Skip to Content
How to Visit the Frankland Islands From Cairns in 2023

How to Visit the Frankland Islands From Cairns in 2023

Everything you need to know about visiting the beautiful Frankland Islands near Cairns, Queensland. Includes info on how to get here on a day trip, with photos and a breakdown of what to expect.

The incredible Frankland Islands are one of the least-visited islands off Cairns. This hidden gem of sorts is truly one of the best great barrier reef island experiences you can have! For those who want to witness a healthy reef ecosystem that I believe rivals the outer reef, then definitely make sure to check out the incredible Frankland Islands.

In this quick travel guide, I’ll outline everything you need to know about visiting the Frankland Islands in QLD. I’ll include how to get here on a transfer or day trip, information about the islands and epic photos and videos that I hope will inspire your visit! I’ll also break down why I believe that snorkelling at the Frankland Islands is better than much of the outer reef!

Featured in: Epic 5-Day Cairns Itinerary

Frankland Islands Video

Here's a quick video that I put together from my trip to the Frankland Islands. Enjoy! And, if you're looking for more short travel videos, make sure to subscribe while you're there.

Where are the Frankland Islands?

The Frankland Islands are a series of five islands just outside the mouth of the Mulgrave River, south of Cairns and the closer Fitzroy Island. All five islands are accessible by boat for those lucky enough to have their own. However, there's only one organised day trip from Cairns which visits Normanby Island (the best Frankland Island).

Read on below for how to get here.

Frankland Islands Drone

How to Get to the Frankland Islands?

As I mentioned, there's only one company licensed to operate tours and day trips to Frankland Islands. These guys have been operating here for over 50 years and do an incredible job of providing sustainable and enjoyable Frankland Islands day trips (tours) from Cairns.

The trips include bus transfers to Mulgrave River, where you'll get the ferry from out to the Frankland Islands.

$5 OFF: Booking online with Backpacker Deals when you use code: OLLY5

This is the same all-inclusive Frankland Island Day Trip that I'll be covering in this blog post. Don't worry, you don't have to be a backpacker to take advantage of this cheaper deal.

To break down why booking through this website is the best way to get to Frankland Islands; the total price for an all-inclusive day-trip to Frankland Islands from Cairns is only $199. This is as compared to $219 if you book directly with a tour operator in town. If you use my code OLLY5, you'll get an additional $5 off!

Frankland Island Reef Cruises

Featured in: The 11 Best Cairns Tours & Experiences

Frankland Island Day Trip From Cairns - What to Expect

The rest of this blog post will break down exactly what you can expect on the Frankland Islands tour from Cairns based on my experience.

Included in this Frankland Islands tour is:

  • Coach transfers to and from your Cairns Accommodation
  • 30 minute cruise down the Mulgrave River (can spot crocs)
  • 4 hours at Normanby Island (the best one)
  • Use of snorkel gear, stinger suits, water gear like kayaks, SUPS etc
  • A guided Snorkel Tour
  • Guided Island Walk
  • Delicious morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea

Pretty good deal right? While island transfers to Green Island and Fitzroy Island are generally cheaper, let me break down just why Frankland Island is the best Great Barrier Reef Island off Cairns!

Frankland Islands Day Trip from Cairns
Frankland Islands Coral Patch
Water Equipment Hire

Related: Things You Need to Know About the Cairns Helicopter Tour

Cruise Down the Mulgrave River

After a short coach transfer to Mulgrave River, we hopped onto the Frankland Islands boat.

The first leg of the trick features a scenic river cruise down the Mulgrave River, where it's possible to spot crocodiles on the shores. The excellent team on board also provide you with your snorkelling gear, hot drinks, morning tea and an introduction and safety briefing.

What I loved most about this first river cruise is that it was very informative. The expert Reef Guides on board explained to me the importance of the mangrove ecosystems like the ones in the Mulgrave River and how they play a role in creating healthy reefs.

Frankland Island Day Tour From Cairns

Arriving at Normanby Island (Frankland Islands)

After just 30 minutes, we were already making landfall on the beautiful Frankland Islands. This tour only stops on Normanby Island, which is the only "Green" Marine Parks Zone. What this means is that it is protected from fishing activities, creating a nursery for fish, turtles and marine life!

We grabbed our gear, hopped off the boat and headed over to the sheltered picnic area.

Boat Tour From Cairns
Frankland Islands Day Trip from Cairns

Snorkelling at Normanby Reef

Included in the Frankland Islands tour from Cairns is a Snorkel Safari tour. Usually, I prefer to just explore on my own but for the first time, I am very happy that I ended up joining in.

That's because our professional Reef Guide Michele was the most knowledgeable and passionate guide I've ever met! She taught me so much about the reef, pointed out many different corals and managed to spot 7 turtles in a single snorkelling session!

She also took me out to the best spots and showed me the very rare blue anemone with clown fish families living in it.

Frankland Islands Coral Patch
Coral Reef at Frankland Islands
Coral Reef at Frankland Islands
Red fern coral on the Great Barrier Reef near Cairns, QLD
blue anenome on Frankland Islands

Why the Coral at Frankland Islands is so Healthy?

Honestly, I was blown away by just how healthy and rich the reef system is at Frankland Islands. Being so close to the mainland, I really wasn't expecting what I saw! Out of the 600 different types of coral that grow on the Great Barrier Reef, over 200 are found right here on the Frankland Islands!

Michele told me that the Frankland Islands have such healthy corals because of the unique non-gravitational current that exists here. She explained this unique current washes a lot of essential nutrients over the reef every day, allowing it to grow and remain healthy.

Furthermore, the "green" designation by QLD Marine Parks means that fishing is prohibited. Turtles also flock here because there is such a large bed of seagrass for them to eat just near the beach. They also use the healthy corals at the "turtle cleaning station" to treat infections and injuries with the natural properties released by certain corals.

Anenome and clown fish
Great Barrier Reef Coral
Coral Reef at Frankland Islands
Frankland Island snorkelling

Lunch at the Frankland Islands

After one of the best snorkelling experiences that I'd personally had on the Great Barrier Reef so far, it was time for lunch.

This was a "help yourself", "all you can eat" kind of buffet setup that was actually really delicious. The team offered a wide range of fresh fruits, salads, meats and cooked dishes.

Lunch on the beach

Similar: What It’s Like Staying at Fitzroy Island Resort

Guided Beach Walk on Normanby Island

After lunch, a few visitors decided to take advantage of the free kayak and stand-up paddleboard use. Instead, I joined in on the guided beach walk led by our two Great Barrier Reef guides.

This followed along the sandy shores and onto one of the many walking tracks on the small island's interior.

We learnt a lot about the island, from the unique star-sand that can be found here, to the diverse birdlife and interesting geological history of the Frankland Islands.

Master Reef Guide, Great Barrier Reef
Guided Beach walking Tour
Star Sand on Frankland Islands
Star Sand found on the Frankland Islands

Return to Cairns

Wrapping up this awesome Frankland Islands day trip from Cairns, we jumped back on the boat and prepared to motor back down the Mulgrave River. I was excited about the prospect of spotting some large saltwater crocodiles on the bank as we were coming back on low tide.

Unfortunately, I missed out on this occasion but Michele told me that you can actually spot them quite frequently!

Frankland Islands Bus
Frankland Island Mangroves
Mangroves on the Islands off Cairns
Mulgrave River back to Cairns

Related: (Review) Daintree Crocodile Tour In Cairns/Cape Tribulation

Review: Should You Visit the Frankland Islands?

If you've made it this far in the blog, you might still be asking if this is the one.

I've spent a great deal of time exploring, documenting and photographing all of the great places to visit around Cairns. I've visited many islands, several outer reef cays like Vlasoff Cay and Michaelmas Cay, as well as dive trips out to Norman and Hastings Reefs.

In all honesty, the marine life and snorkelling at Frankland Island topped all of those epic locations! While Fitzroy Island and Green Island are a little cheaper, the Frankland Islands are hands-down a better GBR experience!

If you're short on time and you've got the Great Barrier Reef on your Cairns bucket list, I'd highly encourage you to book this trip.

Remember, you can get a $5 discount on any tours at using my code: OLLY5. I'm recommending this to you as it's the cheapest way to get yourself on board a day trip tour to the Frankland Islands from cairns!

Frankland Islands Day Trip from Cairns
Frankland Islands
Coral on Normanby Island snorkel site, Great Barrier Reef

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

More Cairns Islands and Epic Day Trips

I hope this quick guide to visiting the Frankland Islands from Cairns has been useful in helping you plan your visit. For those looking for more travel and adventure inspiration, make sure to check out some of my other guides. I've written extensively on many of the best things to do in Cairns, including where to find the best waterfalls, the best hiking trails and the best activities to book.

Otherwise, take a dive into some of the other articles below.