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How to See Gorgeous Green Island in Cairns

Green Island, one of the beautiful islands near 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. The best way to see Green Island is from the air, from the water or by exploring on foot.

Why visit Green Island in Cairns

The most popular reason for visiting is to relax in a tropical island paradise and discover the magical underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef that surrounds the island.

One 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. There are several large sand beaches, ideal for swimming, snorkelling and sunbathing. All kinds of water activities including reef diving, kayaking, and paddle boarding are possible on this lovely tropical Island.

One of the most accessible islands in far north Queensland, Green Island is a favourite day trip from Cairns. On a fast boat, you can be there in under an hour and visit for a half day or opt for a full-day trip. But 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.

Gorgeous Green Island in Cairns
Gorgeous Green Island in Cairns

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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.

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. The fast boat leaves from the Marlin Marina in Cairns and takes around 45 minutes to make the crossing to the Island (but the slow boat takes twice as long).

** It can get a bit rough out on the water so take precautions if you’re prone to seasickness.

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

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

How to see Gorgeous 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 and 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.

The jetty on Green Island
The jetty on Green Island

Land

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.

Air 

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.

Green Island from the air
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 a Big 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 was 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
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.

View from the jetty
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.

Scenic Reef helicopter flights are also available from Cairns and on the island.

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. Green Island in Cairns is the perfect place to relax in style and enjoy island sunrises and sunsets on the Great Barrier Reef. 

Is Green Island or Fitzroy Island better? 

Both Green Island and Fitzroy Island are stunning tropical islands and both lie off-shore from Cairns. They 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 & cruise package to Green Island and it’s the most spectacular way to see the Great Barrier Reef. At the resort on Green Island, 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
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 accommodation. 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 on Green Island 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.

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10 thoughts on “How to See Gorgeous Green Island in Cairns”

  1. 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!

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

  4. Anja | Anja On Adventure

    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!

  5. 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.

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