the perfect addition to a Cairns Itinerary

How to See Gorgeous Green Island in Cairns

Gorgeous Green Island in Cairns is a small sand cay on Australia’s UNESCO World Heritage Great Barrier Reef. Surrounded by coral reefs, turquoise waters and golden beaches, this small island is a tropical paradise perfect for a romantic getaway or a day trip from Cairns. Green Island is stunning from the air, and from the water and fun to explore on foot.

Is Green Island worth visiting?

Yes! If you want to relax in a tropical island paradise and discover the magical underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef then Green Island in Cairns is definitely worth visiting.

What is Green Island known for?

Green Island is known as a tropical island getaway and is one of the most popular destinations in Cairns. Of the hundreds of sandy cays on the Great Barrier Reef, Green Island is unique. Lush green rainforest covers the Island and around 55 different species of birds visit and nest in the area.

The island is surrounded by large sandy beaches, ideal for swimming, snorkelling and sunbathing. All kinds of water activities including reef diving, kayaking, and paddle boarding are possible on this idyllic tropical Island.

If you think you’ll need more than a few hours to unwind, Green Island has a luxury resort so you can stay as long as you like in this tropical paradise and enjoy the island vibe, lovely beaches and beautiful coral reefs.

There’s also a wildlife zoo where you can meet Cassius, a huge old crocodile. Cassius is one of the largest crocodiles in Australia and is thought to be more than 110 years old.

Catch the Green Island Ferry

The easiest way to get to Green Island is to book a ferry transfer from Cairns and arrive by boat. Several companies will take you there including Great Barrier Reef & Green Island tours and Big Cat Reef Cruises.

How long is the boat ride from Cairns to Green Island?

On a fast Green Island ferry, you can be there in under an hour. The fast boat leaves from the Marlin Marina in Cairns and takes around 45 minutes to make the crossing (***the slow boat takes twice as long).

One of the most accessible islands in far north Queensland, Green Island is a favourite day trip from Cairns. Opt for a full day on the island or choose an earlier return or a later departure on the Green Island ferry.

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 departure.

And if you don’t want to travel by boat, another option is to charter a helicopter and fly there in style.

turquoise water at Gorgeous Green Island in Cairns
Gorgeous Green Island in Cairns

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Check with your local government for the latest information on travel in Australia.

Where is Green Island?

Green Island can be found in the Coral Sea, 27 kilometres from Cairns and 13 kilometres (8 miles) off the coast of far north Queensland in Australia. It’s the perfect addition to a Cairns itinerary.

A guided snorkel tour of the reef in the Low Isles
Snorkelling on the Great Barrier Reef

How to see Green Island in Cairns

There are several ways to see Green Island by water, land and air.

By Water

Green Island snorkeling and swimming

Green island snorkelling, swimming and relaxing on the beach are the most popular activities. The surrounding water is clear, shallow, and warm, perfect for children, beginner snorkelers and those who are not so confident in the water.

Snorkelling directly from the beach is a lot of fun and you’ll see a variety of colourful fish swimming amongst the seagrass and there’s coral to discover near the jetty. Seagrass provides food for sea turtles and dugongs and the coral reefs of Green Island are made up of a huge variety of soft and hard corals found in the shallows and in deeper water.

If you’re travelling on the fast ferry from Cairns, you can hire your snorkel mask and flippers on the boat. You can also hire snorkelling equipment on the island and book a variety of water activities and reef tours at the Island’s resort.

It can get very windy on Green Island, but the main beach is fairly protected and there’s a lifeguard on duty at peak times.

A glass-bottomed boat tour

On a glass-bottomed boat coral viewing tour, you’ll see the amazing underwater world around the Island without getting wet. You’ll venture further out onto the reef than you might, snorkelling in the shallows and you’ll see more of the reef.

Green Island snorkeling or diving boat trip

A Green Island snorkeling or diving boat trip is a great way to discover the best of the island’s coral and marine life.  Book a tour with a Marine biologist and they’ll show you the top places to snorkel on the reef around the island and share a wealth of knowledge about the reef and the many amazing corals and sea creatures that live there.

people walking to the ferry at the jetty on Green Island
The jetty on Green Island


Self-guided island walks

It’s fun to take an island beach walk and explore on foot. Green Island is a flat sandy cay covered with dense rainforest and there are shaded footpaths around the island. The famous Esplanade Boardwalk will take you from the jetty to several lovely beaches, to the resort and across to the other side of the island.

The Island is quite small with a circumference of just 1.6 kilometres. It’s also very low and flat with its highest point only 4 metres above sea level and it takes only an hour or so to walk around.


But the most dramatic way to see Green Island and the Great Barrier Reef is from the air. In clear weather, it’s a truly spectacular sight. Even though most of the reef is underneath the water, the islands, coral cays and reefs can be seen clearly from the air.

Different water depths create a variety of colours. Beautiful blues, turquoise and aqua patterns can be seen in a kaleidoscope of gorgeous colours. From the air, it’s possible to gain perspective of the huge size of the Great Barrier Reef and to clearly see the reef that surrounds Green Island.

an aerial view of Green Island surrounded by coral reefs
Green Island from the air

Reef flights in a small aeroplane

Scenic reef flights take off daily from Cairns Airport during the high season. The small aeroplanes have high wings for excellent visibility and there are 8 seats on the plane. Each one is a window seat so everyone gets a great view. Make sure you have your camera ready.

I flew on a 40-minute Reef Hopper flight and it was a spectacular introduction to Green Island and the Great Barrier Reef and a highlight of my visit to Cairns.

Green Island Fly & Cruise package

For an action-packed day enjoying the beautiful Great Barrier Reef, you can’t beat the Green Island Fly & cruise package which includes a Reef Hopper flight and Green Cat Green Island Tour. I chose this tour to maximise my time out on the reef and it was a fantastic experience.

The day began with an early morning hotel transfer to Cairns Airport. Before we boarded the plane there was a short safety talk and we were given headphones and a life jacket to wear. Once we were in the air the view was spectacular. We flew over the Coral Sea, and Michaelmas Cay and circled over Green Island so that everyone had a great view.

 The spectacular reef flight was followed by a transfer to the Cairns Marina for the boat trip. Included in the package were a buffet Lunch on the Big Cat moored at Green Island and the option for snorkel hire or a glass-bottomed boat tour. I chose to snorkel from the beach. I’m happy to recommend this combined day trip as it was well organised and full of excitement.

The Great Barrier Reef from the air with aqua and bright blue water
The Great Barrier Reef from the air

The Green Island Fly & cruise package includes:

  • 40-minute Reef Hopper flight
  • Guaranteed window seats
  • Courtesy bus transfers
  • In-flight pilot commentary
  • A fleet of high-wing aircraft for excellent visibility
  • Full-day Big Cat Island Reef Cruise
  • Buffet Lunch
  • Glass bottom boat coral viewing tour or snorkel equipment hire
  • Self-guided walks and fish-feeding
  • Use of the Big Cat vessel as an air-conditioned base

**Big Cat Green Island Reef cruises are eco-certified and committed to sustainable tourism

**I paid for my combined flight and cruise package & it was a fabulous day. I’m under no obligation to write this article and, as usual, the thoughts and opinions expressed are my own.

Green Island view from the jetty across to the golden sandy beach
Island view from the jetty

Scenic Helicopter Flights

Green Island has a helicopter landing pad on the far side of the Island and you can fly there in style from Cairns on a chartered helicopter flight.

Green Island and the Great Barrier Reef

Green Island is part of the world’s largest coral reef ecosystem, the Great Barrier Ree and is recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage-listed site. This gives international recognition and protection to the Island and its reef. The surrounding 1200 hectares of coral are also part of Australia’s Great Barrier Reef Marine Park offering protection by the Australian government for the reef and its unique underwater habitats.

Green Island is a coral cay and one of the hundreds of small islands and cays on the Great Barrier Reef. It was formed by sand washing up on the reef and collecting in a sand bar that eventually became an island.

The Great Barrier Reef extends for 2,300 kilometres along Australia’s northeast coast and, as the name suggests, the Reef forms a barrier that protects Australia’s coastline. So the waters of the Coral Sea that surround Green Island are typically calm and warm, around 25°C in winter.

Can you stay on Green Island?                       

Yes, the luxury Green Island Resort provides comfortable 4.5-star accommodations and gets exceptional reviews. All rooms have Wi-Fi and are beautifully appointed. The quiet and peaceful resort is an ideal choice for a romantic getaway. It’s the perfect place to relax in style and enjoy island sunrises and sunsets on the Great Barrier Reef. 

Green Island vs Fitzroy Island  

Both are stunning tropical islands that lie offshore from Cairns but is Green Island or Fitzroy Island better? They both provide access to the magical underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef, a wide variety of water activities, lush rainforests and pristine beaches.

Both islands can be reached by ferry and day trips are very popular.  But which island is better? Well, that’s a hard call but I’ll give it a go…

A highlight for me was the Fly and Cruise Package to Green Island and it’s the most spectacular way to see the Great Barrier Reef. At the resort, there’s a choice of places to eat, coffee shops a kiosk, a bar and a helicopter landing pad and there are public changerooms, toilets and showers that day-trippers can use.

But Green Island is quite small. It only takes an hour or so to walk around and the resort takes up a fair chunk of the island so if you want to escape the crowds and disappear into the rainforest, Fitzroy Island is a better choice.

Welcome Bay on Fitzroy Island with a bleached coral beach & islands in the distance
Welcome Beach on Fitzroy Island

Green Island is a small coral cay but Fitzroy Island was once connected to the mainland and is a much larger Island, around 4 km long. There are hiking trails and stunning lookout points with sweeping views over the island and out to sea.

Fitzroy Island has a lighthouse, a turtle rehabilitation Centre and 4-star resort accommodations. It’s less built up and the internet is patchy. The facilities for day visitors are not as upmarket as those on Green Island but there is a restaurant, a general store, locker facilities and a basic toilet block that doubles as a change room.

But both islands are pristine with stunning scenery and beautiful beaches and offer an escape to a tropical paradise. But if I had to choose, Fitzroy Island is the one I would go back to, perhaps because it’s larger, you can roam further afield and this makes it easier to escape from other visitors.

If you’re trying to decide which island is better, perhaps visit both and you can decide for yourself.

Low Isles vs Green Island

While it’s fun to snorkel from the beach on Green Island, I saw a lot more of the reef in the Low Isles. Perhaps that was just my experience because the Green Island snorkelling reviews are very positive.

There’s coral near the jetty and sea turtles are often seen in the water. But all I saw when I was snorkelling in the shallows from the beach was a lot of sea grass and a few pretty fish.

In comparison, in the Low Isles, the coral reef was just a few metres from the beach, and I saw several turtles, a reef shark, a giant clam and lots of coral and colourful fish.

I really enjoyed the half-day Calypso snorkel tour to the Low Isles.

The Low Isles are accessible from Port Douglas, about an hour by road from Cairns.

Final Thoughts

I really loved visiting Green Island and would recommend spending at least a few hours enjoying this pristine island paradise. It’s the perfect place for a romantic escape with a luxury resort, a great choice of activities and easy access to stunning sunrises and sunsets.

The Green Island Fly & Cruise package is unforgettable and a great way to visit in a day. It’s absolutely worth the money and of course, you can stay longer if you choose.

For peace of mind make sure you buy travel insurance before you go, especially if you are travelling solo. I use Travel Insurance that covers me for overseas medical, lost baggage, and other expenses and I can concentrate on enjoying my trip without worrying about something going wrong.


Can you swim on Green Island?

Yes, there are some gorgeous sandy beaches on the island that are perfect for swimming, snorkelling and relaxing. Lifesavers patrol the main beach on Green Island and the water is shallow and warm.

What is the best month to go to Green Island?

The autumn and winter months, from April to September, are the best time to visit Cairns and the islands on the Great Barrier Reef. Although there can be strong south-easterly trade winds, the weather is still warm enough to swim and there are no stingers in the water.

Can you walk around Green Island?

Yes, you can walk around the island on shaded footpaths through the rainforest. The small island has a circumference of 1.6 kilometres, and it takes about an hour to walk around. The Esplanade Boardwalk takes you to the far side of Green Island and you can follow the beach to the helicopter landing pad and return to the ain jetty via the footpath.

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  1. Oh, how I love to visit special places like this. The water looks so inviting – I just want to dive in. What a terrific island to explore.

  2. I visited Green Island about 30 years ago on a family holiday with my parents. There wasn’t a resort there then. It still looks as beautiful as I remember and I am well overdue for another visit. Your photos are inspiring me to book right now!

  3. What a beautiful place! I have been to Cairns a couple of oif times but never made it to Green Island but it sounds just up my street. Staying there must be even more special. Thanks for highlighting it…on my list for the next time I’m in Queensland.

  4. Green Island in Cairns is such a gorgeous green that it feels like the photos were manipulated with Adobe software. I would love to visit.

  5. Anja | Anja On Adventure says:

    OMG! I got some serious goosebumps reading your post! So many memories since I worked there for almost a year. Such a lovely little island with great snorkeling spots! It is amazing after 4 pm, after the last ferry leaves. And those cute little lovely birds… love it!

  6. The colour of this water! Would be an amazing place to visit and dive at!

  7. When we were in Cairns we headed out on a day trip to snorkel and scuba dive. But we did not get a chance to visit Green Island. Good to know that you can visit by ferry and don’t need a tour. Although a tour would probably get us better scuba sites. Fun to fly over and get a view from above. I know we will be back in Cairns one day. So will not miss Green Island this time.

  8. OMG this looks incredible! What a stunning area to snorkel. I love that you can easily reach there with a ferry!

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