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Cairns Islands: 8 Islands Off Cairns You Need to Visit in 2023

Cairns Islands: 8 Islands Off Cairns You Need to Visit in 2023

A list of the top 8 best islands off cairns! Discover which tropical island to visit, how to get to each and what to expect. The most comprehensive guide to Cairns Islands you’ll find online!

Cairns and Far North tropical Coral Coast is where the rainforest meets the reef. It’s one of the most beautiful, diverse and naturally rich destinations on earth. If you’re planning a visit to Cairns, then you need to head offshore and experience at least one of the many incredible islands dotting the coast.

I’ve been fortunate enough to spend close to a year documenting, photographing and exploring the best destinations, attractions and Great Barrier Reef islands near Cairns and Far North Queensland.

Below is a summary of what I believe to be the most comprehensive and up-to-date list of the best islands off Cairns that you should visit this year!

Island Resorts Near Cairns - Staying on the Great Barrier Reef

Out of all of the nearby Cairns islands, there are only three islands that you can actually spend the night on. If you're looking for island accommodation near Cairns, you'll want to check out:

In my opinion, Fitzroy Island has one of the best offshore resorts and is also the closest island to Cairns. I've visited Fitzroy several times and can highly recommend the famous Fitzroy Island Resort.

Pool at Fitzroy Island Resort

It features everything you need for a once-in-a-lifetime island getaway including a pool, snorkelling opportunities off the beach, a restaurant and a cocktail bar!

Read: My review of Fitzroy Island Resort (with photos)

Welcome Bay, Fitzroy Island

Green Island features a resort with luxurious suites. It's an eco-resort with 2 pools and a poolside bar. The Green Island Resort is top-end, with a day spa, massage and beauty treatments and a restaurant.

Green Island

Lizard Island is arguably one of the most incredible islands in Far North Queensland. It also has a 5-star luxury resort which is voted one of the best island resorts in Australia. The only catch is that to get here, you will need to get on a 1-hour scenic flight from Cairns.

That's because Lizard Island is located 200 kilometres north of Cairns. But hey, if you wanted to see the Great Barrier Reef from the sky, this might be a win-win. This option isn't exactly a budget-friendly one, but definitely the most amazing for those of you looking for a honeymoon escape or an extra-special experience.

Book: Lizard Island Resort (free flight from Cairns if staying more than 5 days)

Lizard Island near Cairns
Lizard Island

The Great Barrier Reef Pontoon experience is a great option for visitors looking to spend a night on the reef. While not technically a Cairns island resort, the pontoon offers the opportunity to spend a night floating just off the reef and includes snorkelling and an optional 10-minute helicopter flight.

Book: Great Barrier Reef Pontoon Experience

Boat on the Great Barrier Reef near Cairns

Related: The 11 Best Cairns Tours & Experiences


Don't Miss This Cairns Packing List

Preparing a trip to Cairns? Don't miss these must-bring items on your list!

Cairns Islands: 8 Islands Off Cairns

Below you'll find my list of the 8 best islands off Cairns. But, just keep in mind that I haven't ranked them in any particular order. Therefore, you should use this list to compare each island's flares and reasons to visit to make a choice for yourself.

1. Green Island

Reasons to visit: Great snorkelling, several beaches and a rainforest interior.

Green Island is probably one of the most popular islands near Cairns. It's one of the closest to the Cairns coast and a fast boat only takes about an hour.

Highlights include snorkeling at the incredible fringing reef and at "the pinnacle". You can also explore the island on foot, checking out the incredible tropical flora and white-sand beaches that line its shores.

Green Island

Furthermore, Green Island is one of the only islands off Cairns with its own rainforest ecosystem. This makes it one of the most unique options for a day trip from Cairns. However, you can also stay here if you book a return ticket below (open-ended).

The Green Island Resort is one of the best tropical resorts off Cairns, especially for those looking for a luxury offering out on the reef.

Stay here: Green Island Resort

Green Island from a Great Barrier Reef plane flight from Cairns

How to get to Green Island

You'll have a few options to get to Green Island, the cheapest costs less than $100 per person. All boats depart from the reef fleet terminal on the Cairns Esplanade.

Below I've linked the most popular boat trip from Cairns which is also the cheapest:


2. Fitzroy Island

Reasons to visit: Cheapest island from Cairns, incredible resort, hiking.

Another incredible tropical paradise just around the corner from Cairns is Fitzroy Island. The fast boat to Fitzroy will only take you about 45 minutes, and you can choose to spend a day or even stay overnight at the Fitzroy Island Resort.

In my opinion, the best thing about Fitzroy Island is the incredible turtle population. I counted up to 13 turtles during my first time snorkelling, which is the most I've seen anywhere on the Australian East Coast.


Also, if you like a good hike, there are plenty of walks to choose from. The highest of which takes you to one of the best viewpoints on the Cairns Coast; The Fitzroy Island Summit. I've featured this walk in my list of the best hikes in Cairns!

Since these first two Cairns Islands are the most popular, I've also written a comprehensive comparison guide to Fitzroy Island vs Green Island to help you choose. Otherwise, keep reading to find more islands off Cairns to visit.


How to get to Fitzroy Island

Getting to Fitzroy Island is easy and there are loads of options available to book online.

Currently, the most cost-effective ferry to visit Fitzroy Island from Cairns is to book a return ferry ticket with Sunlover on GetYourGuide. This is currently the best price you will find online and only includes the fast-ferry catamaran transfer (fastest boat).


3. Frankland Islands (Normanby Island)

Reasons to visit: Incredible snorkelling, healthiest reef, river cruise included

Although a little further than some of the other islands around Cairns, the tropical archipelago of the Frankland Islands are definitely a must-visit when in the Tropical North!

These islands include High Island, Russel Island, Mabel Island, Round Island and Normanby Island. All of them are definitely less popular than the others on this list, but let me tell you, the Frankland Islands are amazing!

The best island to visit is Normanby Island. In fact, I honestly believe that the coral reef system here is healthier and richer than many of the popular spots on the outer reef!

Frankland Islands Coral Patch

If you're looking to see a real slice of the Great Barrier Reef on a nearby Cairns Island, don't miss out on this one!

Frankland Islands Day Trip from Cairns
Normanby Island, the Frankland Islands Group

How to get to Frankland Islands

There's only one company that runs tours to Frankland Islands from Cairns. These trips are all-inclusive and run coaches down to Mulgrave River, where you'll board a scenic river cruise towards the islands.

These trips are still one-day trips from Cairns, which is a popular option for those looking to see the incredible reef and a Great Barrier Reef island in a single day.

Travel tip: The best deal currently is to book the Frankland Islands Day Trip on BackpackerDeals. Remember to use the code OLLY5 when booking to get yourself a $5 discount. This goes for all of the tours and activities on this website, and you don't have to be a backpacker to get the discounted rate!

Related: How to Spend 5 Days in Cairns - Itinerary

Great Barrier Reef aerial photograph near Cairns, Australia

50+ More Cairns Bucketlist Items

4. The Low Isles - Epic Islands off Port Douglas

Reasons to visit: 15-minute fast boat from Port Douglas, loads of guided snorkelling options.

Located closer to Port Douglas than Cairns, The Low Isles are still one of the best islands worth checking out from Cairns. The great thing is, Port Douglas is just an hour north of Cairns and is worth at least a day trip in its own right.

The Low Isles is a set of two smaller islands; Low Island and Woody Island. Woody Island is reserved for bird nesting so Low Island is the only accessible part of the Low Isles.

On the island, you'll find a picturesque lighthouse and a far-reaching fringing reef to explore. The snorkelling is not quite as good as what you'll find on Green Island, but it's still an epic Great Barrier Reef Island not to miss!

Low Island, Port Douglas, Australia
The Low Isles

How to get to Low Isles

You can get to the Low Isles by taking a speed boat, which is ridiculously fast - only 15 minutes to the islands from Port Douglas! However, if you'd prefer to visit this Cairns island on an organised snorkelling or sailing trip, then check out these options below:

Book: Low Isles Luxury Catamaran

Book: Lowe Isles Sailing & Snorkelling Trip: Wavedancer

Low Island, Low Isles, Port Douglas

HEADING NORTH?: Guide to the Great Barrier Reef Drive | Things to do in Cape Tribulation

5. Dunk Island

Reasons to visit: awesome sand spit, hiking trails and lookouts

Another must-visit and one of my personal favourite islands off Cairns is Dunk Island. This one is located a little further south of Cairns, accessible from the Mission Beach area.

On the island, there is an abandoned resort, an old airstrip, plenty of hikes, great snorkelling and an incredible reaching sand bar that's a favourite on Instagram.

Sandbar on Dunk Island, Australia

If you decide to visit Dunk Island, don't miss Mound Island, which sits just opposite the main beach. You'll need a kayak or boat to get over there, but if you do, you'll get a small taste of isolated island life.


How to get to Dunk Island

Dunk Island is popular with both Innisfail and Mission Beach locals, as well as the many backpackers and travellers that visit the Tropical North every year.

While there aren't many ways to get to Dunk Island on an organised trip from Cairns, you can book a fairly cheap and quick boat if you're driving south to Mission Beach anyway.

Update: As of 2022, there's now a brand new ferry running to Dunk Island from Mission Beach!


6. Michaelmas Cay

Reasons to visit: Outer reef cay, great snorkelling, sea bird population

Want more of a taste of the outer Great Barrier Reef? If you're in Cairns, then you're in luck. Fortunately, Cairns is one of the best places in Australia to access the Great Barrier Reef, with both epic islands and reef cays just off the coast.


One of the best island cays on the outer reef is Michaelmas Cay. Compared to the other islands off Cairns, Michaelmas Cay and the surrounding reef has the best snorkelling and diving you'll find.

This cay doesn't have much in terms of things to do on land. But, let's face it, Cairns island hopping is all about the underwater world! There is also a sea-bird population that returns to nest each afternoon on Michaelmas, which is great for nature lovers and bird watchers.

Michaelmas Cay on the Great Barrier Reef

How to get to Michaelmas Cay

There are no fast-boat ferries that regularly visit Michaelmas Cay. As a result, you'll mostly find boaties and the occasional catamaran tour here. However, there is one boat that makes the trip out on an island-hopping, diving and snorkelling trip. This is run by Ocean Spirit

Book: Ocean Spirit Snorkelling and Diving Trip


7. Vlasoff Cay

Reasons to visit: most scenic Cairns island cay, epic snorkelling.

Vlasoff Cay is perhaps the most famous and iconic cay on the Great Barrier Reef off Cairns. You'll often find it on promotional posters and tourism campaigns. That's because it really is the most perfect, iconic little patch of white sand that has to be seen to be believed.

A similar size to Michaelmas Cay, Vlasoff offers similar snorkelling but without the sea bird population.


How to get to Vlasoff Cay

The tricky part about getting to the outer Great Barrier Reef islands and cays is that many of the tours will change their itinerary based on weather and other boats.

What this means is that getting to cays like Vlasoff mostly comes down to luck, depending on where the reef-hopping tour will go that day.

However, rest assured that if you book an outer reef experience, especially with Down Under Cruise & Dive (my favourite), you'll get to experience the outer reef in all its glory, no matter which spot they pick for the day.

Book: Great Barrier Reef Tour With Down Under Cruise & Dive

See Vlasoff Cay from above: Scenic Reef Flight from Cairns

Green Turtle in the Great Barrier Reef

8. Lizard Island

Reasons to visit: Epic resort, large island to explore, great snorkelling & diving

Lizard Island is perhaps the most remote island off Cairns, located 200 kilometres to the north. Chances are you won't meet too many people who've been here but that hasn't stopped Lizard Island's international acclaim. It's been featured in several Hollywood films and is often featured on Cairns travel posters and ads.

There are loads of things to do on Lizard Island. From exploring the many beaches and coral-lined bays to hiking around to the viewpoints, there's no way you'll run out of things to do.

Also, as I mentioned above, Lizard Island is home to one of the best Cairns Island resorts. So, if you make the effort to see this tropical gem, it'd be a shame not to spend at least a night here.

Book: Lizard Island Resort

Great Barrier Reef near Cairns, Australia

How to get to Lizard Island

Being the most remote island off Cairns, you'll need to book a scenic flight to get here. I recommend searching SkyScanner for great deals or checking the Cairns airport website for up-to-date departure information.

The flight from Cairns international airport takes just under an hour and isn't just a regular commercial flight. It's a low-flying scenic flight that also passes some of the best aerial views of the Great Barrier Reef. Currently, there's a promotional deal where if you book at least 5 nights at the resort, you can get a free return flight to Cairns.


The Best Islands off Cairns: A Summary

After reading this island list, I'm sure you're itching to get out and explore the tropical beauty of the Far North. If you're still tossing up which Cairns island to visit, then below is a quick summary that might help you make the call.

  1. Closest islands to Cairns: Fitzroy Island & Green Island
  2. Best snorkelling & diving: Frankland Islands & Vlasoff Cay
  3. Cairns Islands for a road trip: Dunk Island & Low Isles
  4. Best cay for bird-spotting: Michaelmas Cay & Green Island
  5. Healthiest Coral Reef: Frankland Islands

To save you time and money, I've selected the best-rated and most cost-effective options to get to each island from Cairns above.

Update: also has some great last-minute deals at the moment. I've partnered with them to give my readers $5 off all their tours and tickets when using code: OLLY5.

Coastal Islands off Cairns, Australia

Cairns Accommodation Guide – Where to Stay

Visiting Cairns? The best places to stay are near the Cairns Esplanade or on the sunny Northern Beaches. Below are the top 4 options for varying budgets.

  • Crystalbrook Riley - If luxury and location are what you're after, you can't beat the Crystalbrook Riley. This is the best 5-star resort in Cairns and features absolutely everything you'd expect from a Crystalbrook resort.
  • Fitzroy Island Resort - Sleep out on one of the picturesque Great Barrier Reef Islands at Fitzroy Island Resort. Spending the night on the island can work out cheaper than staying in town and means you get more time to explore the reef, coral beaches and rainforest walking trails.
  • Gilligan's Backpackers - The best backpacker option for a great vibe in Cairns. Great place to meet like-minded travelers and has facilities including a pool. air-con, a huge shared kitchen, and a great common area!
  • Pepper's Beach Club - stay at the best beach resort in the heart of Palm Cove on the Cairns Northern Beaches!

For a bigger list, don't miss my Cairns accommodation guide or as an alternative stay in FNQ, read my Port Douglas Accommodation guide too.

Girl sunbathing at Crystalbrook Riley resort in Cairns
Backpacker hostel in Cairns, Australia

Sailing or boating on the Coral Coast? Read about my sailing adventures on our homebuilt yacht up the East Coast of Australia.

More Cairns Travel Guides and Adventure Inspiration

I hope that this travel guide to the best islands off Cairns has given you a better understanding of what to expect from the paradise that is the Far North.

Below are some more Cairns travel guides and inspiration that I think you'll love.

Low Isles Drone Photography
Best Islands near Cairns, Australia


Saturday 5th of June 2021


u have captured some amazing photographs of the different islands around Cairns. I could only wish to be as lucky as you to see all these amazing islands. Yep. im going to Cairns!

Olly Gaspar

Saturday 5th of June 2021

Thanks Mary, there sure are some epic islands around. That's great news, enjoy your trip to Cairns.


Wednesday 24th of March 2021

Great thank you very much

Olly Gaspar

Wednesday 24th of March 2021

No problem, glad you found it useful