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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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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