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5 Best Islands To Visit Off Cairns

Updated Fri 23 Feb 2024

There are some amazing islands to visit off Cairns, including Green Island, Fitzroy Island, the Low Isles, and more! A spellbinding region where dense rainforest meets coral reef, Cairns is home to an abundance of world-heritage listed destinations, snorkelling-filled Great Barrier Reef tours, and lush tropical islands that bring every blue lagoon daydream to life!

There are 900 islands dotted along the Great Barrier Reef, with a handful located just a short boat or ferry trip from the mainland hub of Cairns. Whether a luxurious eco-resort getaway or budget-friendly adventure is on your mind, our team of Great Barrier Reef experts is here to tell you all about the best islands to visit off Cairns!

Three people smiling for the camera on a tropical island

What Are The Best Islands To Visit Off Cairns?

The best islands to visit off Cairns include Green Island, Fitzroy Island, the Frankland Islands, the Low Isles, and Michaelmas CayYou can snorkel, swim, and explore the natural beauty of Cairns and the Great Barrier Reef at all of these destinations. These are the 5 best islands according to our local travel experts, but everyone may have a different opinion on this topic! Here is a quick overview of each of these stunning Cairns islands. 

girl snorkelling near coral reefs on Green Island

1. Green Island

For the day-trippers, romantics, and young families alike, Green Island is the only sand cay island within the Great Barrier Reef that is home to thriving rainforest ecosystems. A short 45-minute boat or ferry journey from Cairns, Green Island is one of the best islands to visit off Cairns with accommodation thanks to the eco-certified Green Island Resort.

For those dreaming of living their best Castaway lifestyle, a long weekend eco-escape to the Green Island Resort is sure to be laden with poolside bar cocktails, rainforest walks, and a windsurfing lesson or two. If you’re short on time, a self-guided return ferry trip or day reef cruise departing from Cairns is sure to fill your island cup!

Distance from Cairns to Green Island: 28 kilometres, 45-minutes by boat or ferry (closest island from Cairns!)

Getting to Green Island from Cairns: Passenger ferry services depart from the Cairns Marlin Jetty three times daily. In addition, check out the sensational selection of Green Island reef cruises and sailing tours departing from Cairns here.

Things to do on Green Island: Snorkel straight off the beach, national park walks, glass-bottom boat tours, Seawalker helmet diving, daily crocodile show at Marineland Melanesia Crocodile Habitat. Be sure to check out the whole list here!

aerial view of Green Island and the Great Barrier Reef

2. Fitzroy Island

The incredible all-rounder of tropical islands nestled off Cairns, Fitzroy Island is enjoyed by thousands of travellers seeking a balmy tropics getaway each year. From idyllic palm-fringed shorelines to rainforest-clad national park, Fitzroy Island is the ideal half-day, full-day, or overnight destination. It's also one of the best islands off cairns with accommodation! You can stay at Fitzroy Island Resort or embark on a fun-filled Fitzroy day tour.

Fill your day with a visit to the beloved Nudey Beach, a hike to the breathtaking Fitzroy Island Summit, and the Turtle Rehabilitation Centre - we recommend making a splash and snorkelling straight off the shoreline to experience the incredible Fitzroy Island turtle population for yourself. Did we mention Fitzroy Island is the crowned Great Barrier Reef all-rounder?

Distance from Cairns to Fitzroy Island: 38 kilometres, 45-minutes by boat or ferry.

Getting to Fitzroy Island from Cairns: The Fitzroy Flyer departs from Cairns three to five times per day. Check out our range of inclusive ferry transfers to Fitzroy Island from Cairns here.

Things to do on Fitzroy Island: Visit Nudey Beach, Fitzroy Island Summit hike, snorkel straight off the beach, glass-bottom boat tours, and Turtle Rehabilitation Centre.

Nudey Beach on Fitzroy Island

3. Frankland Islands 

Any holiday to Cairns is all about diving deep into the sprawling Great Barrier Reef, so why not experience the pristine natural environment of the Frankland Islands, where the biodiverse coral reef is uncrowded and thriving. An archipelago of five uninhabited islands, the Frankland Islands are located 45 minutes southeast of Cairns and 10 kilometres offshore.

Currently, Frankland Island Reef Cruises is the only tour company permitted to visit the exclusive Frankland Islands - with a day tour boasting a scenic cruise along the Mulgrave River, unrivalled time on Normanby Island, guided marine naturalist walks, kayaking and paddleboarding activities, and of course - unforgettable reef adventures! For nature lovers and off-the-beaten-track enthusiasts, the Frankland Islands are a must-add to your dreamy Cairns bucket list.

Distance from Cairns to the Frankland Islands: 45 kilometres, 10 kilometres offshore by boat from Russel Head.

Getting to the Frankland Islands from Cairns: Frankland Islands Reef Cruise Day Tour or private boat.

Things to do on the Frankland Islands: Endless snorkelling and diving opportunities, marine biologist-guided foreshore walks, kayaking, paddleboarding.

white sand and blue water of Frankland Islands Cairns

4. Low Isles

Located just a 15-minute boat ride from Port Douglas, the Low Isles are sandy coral cay islands surrounded by 55 acres of flourishing reef. Significant Indigenous cultural sites for both the Kuku Yalanji and Yirraganydji tribes, Low Isles and Woody Island are home to a prolific 150 species of hard coral and an abundant turtle population.

To experience Low Isles and live out your thrilling sailing dreams, we recommend hopping aboard a luxurious catamaran, watching your crew hoist the sails, and enjoying a day tour to Low Isles during your Cairns getaway. Uncrowded reefs, post-card-perfect island time, and radiant downtime are what holidays in the tropics are all about, right?

Note that for scientific conservation purposes, scuba diving is not allowed at Low Isles, meaning that Low Isles day tours only offer snorkelling activities for visitors.

Distance from Cairns to Low Isles: 64 km, 15 kilometres offshore from Port Douglas.

Getting to the Low Isles from Cairns: Port Douglas is located an hour's drive north of Cairns, visitors can then board a Low Isles day tour from Port Douglas. 

Things to do on Low Isles: Numerous snorkelling opportunities, sailing, coral cay walks, and swimming straight from the island.

Sailaway catamaran moored off Low Isles, Great Barrier Reef

Image: Sailaway Low Isles Day Sail

5. Michaelmas Cay

Encircled by one of the most impressive sections of the expansive Great Barrier Reef and home to one of the seven most important seabird breeding areas in Australia’s North East, Michaelmas Cay is straight out of a tropical Hollywood blockbuster! A vegetated sand cay formed from broken coral and shells over thousands of years, Michaelmas Cay puts a whole new spin on island paradise.

Protected by national park legislation since 1975 and a sanctuary for migratory seabirds, Michaelmas Cay is located 43 kilometres northeast of Cairns and can only be accessed by commercial reef day tours or private vessels. Departing from the Cairns Marlin Marina, you can reach this dazzling oasis within 90 minutes - for a once-in-a-blue-moon experience we recommend checking out Sea Star or Ocean Spirit

Distance from Cairns to Michaelmas Cay: 43 km, 90 minutes by boat.

Getting to Michaelmas Cay from Cairns: Day tour departing from the Cairns Marlin Marina or private boat.

Things to do on Michaelmas Cay: Snorkelling, migratory bird watching, island exploring, and swimming straight from the island.

Michaelmas Cay foreshore

Which is the best island to visit from Cairns?

It's hard to nominate just one island as the best destination from Cairns, and it depends on what you're looking for. Adventurers looking to hike should visit Fitzroy Island, beach lovers looking for a pristine sand paradise can head to Green Island or Michaelmas Cay. Anyone looking for wildlife, snorkelling, and water sports can check out the Low Isles or Frankland Islands, but every island offers something special! 

So, what will it be? An island getaway teeming with unforgettable reef adventures or a long weekend escape to one of the most indulgent tropical islands off Australia's East Coast! Lucky for you this list of beloved Great Barrier Reef islands lets you live the best of both worlds - and all within a quick ferry or boat ride from the mainland hub of Cairns!

Women holding two glasses of wine on the beach, Cairns

Have the day trip of a lifetime with a visit to any of these islands off Cairns!

Live chat with a Cairns expert or call us at (07) 4082 7470 for a free personalised itinerary and local deals!

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