5 Amazing Islands Within Reach of Cairns, Australia

Fitzroy Island is home to one of the top beaches in Australia
Fitzroy Island is home to one of the top beaches in Australia | © MikeCloud / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Hayley Simpson
Writer4 September 2020

There are 900 islands on the Great Barrier Reef, in Australia, most of which are uninhabited. But we’ve found five near Cairns, some with resorts where you can stay, that are great for day trips or romantic weekend getaways. Here’s our guide to some jaw-dropping island experiences.

Fitzroy Island

Natural Feature
Map View
Australia, Queensland, Cairns, Fitzroy Island National Park, Fitzroy Island, Nudey beach
© Hemis / Alamy Stock Photo
Fitzroy Island, a 45-minute ferry ride from Cairns, is a slice of unspoilt tropical paradise, where you can hike along designated trails through the rainforest that take you to the island’s highest point for unrivalled views. Fitzroy is also home to the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre and beautiful beaches, such as Nudey Beach (which is not clothing-optional, as the name might suggest). Voted Australia’s top beach in 2018, it’s the best spot on the island to go snorkelling and swimming.

Fitzroy Island Resort

Resort, Suite Hotel
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People sunbathing beside the swimming pool at Fitzroy Island Resort, Queensland, Australia
© Michael Willis / Alamy Stock Photo

Lush rainforest covers the cliffs on Fitzroy, only stopping when it meets the pure-white sands and the sea. Stay between the two at Fitzroy Island Resort – the only accommodation option on the island. You can spend your days lazing by the pool, drinking cocktails from the swim-up bar and heading out for tours of the surrounding reef.


Green Island

Natural Feature
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tropical Green Island ,Cairns Queensland Australia
© electra kay-smith / Alamy Stock Photo

Home to the five-star Green Island Resort, this island is also one of the most popular day trips from Cairns. A 45-minute ferry ride away, the 15ha (37-acre) coral cay is encircled by golden sandy beaches, but it’s the snorkelling around the fringing coral reef that’s the biggest draw. Snorkelling (under the pier is a good spot), scuba diving, helmet diving or seeing the reef from a glass-bottom boat all come highly recommended.

Green Island Resort

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Swimming pool in lush environment at luxury Green Island Resort, Great Barrier Reef, Far North Queensland, QLD, FNQ, GBR, Australia
© Genevieve Vallee / Alamy Stock Photo

Tucked away on a sandy cay, the five-star Green Island Resort feels like a tropical paradise. While soaking up the sun, you can participate in many activities, such as island strolls and snorkelling. In the evening, after the day trippers have departed, the resort puts on a fish-feeding presentation followed by complimentary sunset drinks. As night falls, you can join the staff for a guided walk around the island, spotting plant and wildlife as you go.


Lizard Island

Natural Feature
Map View
Aerial view of Lizard Island on the great barrier reef Australia
© Travis Rowan / Alamy Stock Photo

The exclusive resort of Lizard Island, 240km (149mi) northeast of Cairns, can only accessed by pane, so relax and enjoy a 50-minute very scenic flight across the Great Barrier Reef. The secluded island has 24 private beaches, and when you’re not relaxing, you can go on guided tours of the reef, visit the Lizard Island Resort day spa, swim in the hidden lagoon or go for a walk on one of the island’s trails.

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  • Lizard Island Resort

    Boutique Hotel, Resort
    Map View
    Lizard Island Resort © Hotels.com
    Courtesy of Lizard Island Resort / Hotels.com

    Rising out of the Great Barrier Reef, Lizard Island Resort – the reef’s northernmost resort – sits within a beautiful natural wonder and national park. With just 40 rooms and villas in the resort, you’ll feel as though you’re staying on your own private island, with a plethora of white-sand beaches, tree-covered hiking trails and tropical reefs to enjoy.


    Orpheus Island

    Natural Feature
    Map View
    A couple kayaking in the turquoise lagoon of Orpheus Island, Queensland, Australia.
    © James Vodicka / Alamy Stock Photo

    Orpheus Island is an unspoilt cornucopia of natural beauty, tucked between Cairns and Townsville, surrounded by coral reefs and covered in lush rainforest. The island looks a lot like the scenery from Jurassic Park, but no velociraptors in the bushes – the animals here are far friendlier and often marine-dwelling. Grab a mask and snorkel to go swimming with tropical fish and manta rays, or head out to sea on a tour to look for humpback whales and Australian snubfin dolphins.

    Orpheus Island Lodge

    Map View
    Orpheus Island Lodge, Cairns, Australia
    Courtesy of Orpheus Island Lodge / Booking.com

    With just 14 rooms, Orpheus Island Lodge is the only accommodation on an island that comprises more than 1,000ha (2,471 acres) of national park. Your stay here includes three meals a day and unlimited beer and wine. Plus, you can make use of the watersports equipment, giving you the means to explore this idyllic island to your heart’s content.


    Frankland Islands

    Natural Feature
    Map View
    Russell Island, Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Queensland, Australia
    © Suzanne Long / Alamy Stock Photo

    The Franklands is made up Normanby, Russell, Round, High and Mabel islands. Each is uninhabited, although they lie only 10km (6.2km) from mainland Australia. You can camp on Russell Island – where the green sea turtle nests – and High Island. However, you must be self-sufficient, as both islands have zero facilities. Day trips depart from Cairns, taking you to several of the islands, including Normanby Island – the largest one.

    Molly Codyre contributed additional reporting to this article

    These recommendations were updated on September 4, 2020 to keep your travel plans fresh.

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