseptic, Club Med kind of place. Sure it's not for everyone, but if you're into nature and want the GBR at your doorstep, it's certainly worth considering despite some of the reviews.
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Jan 14th, 2013, 01:55 PM
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I've just looked at TA too, I find the negative reviews very exaggerated. I've been there more recently than Ralph--this time last year (Jan 2012).

The food and service have always been patchy (bland food and some slow service from semi-trained teenagers) sometimes they miss cleaning your room. The food is slightly worse now and there's a level of penny pinching that's apparent if you have been as many times as I have (6 times). Still, there's always something OK to eat and the service is not all slow.

The resort was best under the stewardship of P & O and the new American management is probably the worst, but the island is still amazing. It's a little bit irritating that the resort doesn't run perfectly but I wouldn't let that put you off.
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