turquoise water at Gorgeous Green Island in Cairns

Green Island or Fitzroy Island – Which is Better?

If you’re asking “Is Green Island or Fitzroy Island better” you’ll be dreaming of a tropical island escape with gorgeous scenery, great snorkelling, and a relaxed island vibe. You can visit either Green Island or Fitzroy Island and find paradise, but which should you choose?

Both are beautiful tropical islands on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, just offshore from Cairns in far north Queensland. Both have pristine beaches, lush rainforests and a magical underwater world on the doorstep, and both are easily accessible by ferry. But which island is better? Well, that’s a matter of opinion but there are some differences between the two.

 After visiting both islands, I’ve put together this guide to help you decide whether Green Island or Fitzroy Island is the best one for you for a day trip or a longer stay.

One of the beautiful islands on the great Barrier Reef, Fitzroy Island
One of the beautiful islands on the great Barrier Reef, Fitzroy Island

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Comparing Green island or Fitzroy island to find out which is better for a day trip from Cairns

Green Island vs Fitzroy Island: What is the Difference?

Green Island is a coral cay on the Great Barrier Reef located inside the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. It was formed over many years by sand washing up and collecting on the coral reef.

Green Island is a small, flat island around 12 hectares in size and it’s the only cay on the Great Barrier Reef to be covered by a rainforest. Around 55 different species of birds nest on Green Island and the forest supports a diverse variety of plants.

In comparison, Fitzroy Island is a much larger island and a National Park. It’s around 340 hectares in size and was once attached to the mainland.  Also lying within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, Fitzroy Island is surrounded by a beautiful coral reef. The island is covered by lush rainforest and has an elevation of 269 metres with some stunning viewpoints.

The lookout point at the summit of Fitzroy Island offers panoramic views across the island and over the Coral Sea. There are hiking trails through the forest that offer stunning scenery and hills that are relatively challenging to climb. Fitzroy Island also has a lighthouse and a Turtle Rehabilitation Centre.

Green Island, on the other hand, is the home of Cassius, a huge saltwater crocodile who is over 110 years old and lives in the Marineland Crocodile Park.

Find the best way to Visit Gorgeous Green Island on a day trip

Green Island vs Fitzroy Island Beaches

You can visit either Green Island or Fitzroy Island and find beautiful beaches but if relaxing on the sand is your top priority then perhaps Green Island is the better choice. Green Island has a large golden sandy beach that’s easily accessible via a shaded path. Lifeguards patrol the main beach on Green Island and the water is calm and shallow. It’s ideal for swimming, safe for children and perfect for beginner snorkelers.

Fitzroy Island also has some lovely beaches but the shoreline in Welcome Bay consists of fragments of bleached coral that are difficult to walk on and uncomfortable for sunbathing. But hidden away on Fitzroy Island is one of Australia’s most beautiful beaches. A 15-minute walk through the rainforest takes you to Nudey Beach, voted Australia’s best beach in 2018.

Nudey Beach is absolutely breathtaking when you first catch a glimpse of it through the trees! It’s a lovely white sand & coral beach that’s perfect for sunbathing, swimming and snorkelling. But access to Nudey Beach is via a bush track that’s not accessible for everyone as it’s not suitable for a stroller or for people with mobility issues.

TIP:  Nudey Beach is not a nudist beach so make sure you leave your swimmers on while you’re there.

Is Green island or Fitzroy Island better? This is dyllic Nudey beach on Fitzroy Island
Is Green Island or Fitzroy Island better? This is dyllic Nudey beach on Fitzroy Island

Green Island or Fitzroy Island for Snorkeling

You can choose either Fitzroy Island or Green Island for snorkeling. Both are located within the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and both offer easy access to beautiful coral reefs. You can snorkel directly from the beach on both islands and see a variety of corals, colourful fish, reef sharks and turtles and more.

On Green Island, the beach near the jetty is better for snorkelling than the main beach. There’s coral and fish and sea grass growing around the island that provides food for sea turtles and dugong. But the best snorkel and dive sites are around 1.5 kilometres off Green Island and a snorkel trip in a boat is the best way to see them.

Personally, I saw more coral on Fitzroy Island than I did snorkelling from the main beach on Green Island where the water was very shallow. You need to swim out a long way from the shore to find coral, but I did see some pretty fish swimming amongst the seagrass.

TIP: While you can access the Great Barrier Reef and snorkel on either Fitzroy Island or Green Island, you’ll find the best snorkelling and diving on an outer reef trip.  

Fitzroy Island has some good snorkelling near the point on Welcome Bay and you can swim there easily from the beach. You don’t need a guide, but you can join a snorkel tour with a marine biologist to learn about the coral and see the best snorkel spots the island has to offer.

The coral beach on Welcome Bay makes getting in and out of the water difficult and rather comical in bare feet or flippers. The coral is painful to walk on so it’s a good idea to wear reef shoes for snorkelling.

You can swim with turtles on either Fitzroy Island or Green Island but Fitzroy Island is better for turtles. Green and Hawksbill turtles are commonly seen in the water and the island also has a Turtle Rehabilitation Centre that you can visit.

Rainforest Bush Walks & National Park

For bushwalking Fitzroy Island is definitely the best choice. While you can enjoy a gentle rainforest walk around Green Island, you’ll stroll around the whole island in around 45 minutes.

Fitzroy Island on the other hand offers a selection of stunning hiking trails through the National Park and you can spend hours following the walking tracks and exploring the island. This makes Fitzroy Island a better option for a longer stay because there’s more to see and do on the island.

The walk to Nudey Beach is a highlight and many day trippers head there as soon as they get off the ferry. This delightful walk through the rainforest takes around 15 minutes and stunning Nudey Beach is the prize at the end of the trail.

The Secret Garden track on Fitzroy Island takes around half an hour and is a lush, cool and quiet escape from Welcome Bay. It’s unlikely you’ll see many other visitors as the path winds up through the rainforest of the National Park behind the resort to a lovely lookout point.

The walk to the Fitzroy Island Lighthouse on the access road is quite difficult with very steep sections and it takes around 2 hours to return to the jetty. But there are spectacular ocean views from the lighthouse, and it’s a great way to escape from the other visitors on the island.

Just before the lighthouse, you can continue upwards to the Summit lookout to enjoy 360° views over Fitzroy Island. This rewarding circuit walk is quite difficult and takes 2 -3 hours to complete.

Find out: How to take the ferry to Fitzroy Island and what to do when you’re there.

How to get to the islands

Both Fitzroy Island and Green Island are easily accessible by ferry from the Marlin Wharf in Cairns. And different departure times give you the flexibility to visit for a full day or a half day on either Green Island or Fitzroy Island.

Green Island is around 27 kilometres offshore and the ferry trip takes around 45 minutes. Make sure you book the fast boat to Green Island; the slow boat takes twice as long. But Green Island also has a helicopter pad, so you have the option of chartering a helicopter and flying there in style.

TIP:  Several companies will take you to Green Island including Great Barrier Reef & Green Island tours and Big Cat Reef Cruises.

Catching the ferry to Fitzroy Island is easy. The island is 22 kilometres from the Cairns Marina and the trip takes around 45 minutes. The ferry to Fitzroy Island is a large catamaran with an open-air top deck.

TIP: Three different companies operate a ferry to Fitzroy Island and the options include:  Fitzroy Island Adventures /  Sunlover Catamaran transfer departing daily at 9:30 am from Cairns Marlin Marina / The Fitzroy Island Flyer departs three times daily from the island.

TIP: It can get a bit rough out on the water so take precautions if you’re prone to seasickness and take a tablet 20 minutes before the ferry departs.

people catching the ferry to Fitzroy island
A fun day catching the ferry to Fitzroy island

Is Green Island or Fitzroy Island better for a day trip?

Both Green Island and Fitzroy Island are fun to visit on a day trip from Cairns and both offer a good selection of tours and activities that can be booked on the ferry or on the islands.

Green Island is very popular as a day trip, but the island is small it can be hard to escape from other visitors. The beaches, cafes and restaurants on the island can be busy but the island is well-equipped and has good toilets, change rooms and locker facilities for day visitors. The paths around the island are flat and shaded and easily walkable. Visiting Green Island is a relaxing way to spend a day swimming, sunbathing and snorkelling.

TIP: The Green Island fly & cruise package is a fabulous way to see Green Island and was a highlight for me on my trip to Cairns. Seeing the Island from a small plane was simply spectacular & then visiting by ferry was the perfect way to experience this gorgeous coral cay near Cairns.

**NOTE** I paid for my Green Island Fly and Cruise Package and I’m under no obligation to write a review. I had a great time and simply want to share that with you. It’s also a better deal than booking a reef flight and Green Island Cruise separately.

An aerial view of Green Island, a beautiful tropical island near Cairns
An aerial view of Green Island, a beautiful tropical island near Cairns

Fitzroy Island is also a great choice for a day visit. It’s a much bigger island, and the day trippers tend to disappear around the island and into the jungle so it feels less busy. The beaches are spacious and don’t feel crowded but there can be a wait for food and coffee at the restaurant after the ferry boat arrives. The changing room and toilet facilities for day trippers are more basic on Fitzroy Island but there are lockers to secure your valuables while you’re swimming and exploring.

You can easily spend a day enjoying stunning Fitzroy Island and there are enough walking trails and activities to keep you entertained for 2 or 3 days.

Find out how to explore the most beautiful islands in far north Queensland.

Green Island or Fitzroy Island Restaurants

You can choose either Green Island or Fitzroy Island and find restaurants and cafes, so you won’t go hungry on either island but there’s not a lot of choice. Green Island’s Emeralds Restaurant and Bar offers an upmarket menu and you can also eat at The Canopy Grill or get fries and burgers from the Cafe.

On Fitzroy Island, Zephyr’s restaurant serves an al a carte menu. Resort guests can also enjoy the pool and swim up to the bar to order a drink.

Foxey’s Bar and Café caters to day trippers, and you can enjoy gorgeous views over Welcome Bay while you eat at the café or order takeaway fish and chips to eat on the beach. Fitzroy Island also has a small general store that serves sandwiches and soft drinks.

Green Island or Fitzroy Island Accommodation

If you’re dreaming of spending a few days relaxing in a tropical island paradise you can stay on either Green Island or Fitzroy Island and find what you’re looking for. Both islands offer comfortable resort accommodations in an idyllic setting.

The Green Island Resort is an upmarket luxury retreat and, of the two islands, it’s the more expensive option for an overnight stay. The resort provides comfortable 4.5-star accommodations and gets exceptional reviews. All rooms have Wi-Fi and are beautifully appointed and house guests have their own area and pool that’s secluded from day visitors.

Green Island is an ideal choice for a romantic getaway and the best time of day is when the day trippers leave, and you have the island to yourself. It’s the perfect place to relax in style and enjoy island sunrises and sunsets on the Great Barrier Reef. 

The Fitzroy Island Resort is also very popular and offers 4-star accommodation with a pool but make sure you book ahead. The newer rooms, suites, bungalows and beach cabins offered by the Fitzroy Island Resort often book out months in advance. The atmosphere is idyllic, relaxed and family-friendly.

Near the resort on Fitzroy Island, there’s a campsite that backs onto the forest and you can pitch your tent in the National Park just metres from the beach. The campsite is close to the jetty and has cold showers, toilets and an outdoor kitchen area (campfires are not permitted). The campground is managed by the Fitzroy Island Resort and you can book online.

Green Island vs Fitzroy Island Activities

There’s a wide choice of activities available on both Green Island and Fitzroy Island.

Fitzroy Island offers wonderful opportunities for bushwalking in the National Park with some incredible scenery and it has a turtle Rehabilitation Centre that’s educational and fun to visit.

The main difference between the 2 islands is that the Green Island resort is more expensive. It has a helicopter pad, and you can take a reef flight and see the Great Barrier Reef from the air. You can also visit Cassius the crocodile in his enclosure.

I’ve listed the main activities that each island offers below:

Green IslandFitzroy Island
Glass bottom Boat reef tourGlass bottom Boat reef tour
Outer Reef Day TripOuter Reef Day Trip
WindsurfingStandup Paddle Boarding
Esplanade BoardwalkBushwalking in the National Park
Sand beaches for Swimming & SunbathingCoral & sand beaches for Swimming & sunbathing
Swimming poolSwimming pool for resort guests
Helicopter padFish feeding
Crocodile Park – Cassius the crocodileTurtle Rehabilitation Centre

Best time to go

If you plan to visit either Fitzroy Island or Green Island, the best time to go is from May to October. During winter the weather is warm enough for swimming and the water is a balmy 25°C.

Visibility is good for snorkelling and diving on the Great Barrier Reef and there’s less rain in the winter months. In the shoulder seasons, April to May and September to October there are fewer tourists and accommodation rates are lower.

Snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef
Snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef

Final Thoughts: Is Green Island or Fitzroy Island better?

Both islands are stunning and easily accessible from Cairns and this makes them perfect for a day trip or a longer stay. Both have lots to offer with pristine beaches, coral reefs, good facilities and a wide range of activities and experiences. You can have a wonderful time swimming, snorkelling and relaxing on either island.

For a luxury, romantic getaway, an overnight stay on Green Island is magical once the day trippers leave the island.

The Fly and Cruise Package to Green Island is a fantastic day trip and includes a reef flight as well as the ferry to Green Island with lunch. I loved seeing Green Island and the Great Barrier Reef from the air and then visiting on the ferry. I was able to snorkel and explore the Island and it was a lot of fun, but the cay is quite small, and the resort takes up a fair chunk of the island.

If you want to escape the crowds and disappear into the rainforest, Fitzroy Island is a better choice. Fitzroy Island is less commercial, less built up and much larger than Green Island. There’s more to do with walking trails and stunning viewpoints to discover. The resort is less expensive and family-friendly and there’s a campsite for budget travellers.

So, is Green Island or Fitzroy Island better? Both islands are pristine and offer an idyllic escape to a tropical paradise on the Great Barrier Reef with stunning scenery and beautiful beaches. But if I had to choose, Fitzroy Island is the one I would go back to, perhaps because it’s larger, less crowded and you can roam further afield leaving the other visitors behind.  

But that’s just my view. Whether Green Island or Fitzroy Island is better depends on what you’re looking for. So why not visit both and decide for yourself? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.

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