If you’re planning a trip to Cairns and have done any amount of research, then you know that there is an insane amount of amazing things to see and do here. How on EARTH do you even begin narrowing it down to a handful of must-dos? I mean, I spent 6 weeks here recently and still have dozens of things remaining on my Cairns checklist. It’s overwhelming to say the least – but in a good way 😉
You might be debating whether you should visit Fitzroy Island or Green Island from Cairns. Which island is better? Which has nicer beaches? Better snorkeling? A quicker transfer?
I’m going to make this agonizing decision a lot easier for you by saying that you should go to BOTH!
And if you can only visit one island, well, there IS no wrong choice because they are both beautiful, incredible, and so much fun.
Ok, ok – you’re here because you want details and answers, I know. So in this blog post, I’m going to tell you everything you need to know about Green Island and Fitzroy Island so that you can make the most informed decision for yourself.
For starters, both islands are national parks, have rainforest, are surrounded by the Great Barrier Reef, and are just 45 minutes from Cairns.
Fitzroy Island is mountainous, while Green Island is a small coral cay – and if my math is correct, Fitzroy Island is actually 28x bigger.
Ferry to Fitzroy Island & Green Island
There are a few different boats that will take you to either island.
Boat trips to either island take about 45 minutes with most operators; the Fitzroy Island ferries are just transfers, while the Green Island ferries include extras like snorkelling gear or reef tours and stay at the island all day (so you can leave gear onboard or sit in the air con if it gets too hot).
Based on the boat transfers offered, I’d say Fitzroy Island is set up better to be an overnight trip, while Green Island is set up better to be a day trip from Cairns (though of course, you can stay as long as you like at either island).
Ferries to Fitzroy Island
All of the ferries to Fitzroy Island are pretty much the same price and take 45 minutes each way to/from Cairns, so don’t stress too much over which to book!
Fitzroy Flyer – (the boat I took) This ferry to Fitzroy Island runs a few drop-offs and pick-ups each day. They offer half day tours and full day tours, but these aren’t actually tours at all – they’re literally just transport to and from the island, no frills!
A half day tour costs $65 with 2 options: departs Cairns at 8am + departs Fitzroy Island at 12:15pm, departs Cairns at 1:30pm + departs Fitzroy Island at 5pm
A full day tour costs $85 with 2 options: departs Cairns at 8am + departs Fitzroy Island at 5pm, departs Cairns at 11am + departs Fitzroy Island at 5pm
Fitzroy Island Adventures – Similar to Fitzroy Flyer, this boat runs half day and full day “tours” to Fitzroy Island (again, no actual tour, just transfers).
A half day tour costs $70, departs Cairns at 11am, and departs Fitzroy Island at 2pm.
A full day tour costs $85, departs Cairns at 9am, and departs Fitzroy Island at 4pm.
Sunlover – This catamaran runs day tours to Fitzroy Island. It costs $83, departs Cairns at 9:30am, and departs Fitzroy Island at 4:45pm.
If you’re pressed for time and want to fit in both Fitzroy Island and the outer Great Barrier Reef, Sunlover offers a combo trip for $265 that includes an hour on the island and then a trip out to the Moore Reef pontoon to dive, snorkel, and explore the outer reef. I personally would not recommend rushing the island (1 hour is NOT enough!), but the option is there if you need it.
Ferries to Green Island
By contrast, the ferries to Green Island offer more than just transport to and from the island. They also include extras like snorkeling gear, snorkeling tours, and glass bottom boat tours. In some cases, the price works out to be about the same as a full day “tour” to Fitzroy Island which doesn’t include any extras, making the Green Island ferry a better deal.
Also note that the Green Island ferry boats stay at the island all day and serve as a hub for your trip, meaning that you can return to the boat throughout the day if you want to grab or drop off any gear, or sit in the air con for awhile.
Big Cat Green Island (the boat I took) – With Big Cat, a return transfer is $89, and both half day and full day tours are $99. Boats depart Cairns at 9am, 11am, and 1pm; boats depart Green Island around 12:15 and 3:45.
The tours include either a free glass bottom boat tour or free snorkel hire, and there are other things you can add on such as lunch or snorkel tours. I HIGHLY recommend the snorkel safari if you want to see some of the best reef around Green Island – we did it and LOVED it!
Also, note that there’s a small boat that takes 45mins to reach the island, and a big boat that takes 1 hour 15 mins. If you want the bigger, more stable boat to ward off seasickness, you’ll want to book the 9am full day tour. All other departures use the small/fast boat.
Full disclosure, Big Cat Green Island sponsored our trip to Green Island. I promise they did not pay me to say this, but I was SO impressed with their service and just how they run their trips in general. Everything ran super smoothly, from the gear hire to the lunch buffet to the add-on tours. We felt really taken care of by their staff (one of them in particular kept us informed about the timings of things), but at the same time felt like we were traveling independently (which I always love doing!).
Ocean Free – If you want a “personalized sailing reef and island tour” on a proper sailboat, book your trip to Green Island with Ocean Free. Their tour costs $235, departs Cairns at 8am and returns by 5pm.
With only 25 guests max, lunch and snacks included, and access to an “exclusive” snorkel site at Pinnacle Reef, this is an excellent option for anyone wanting a unique and all-inclusive experience at Green Island.
On their Green Island tour, you get a total of 4.5 hours to explore Green Island and snorkel Pinnacle Reef, and you’re able to spend as much time as you want doing either (within that timeframe). The boat stays anchored at the reef about 1km away from the island, and you can get to/from Green Island on demand via a smaller tender boat. From the boat, you can jump off and snorkel or dive the reef (you can add on 1-2 dives to your trip, including intro dives if you’re not certified).
Because the trip takes 2 hours each way and the boat isn’t docked at the island, I’d recommend Ocean Free for those whose #1 priority is a day out on the reef, and #2 priority is to check out Green Island. If the island is at the top of your agenda, opt for one of the other Green Island boat options.
Great Adventures – The Great Adventures Green Island ferry costs $88 return and at the moment includes free snorkel gear hire or a glass bottom boat tour (normally costs $102 for that add-on). On weekdays they have two daily departures from Cairns (8:30am and 10:30am) and one boat back to Cairns at 4:30; on Sat/Sun they run just one boat leaving Cairns at 8:30am and leaving Green Island at 2:30pm. The trip takes 45 minutes each way.
They ALSO offer a Green Island & Great Barrier Reef combo tour for $272 which gives you 2 hours at the island and 3 hours at their reef activity platform at the outer reef where you can snorkel, dive, check out the underwater observatory, or relax on the boat sundeck. This tour leaves Cairns at 8:30am (45 minute journey) and leaves the outer reef to return to Cains at 3:30pm. (2 hour journey).
So basically, Great Adventures is like a hybrid of the other two Green Island boat operators mentioned above, offering both simple transfers and an all-inclusive island and reef tour.
Accommodation Fitzroy Island vs Green Island
You can stay overnight on both islands, with one accommodation dominating each island. Fitzroy Island accommodation is more budget-friendly, while Green Island accommodation is a 4.5-star resort experience.
Accommodation on Fitzroy Island
Fitzroy Island Resort is the only accommodation on Fitzroy Island, offering 99 rooms and 20 campsites. Room prices vary depending on type of room and time of year, but from my research, the cheapest I found was A$160 for the studio. There are suites, bungalows, apartments, and penthouses available as well. If you’re not on a tight budget, I say go for the ocean view apartment (~$400).
Fitzroy Island campsites are $37/night, or $97/night with full equipment hire. I love that they have the option to camp – it makes a Fitzroy Island getaway much more doable for backpackers and budget travelers!
Resort facilities include a restaurant, bar/cafe, swim-up bar, and a general store.
Accommodation on Green Island
Green Island Resort, by contrast, is a 4.5 star luxury eco resort with 46 rooms. Island suites are about $800/night and reef suites are about $900/night, which includes breakfast, sunset drinks, island transfers (via Great Adventures), snorkel hire, glass bottom boat tours, kayaking, and windsurfing. Rooms are set in clusters of small housing blocks throughout the rainforest, rather than housed in one large building (they looked more like modern villas to me!).
Resort facilities include a restaurant, two cafes, and a pool.
Snorkel Fitzroy Island vs Green Island
You can snorkel around both Fitzroy Island and Green Island as both are surrounded by reef, but it’s more “the thing to do” at Green Island. That’s why all of the Green Island ferry boat operators offer snorkel hire and reef tours!
At Green Island, the best snorkeling is done around the jetty, but you can (and should!) also opt to snorkel the outer reef where far more impressive coral is, depending on which boat you book. When I visited the island with Big Cat, I saw a few green turtles around the jetty, and didn’t really see any reef. (it’s mostly sea grass just off the island). I also did their snorkel safari tour, which took us out to some bommies a few minutes away via tender, and allowed us to get up close to some really impressive reef formations and tons of fish.
You can snorkel Fitzroy Island right off the beaches as well, where there’s more reef than there is right off of Green Island. For this reason, there’s a greater variety of marine life that’s more easily accessible from Fitzroy Island. You can hire snorkel gear and stinger suits on the island if needed.
To sum it up:
- Snorkeling right off Green Island – green turtles and not a whole lot else
- Snorkeling right off Fitzroy Island – lots of marine life and some reef
- Snorkeling in reef near Green Island – lots of marine life and best reef
PRO TIP: If you don’t have an underwater camera, you can hire one from Calypso, which is right at Reef Fleet Terminal where you check in for all the boats. I paid $39 to hire the OlympusTG6 for a day (which is what I used to take the underwater shots in this post).
Beaches at Fitzroy Island vs Green Island
The beaches are beautiful at both Fitzroy Island vs Green Island, but Fitzroy Island is home to Nudey Beach, which was once named the #1 beach in all of Australia – so for that alone, I’d say Fitzroy Island has better beaches.
But really, you can’t go wrong sunbathing and swimming at beaches on either island. The views and water clarity are equally sensational at both.
As far as their differences, beaches on Green Island have soft sand, while beaches on Fitzroy Island are not as pleasant to walk on barefoot (they’re more pebbly and coral-y).
Also, beaches on Fitzroy Island are dotted with boulders and big rocks, while beaches on Green Island are frequented more by birds (you’ll smell their poo pretty much everywhere you go).
Note that both Fitzroy Island and Green Island are subject to stinger season every year (Nov-May). If you swim during these months, it’s highly recommended you wear a stinger suit (which you can hire at both islands, or from your Green Island ferry boat). Stingers aren’t super common at the islands, but they do pop up occasionally.
Things to do on Fitzroy Island vs Green Island
The activities available at each island are pretty much the same, with a few notable differences (noted in bold):
Things to do at Fitzroy Island
- Glass bottom boat tours
- Turtle Rehab Centre
- Walking/Hiking (the 3.6km return Lighthouse Walk offers amazing views!)
Things to do at Green Island
- Glass bottom boat tours
- Walking (it takes 20 minutes to circle the whole island)
- Helicopter tours
- Marineland Croc Park
Fitzroy Island: Day Trip or Overnight Trip?
You can visit Fitzroy Island for the day, or overnight – but I think it’s best suited as an overnight trip from Cairns.
I did a Fitzroy Island day trip and instantly regretted not planning for an overnight trip because I knew I was going to spend all day at Nudey Beach and see nothing else on the island.
With an overnight trip, you take a Fitzroy Island ferry boat over from Cairns and then the resort is just steps away from the dock – it’s too easy. You can make it really affordable by opting for one of the lower-priced rooms, taking advantage of the package deals they often offer, or even camping.
Plus, Fitzroy Island has more of a lush island vibe that I can never get enough of! One day just wasn’t enough for me.
Green Island: Day Trip or Overnight Trip?
You can visit Green Island for the day, or overnight – but I think it’s best to do a Green Island day trip from Cairns.
First off, the Green Island resort is quite expensive to stay at, so it’s probably not a realistic overnight trip for most people unless you save up for it or maybe splurge for a special occasion.
And secondly, the Green Island boat trips are set up to accommodate a full day out on the reef and at the island. They offer a bunch of extras for you to thoroughly enjoy your day at the island and serve as a base camp for you to retreat to during the day if you need a break from all the sun.
Final Verdict: Fitzroy Island or Green Island?
Can I say both? (c’mon, it’s like choosing your favorite child!)
But seriously, both islands are well worth visiting on your trip to Cairns, so try to schedule both in.
If you HAD to choose only one though, go with…
- Green Island if snorkelling and seeing the Great Barrier Reef is your top priority, or if you want to splash out on a 5-star resort experience.
- Fitzroy Island if you prefer to just chill on the beach and maybe snorkel a little bit if the mood strikes, or if you want to do some hiking.