A list of the top 7 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 off shore and experience at least one of the many incredible islands that dot the cost.

I’ve been fortunate enough to spend close to a year documenting, photographing and exploring the best destinations, attractions and Islands near Cairns and The Tropical North. 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.

Whether you’re into snorkelling, scuba diving, turtle spotting, rainforest hiking or boating, I’m sure that all of these incredible Cairns will have something for you. However, I acknowledge that you probably don’t have time to see them all. That’s why I’ve also included a short summary and comparison of each to help you plan your Cairns island adventures.

Also, if you’re planning your visit to Cairns, don’t forget to read my comprehensive accommodation guide for where to stay as well as my complete guide for things to do.

Which Cairns Island Can You Stay At?

Out of all of the options available from Cairns, there are only three islands that you can actually spend the night on. These are Fitzroy Island, Green Island and Lizard Island. However, you can also spend the night on the Great Barrier Reef Pontoon (more details below).

Fitzroy Island has one of the best Cairns Islands resorts and is also the closest island to Cairns. I’ve visited Fitzroy several times and can highly recommend the resort there. 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.

Book: Fitzroy Island Resort

BAR AT FITZROY ISLAND BEACH

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

Book: Green Island Resort

GREEN ISLAND OFF CAIRNS, SCENIC FLIGHT

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)

ISLANDS OFF 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 CAIRNS

Cairns Islands: 7 Islands Off Cairns

Okay, with that out of the way, let’s dive right in. Below you’ll find my list of the 7 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 islands flares and reasons to visit to make a choice for yourself.

To help you out, I’ve also included links to full blog posts which contain more details and information on what to expect for each island below.


VISITING CAIRNS? READ: The Ultimate Packing List


1. Green Island

Reasons to visit: Great snorkelling, several beaches and 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 by foot, checking out the incredible tropical flora and white-sand beaches that line its shores.

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

Read More: Complete Guide to Visiting Green Island

Green Island from a Great Barrier Reef plane flight from Cairns

How to get here

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:

Book: Green Island Reef Catamaran Cruise

GREEN ISLAND SAILING BOAT

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, where 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.

Read More: Fitzroy Island Things to Do and See

FITZROY ISLAND OFF CAIRNS

How to get here

Getting to Fitzroy Island is easy and there are loads of options available to book online. As mentioned earlier, the fastest boat only takes 45 minutes but there are also island and reef- hopping trips that include a trip to Fitzroy.

Book: Fitzroy Island Ferry for $84

Book: Fitzroy Island & Moore Reef Island Hopping Day-Trip

Stay the night: Fitzroy Island Resort (includes ferry)

FITZROY ISLAND FERRY WHARF

3. The Low Isles

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 from 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 far-reaching fringing reef to explore. The snorkeling 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!

Read More: Low Isles Travel Guide

Low Isles, Snorkeling Port Douglas
THE LOW ISLES

How to get here

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 Cairns to Cape Tribulation Drive


4. Dunk Island

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

Another must-visit, and 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.

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.

Read More: Exploring Dunk Island: Best Things To See And Do

DUNK ISLAND SUNSETS QUEENSLAND AUSTRALIA, OFF CAIRNS

How to get here

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.

The most cost-effective way to get to this island is to take the water taxi ferry transfer below.

Book the best price: Dunk Island Ferry Transfer

DUNK ISLAND AND MOUND ISLAND MISSION BEACH NEAR CAIRNS COAST

5. 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.

Read More: Guide to Visiting Michaelmas Cay

MICHAELMAS CAY GREAT BARRIER REEF, MICHAELMAS CAY OUTER REEF, AERIAL DRONE PHOTO,
MICHAELMAS CAY – OUTER GREAT BARRIER REEF

How to get here

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

MICHAELMAS CAY GREAT BARRIER REEF, MICHAELMAS CAY OUTER REEF, AERIAL DRONE PHOTO, ISLANDS OFF CAIRNS

6. Vlasoff Cay

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

Vlasoff 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.

VLASSOFF CAY AERIAL PHOTO FROM CAIRNS

How to get here

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

TURTLE SEA

7. 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 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 islands 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 Best Things to See and Do in Cairns Australia

How to get here

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.

Check flights: SkyScanner

LIZARD ISLAND OFF CAIRNS, QUEENSLAND AUSTRALIA

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.

Closest islands to Cairns: Fitzroy Island & Green Island

Best snorkelling & diving: Vlasoff Cay & Lizard Island

Cairns Islands for a road trip: Dunk Island & Low Isles

Best cay for bird-spotting: Michaelmas Cay & Green Island

To save you time and money, I’ve selected the best-rated and most cost-effective options to getting to each Cairns Island above. However, if you want to search for more deals or island hopping trips, I suggest checking Klook, GetYourGuide and Viator. These are the three best tour booking companies and they always offer the same if not cheaper rates than booking at the ticketing office.

ISLANDS OFF CAIRNS, CAIRNS ISLANDS

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

Cairns Accommodation Guide – Where to Stay

Planning a trip to Cairns and wondering where to base yourself? Below I’ve listed some of the best options near Cairns Esplanade. I’ve also written a comprehensive accommodation guide to Cairns, so make sure to check that out too before you book!

Also, if you’re looking to stay in Port Douglas, I’ve got some tips on finding great accommodation deals there too.

LUXURY RESORT WITHOUT THE PRICE TAG – Rydges Resort
This hotel offers the best bang-for-buck. In terms of an epic stay for a decent price! The location is perfect, close to the esplanade and features include three swimming pools, two tennis courts, a jacuzzi, a fitness centre and even an award-winning restaurant.

Check price and availability for your dates

RYDGES ESPLANADE RESORT IN CAIRNS, WHERE TO STAY ACCOMMODATION

BEST 5-STAR LUXURY HOTEL: Pullman Reef Hotel Casino
If luxury and location are what you’re after, you can’t beat the Pullman. It’s rated Cairns’ best hotel and features restaurants, a pool, live music gigs and even a casino! If nightlife is your thing, don’t go past this one.

Check price & availability for your dates

PULLMAN CASINO CAIRNS

STAY ON THE ISLANDS: Fitzroy Island Resort

If you’d rather sleep out on one of the picturesque Great Barrier Reef Islands, look no further than the Fitzroy Island Resort. While you can get out here on a day trip, I highly recommend spending the night so you get more time to explore the reef, coral beaches and rainforest walking trails.

Check price & availability for your dates

FITZROY ISLAND RESORT

BEST BUDGET HOSTEL WITH A POOL – Gilligan’s Backpackers
The best backpacker option for a great vibe in Cairns is Gilligan’s Backpackers. That’s because this one has a swimming pool, AC, a complete kitchen and a great common area to meet other travellers.

Check price & availability for your dates

GILLIGANS BACKPACKER RESORT
Booking.com 15% off banner for getaway deals

CHECK OUT THE FULL LIST OF BEST HOSTEL AND HOTEL DEALS IN CAIRNS

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. I’ve spent several months exploring the best hikes, activities, waterfalls and even places to stay in Cairns, so make sure to check out some of the other posts on this blog.

Below are some that I think you’ll love.

MICHAELMAS CAY GREAT BARRIER REEF, MICHAELMAS CAY OUTER REEF, AERIAL DRONE PHOTO,
Low Isles, Low Islets Port Douglas Drone Photography
DUNK ISLAND SUNSETS QUEENSLAND AUSTRALIA
NUDIE BEACH SUNSET ON FITZROY ISLAND

MY CAMERA AND PHOTOGRAPHY EQUIPMENT

For a list of all my recommended photography gear (including what I use and why) check out my guide to camera gear for travel.

If you’d like to use any of the photographs on this website, please visit my licensing page to find out how. For high-resolution & commercial use, please contact me directly.

4 thoughts on “Cairns Islands: 7 Islands Off Cairns You Need to Visit in 2021”

  1. Wow!!

    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!

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