If a day trip to the Outer Great Barrier Reef feels like too much of a mission, remember this: off the coast of Cairns and Tropical North Queensland – between 10 to 30 minutes’ travel time, depending on where you’re staying – lies a series of stunning islands, fringed with coral reef and vibrant marine life.
And if you decide to prolong your time on your chosen island, there are a range of accommodation options, from having the whole island to yourself to simple, honest camping. Wake up to be moments away from tickling your first turtle, or finding Nemo.
Read on to find out which Tropical North Queensland island will float your boat.
Only a 45-minute ride by fast catamaran from Cairns, Green Island and its reef are part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.
What makes Green Island unique is that it’s the only coral cay on the Great Barrier Reef with a rainforest. Explore the lush, tropical national park and its diverse plant and birdlife at your own leisure.
If you find you need more time to enjoy all the island has to offer and would like to extend your stay on Green Island, the luxurious 5-star Green Island Resort is ideal for a romantic getaway, honeymoon or family holiday.
Adorned with lush rainforest, open woodland and coral beaches, family-friendly Fitzroy Island is a part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.
Only 45-minutes from Cairns, or 30 minutes if you hop on the super-fast Thunderbolt, you’ll disembark to pristine, natural beauty.
Enjoy great $$$ savings with a 2-Day Reef and Fitzroy Island Combo Package Deal Tour. Or if you're a little short on time, our Fitzroy Island Half Day Tour is a great option.
Alternatively, just book your transport and see where the day takes you, hiring water sports equipment as you go.
Named after its two mountainous peaks, Double Island is located only minutes away from Palm Cove, the launch transfer access point for the island.
The privately-owned island is home to a single, exclusive resort that allows a maximum of 36 guests at one time. Day trips to the island are not offered - the stunning island retreat is available for the exclusive use of resort guests.
If you’re lucky enough to be staying on the island, your driver will meet you at the airport, where you’ll be driven in a private limousine to Palm Cove to board the transfer vessel. Or you could opt for the helicopter transfer direct from the airport. However, the maximum number for this option is three per flight.
Once you’ve arrived at your tropical destination, you’ll discover that each villa is ensconced within tropical rainforest, providing complete privacy while giving guests easy access to the beach only minutes away.
As for the island itself, expect untouched, natural beauty, which you can enjoy by doing as little, or as much, as you like. There are catamarans, windsurfers, canoes, and kayaks. Or you can explore the island along the walking tracks. There is also an indoor cinema, as well as the outdoor moonlight cinema.
The convenience of Palm Cove only 10 minutes away, means you can easily enjoy its boutiques, award-winning restaurants, and bars. It’s also the pick-up point for tours to the Great Barrier Reef and the Daintree Rainforest – the two World Heritage-listed areas of Tropical North Queensland on nearly everyone’s bucket list.
Located 10km off the coast of Mission Beach, Bedarra is another one of the 12 islands that form the Family Group of Islands; the mother, to be more specific. It’s 100 hectares is home to tropical rainforest and exclusive resorts, that promise complete privacy and the ultimate in relaxation.
The lack of roads or cars, and limited visitor numbers, make this a truly idyllic experience – one that has been a favourite among the rich and famous, eager to escape the limelight.
While the island enjoys regular repeat visitors, Bedarra isn’t for everyone. The resorts don’t cater for families. And if you’re after nightclubs and rowdy bars, then it’s probably best to stick with the mainland.
The largest of the Family Islands Group and known as the father, Dunk Island is a stone’s throw from the mainland. So close, in fact, that you could kayak to it from Mission Beach, spotting turtles and rays along the way.
Or you could zip over to Dunk Island on the Mission Beach Dunk Island Water Taxi if you’d prefer to save your energy for island time.
Its original name of ‘Coonanglebah’ means ‘island of peace and plenty’ and you’ll see why. With its lush, tropical rainforest, many choose to explore the national park on foot.
If you’d like to extend your stay by camping, the island has eight standard camping sites with toilets and showers only a short walk away. You’ll need to book with the Dunk Island office and National Park camping fees apply.
The ‘twins’ of the Family Group of Islands offer a truly remote camping experience, accessible only by boat. Each island has only one camping spot, both of which are located on the southern side of the island.
Wheeler Island’s camping site will accommodate a maximum of 10 people and Coombe’s maximum is eight.
Each has a picnic table and that’s about it for facilities. Visitors will need to be completely self-sufficient, bringing their own drinking water, food, fuel stoves, and rubbish bags.
Stand at any of the lookout points along the Great Barrier Reef Drive and you’ll spot an island north of Port Douglas that looks remarkably like a crocodile.
Aptly named, Snapper Island is one of the most distinctive off the coast of Tropical North Queensland. Rising 99m above sea level and located 2km from the mouth of the Daintree River, this uninhabited island is part of the Hope Islands National Park.
It’s also part of the traditional sea country of the Kuku Yalangi Indigenous people, who continue to fish around the island to this day.
Located halfway between the Daintree River crossing and Cape Tribulation, Cow Bay is home to a small community. It is the first populated area you’ll come across after rolling off the Daintree River Ferry.
Surrounded by World Heritage-listed rainforest, Cow Bay is made up of three, unspoilt palm-tree fringed bays. Lauded as one of the most isolated and beautiful beaches of the area, the name is thought to come from the farming of cattle in the early days, as passing sailors would see cows on the beach. Others theorise the area is named after the dugongs, also known as sea cows.
Accommodation options include bed and breakfasts, holiday homes, backpacker resorts, and camping. Visitors may find it more convenient to stay at Cow Bay if they have a car, as it’s a decent trek between the main points of interest, such as wildlife river cruises, rainforest tours, or the Daintree Discovery Centre.
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