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Fitzroy Island vs Green Island: Which Cairns Island is Best?

Fitzroy Island vs Green Island: Which Cairns Island is Best?

Travel guide comparing Fitzroy Island vs Green Island to help you choose which island to visit from Cairns.

Fitzroy Island and Green Island are two of the most popular and well-known islands edging the Great Barrier Reef near the Far North Queensland city of Cairns.

Both islands are accessible via a 45-minute boat trip from Cairns with similarly-priced day trips available from Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal. They both offer an opportunity for snorkelling, swimming, and enjoying tropical rainforests on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef.

I spent several months in Cairns, sailing and taking day trips to many epic islands off the coast. I recommend visiting both islands. However, this would mean booking two separate day trips since there are no combined trips. So, in this guide I’ll provide a comprehensive comparison of these two incredible Coral Sea islands below to help you choose; Fitzroy Island or Green Island.

Where to stay in cairns, things to do fitzroy island, islands off cairns, drone
Fitzroy Island
Green island from a great barrier reef plane flight from cairns
Green Island
Olly gaspar

By Olly Gaspar, full-time traveler & adventure photographer for 6 years with 700+ published travel guides. I visit every place I write about & share real tips from what I learn.

Compared: Fitzroy Island vs Green Island

I've explored both Fitzroy and Green Islands extensively and while I enjoy both, I prefer Fitzroy Island because of its more rugged landscape, the beautiful Nudey Beach and fun opportunities to hike to the summit.

However, both Fitzroy Island and Green Island are excellent for snorkelling, swimming and exploring the rainforest interior. Additionally, both islands are easily accessed via either a fast boat or private snorkelling and island hopping tours. Therefore the decision comes down to what you prefer.

Fitzroy Island is better for hikers and those looking for rugged landscapes and vibrant wildlife encounters, including a significant turtle population and scenic hikes to its summit.

Green Island is ideal for snorkelers and divers seeking healthier corals and diverse marine life, along with unique rainforest explorations and private beach experiences.

Fitzroy IslandGreen Island
SnorkellingAbundant turtlesHealthier corals, diverse marine life
HikingSummit hike (375m peak)Flat, rainforest walks
BeachesNudey Beach (can get crowded)Multiple beaches
ActivitiesSnorkelling, swimming, diving, hikingWide variety, including helicopter flights
PriceCheaper ferry ($89)More expensive boat trip ($110)
Best Day TripFerry & snorkeling tripCatamaran & snorkelling trip
AccommodationFitzroy Island ResortGreen Island Resort
Distinctive FeatureLarger, more rugged islandSmaller, flatter island with a unique rainforest
Experience TypeAdventure & wildlifeRelaxation & diverse activities

Note that it's also actually possible to stay on both islands. If you're looking to extend your trip longer than just a day, then I highly recommend checking out either Fitzroy Island Resort or the Green Island Resort (two of the best places to stay in Cairns).

For those keen on a deeper dive, the rest of the article will unpack these details, painting a fuller picture of the unique essence of Fitzroy and Green Islands with plenty of photos from my trip to help make the decision easier.

Turtle on fitzroy island near cairns, australia

Fitzroy Island Summary

Fitzroy Island is one of the best tropical island destinations in Far North Queensland. There are plenty of things to do on Fitzroy Island, from hiking, snorkelling and swimming with turtles.

Fitzroy is located just south of Cairns Harbour, past False Cape. You can visit Fitzroy Island all year round, even on days of heavy winds since Welcome Bay is well-protected from any strong southerly.

To get to Fitzroy Island you'll take a 45-minute fast ferry from the Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal near the Marlin Marina. You can book a return ferry ticket online for around $89 for the cheapest day trip currently.

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Fitzroy island off cairns
Fitzroy Island

Green Island Summary

Green Island is located roughly 45 minutes out to sea from Cairns Harbour. It's a small flat and sandy island covered in dense rainforest. Green Island has a far-stretching reef that offers great snorkelling.

Highlights include snorkelling on coral reef and bommies, exploring the short rainforest walks and finding your own private beaches.

One of the best and most cost-effective ways to get to Green Island is to book a catamaran sailing and snorkelling trip from Cairns for around $110. This is the cheapest day trip on offer and one of the best ways to see Green Island.

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Green island from the sky, great barrier reef, cairns, queensland
Green Island from the sky on a Scenic Flight from Cairns

Best Island for Snorkelling & Diving: Green Island

  • Closer to the outer reef
  • Further fringing reef
  • Healthier corals and bommies

For me, Green Island stands out as the better location for snorkelling and diving when pitted against Fitzroy Island. Its closer proximity to the outer reef and the further-spread fringing reef means that the underwater ecosystem here is healthier and more diverse.

The clarity of the water on Green Island is often much better than on Fitzroy.

Snorkelling at fitzroy island

Best Island for Nature & Wildlife: Fitzroy Island

  • More turtles
  • Larger island with more diverse flora
  • More lizards

Fitzroy Island stands out for those coming to Far North Queensland for its nature and widlife. This island is predominantly a National Park, with 339 hectares of protected land, of which 97% is covered in dense rainforest.

You'll see many birds, turtles, and lizards on both islands. However, I saw up to 13 turtles in a short time snorkelling on Fitzroy Island on my first trip, you're almost guaranteed to spot at least one!

Swim with turtles in cairns, great barrier reef

Best Island for Hiking: Fitzroy Island

  • Fitzroy is much higher in elevation and features more hiking trails
  • Green Island is mostly flat, although there are nice nature trails that are easier

Fitzroy Island earns my title for the best hiking island near Cairns. Its topography features a prominent peak that rises to 375 meters. This is one of my favorite hikes near Cairns and features a rewarding panoramic view from the top with sights of the Coral Sea and even down to Nudey Beach.

Fitzroy also has more diverse trails like the one leading to Nudey Beach and the historic lighthouse

In comparison, Green Island's terrain is predominantly flat, which is better for casual strolls and families. However, Green Island lacks the adventure that those into hiking might be after.

Hiking on fitzroy island australia

Best Island for Beaches: Tie

  • While Fitzroy Island has the best beach: Nudey Beach, Green Island has more beaches
  • You'll probably find your own isolated beach on Green Island whereas the main beaches on Fitzroy can get a little crowded

When it comes to beaches, it's a close call between Green Island and Fitzroy Island and I call this a close tie.

Fitzroy boasts the main event, Nudey Beach, a pristine strip of sand that was featured as Australia's best beach in 2018 by Escape. However, its fame means it can draw crowds, especially during peak travel seasons.

On the flip side, Green Island may not have a singular standout like Nudey Beach, but it has a multitude of beaches that provide a better chance of getting one to yourself.

Nudey beach drone photograph on fitzroy island
Nudey Beach on Fitzroy Island

Best Island for Activities: Green Island

  • Green Island has more bookable activities from Cairns, including helicopter flights, glass-bottom boat trips, snorkelling trips and more.

While both islands have plenty of things to do, Green Island offers more bookable tours and unique experiences.

For a bird's-eye view of the majestic Great Barrier Reef, helicopter tours are available, offering a perspective that's as breathtaking as it is unique. There are also more walking tours available on Green Island from the resort.

You'll find tour providers offering glass-bottom boat trips on both islands for a window into the underwater world. This is perfect for those who want to admire the reef without getting wet.

Below is a small list of activities on Green and Fitzroy Island to compare.

Green island, green island itineraries, green island to do

Cheapest Island to Visit: Fitzroy Island

  • The cheapest ferry to Fitzroy Island costs $89.
  • The cheapest Green Island boat trip is $110.

Fitzroy Island is slightly cheaper to visit than Green Island in terms of transport. A round-trip to Fitzroy Island can be as economical as $89, while the starting price for a boat trip to Green Island is a bit steeper, beginning at $110.

Fitzroy island ferry queensland

While both islands are great and definitely worth a visit, by far, the best Great Barrier Reef Island off Cairns for snorkelling and seeing beautiful healthy corals is the Frankland Islands. Although much less-visited, you can also get here on an organised day trip from Cairns!

Green island sailing boat
Green Island
Fitzroy island australia
Fitzroy Island

Reasons to Visit Fitzroy Over Green Island

Here I've outlined a few reasons to visit Fitzroy Island to make your decision of whether to visit Fitzroy Island vs Green Island a little easier.

1. Fitzroy Has More Turtles

Probably the most popular reason people head to Fitzroy Island over Green Island is that it has a HUGE turtle population.

During my first time snorkelling here, I counted 13 different turtles within about 45 minutes! Don't get me wrong, if you spend a bit of time in the water at Green Island, you'll probably spot one or two as well. But, when it comes to the Fitzroy Island vs Green Island turtle showdown, Fitzroy is a clear winner.

Turtle on fitzroy island cairns

2. Fitzroy Offers Better Walks & Hikes

Compared to Green Island, Fitzroy is much larger and features raised peaks. As a result, you'll have access to a couple of epic island walks. My favourite hike is the Fitzroy Island summit track, which takes just over 2 hours to return from the beach.

At the top, you are greeted with some of the best views of the Coral Coast.

Fitzroy island summit hike
Hiking on fitzroy island 1

3. Nudey Beach is Incredible

Nudey Beach is truly one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. In fact, it was ranked as Australia's most beautiful beach a couple of years ago. In my opinion, it truly lives up to its title.

This small, white-sand beach is found on the southwestern tip and drops into crystal clear, turquoise water. There are also some large boulders and fringing reef at the tip which makes for a great day of snorkelling.

The few times I've been snorkeling just off Nudey Beach, I've always spotted turtles and even a few reef sharks on occasion.

Nudey beach fitzroy island things to do, cairns
Nudey beach on fitzroy island

Reasons to Visit Green Island Over Fitzroy Island

At this stage, it's hard to tell which island wins the Fitzroy Island vs Green Island showdown. So, let's get into some reasons why you should visit Green Island to help you make the choice yourself.

1. Slightly Better Reef and Snorkelling

Green Island is located just inside the outer reef, while Fitzroy is much closer to the mainland. As a result, there are larger bommies on the surrounding reef and overall the coral is much healthier.

You might not see as many turtles on Green Island as you would on Fitzroy, but you'll experience in my opinion, a better taste of the Great Barrier Reef.

However, if seeing the GBR is on your bucket list, you really can't compare these islands to the actual outer reef. If you're visiting Cairns, I'd highly recommend booking an outer GBR snorkelling or diving trip.

Book the best-rated outer reef trip: Great Barrier Reef Tour From Cairns
Spend a night on the outer reef pontoon: Cairns: Overnight Great Barrier Reef Pontoon Experience

Read More: Best Great Barrier Reef Tour Cairns

Green island reef snorkeling

2. See the Unique Green Island Rainforest

Green Island initially emerged as a small sandy cay. Over time, birds and wind have brought seeds and vegetation from the tropical mainland. Now, Green Island is densely covered by its own unique rainforest ecosystem.

Compared to Fitzroy Island, Green Island's vegetation is a little more tropical. It's the only island that you'll find near Cairns where tropical rainforest backs straight onto a fringing reef. While Fitzroy Island is also dense with vegetation, it's a little drier than Green Island's tropical rainforest vegetation.

Walking in the green island rainforest

3. Find Private Isolated Beaches

Although Green Island is smaller than Fitzroy Island, you'll have easier access to all of the flat sandy beaches surrounding the island. Great beaches are features of both islands Fitzroy Island and Green Island. However, if you want more variety, or perhaps an isolated section to yourself, Green Island might be the go.

On the north side of the island, you will find isolated private beaches to swim at and soak in the tropical vibes.

Green island, green island itineraries, green island to do

What About the Outer Great Barrier Reef Cays?

To make the decision even harder for you, whether you should head to Fitzroy Island vs Green Island isn't the only question you should ask yourself. I did mention this earlier but it's something many people don't realise when visiting Cairns. If you want a real taste of the Great Barrier Reef, then you'll want to check out the outer reef!

There are hundreds of cays along the Coral Coast, each with incredible coral reef, snorkelling and marine life. Cairns harbour is full of reef boats, a reason why it's named the "Reef Fleet Terminal". This competition makes finding a great deal on day trips and even overnight pontoon stays a little difficult.

To help you out, I've linked some of the best deals below.

Michaelmas cay great barrier reef, michaelmas cay outer reef, aerial drone photo,
Outer Great Barrier Reef at Michaelmas Cay

Fitzroy Island vs Green Island - The Verdict

As I mentioned earlier in this article, the decision between Fitzroy Island vs Green Island will largely depend on personal preference. Either way, you won't be disappointed.

For spending time in the water snorkelling, then I'd recommend Green Island. However, if you're likely to spend more time on land checking out beautiful beaches and hikes, then Fitzroy Island might be better for you.

Remember that both islands offer accommodation but prices vary.

I snuck in a spoiler earlier but for me, Fitzroy Island wins!

Where to Stay In Cairns

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.

Alternatively, check out my Port Douglas accommodation guide for more ideas on where to stay in Far North Queensland.

Girl sunbathing at crystalbrook riley resort in cairns

1. Crystalbrook Riley Luxury

If luxury and location are what you're after, you can't beat this 5-star resort right in the heart of Cairns Esplanade.

Fitzroy island wharf

2. Fitzroy Island Resort Mid-Range

Sleep out on one of the picturesque Great Barrier Reef Islands! Staying at Fitzroy often works out cheaper than staying in town & means you get more time to explore the reef, beaches, and rainforest walking trails.

Gilligans backpacker resort

3. Gilligan's Backpackers Budget

The best backpacker option for a great vibe in Cairns. Great place to meet like-minded travelers & features a pool, air-con rooms, a huge shared kitchen, & a great common area.

Peppers beach club four mile beach port douglas

4. Pepper's Beach Club Palm Cove

Stay at the best beach resort in the heart of Palm Cove on Cairns's Northern Beaches!

More Cairns and Far North Queensland Travel Guides

So, that's a wrap for this Fitzroy Island vs Green Island comparison blog. If you found this island guide useful, then please let me know in the comments. I'd love to hear what you have to think about this epic island showdown!

Also, for now, why not check out some more epic Cairns travel ideas in the list below?

Enjoy!

Fitzroy island vs green island
which cairns island is better?
Thanks for Reading

I'm Olly Gaspar, adventure travel journalist & photographer. Traveling non-stop since 2018, I've published over 700 travel guides on We Seek Travel. These draw on my personal experience to share unique itineraries, accommodation tips, & fun adventure guides covering hikes, viewpoints, beaches, waterfalls, & tours. Read my Publishing Ethics Statement.

Your feedback & updates are crucial to keep my guides factual & current. Got new info or updates? Drop a comment below or contact me directly.

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I only make genuine, worthwhile recommendations based on my experience, expertise, & research. If you buy through my links, I may get a commission, supporting this website at no extra cost to you.

Sossity

Wednesday 26th of July 2023

Thank you. Really helpful!

cherie

Wednesday 4th of January 2023

Thanks for your comparison! We are tossing up between going to one of the islands for our honeymoon and cant believe how much cheaper Fitzroy Island is vs Green Island and wanted to make sure it was just as good before booking!

Dianne Bennett

Sunday 25th of September 2022

Thank you SO MUCH for your tip on using GetYourGuide for flights over reef. After reading your piece this morning we booked the 40 min flight over Green Island and reefs and it was absolutely wonderful! Very reasonable price too. Thanks again. - two elderly Poms