Fitzroy Island vs Green Island – if you had to choose one, which is the better tropical island near Cairns?
They both offer an opportunity for snorkelling, swimming, and enjoying tropical rainforest on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef.However, we don’t all have enough time to visit all of the incredible islands off Cairns. So, if you have to pick one, which would it be?
I spent several months in Cairns, sailing and taking day trips to many epic islands off the coast. I’ve personally visited Fitzroy Island and Green Island several times. 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.
- Fitzroy Island vs Green Island – Which is Better?
- Fitzroy Island Summary
- Green Island Summary
- A Thorough Comparison of Fitzroy Island & Green Island
- Reasons to Visit Fitzroy Over Green Island
- Reasons to Visit Green Island Over Fitzroy Island
- What About the Outer Great Barrier Reef Cays?
- Fitzroy Island vs Green Island – The Verdict
- More Cairns and Far North Queensland Travel Guides
I'm Olly, a full-time traveler for the past 5 years. I visit every destination I write about & handpick all recommendations.
Fitzroy Island vs Green Island - Which is Better?
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. That said, each island offers its unique appeal and plenty of fun activities that are better suited to different types of travelers.
To help you quickly gauge which island might suit your preferences best, I've compiled this comparison table.
|Fitzroy Island||Green Island|
|Snorkelling||Abundant turtles||Healthier corals, diverse marine life|
|Hiking||Summit hike (375m peak)||Flat, rainforest walks|
|Beaches||Nudey Beach (can get crowded)||Multiple beaches|
|Activities||Snorkelling, swimming, diving, hiking||Wide variety, including helicopter flights|
|Price||Cheaper ferry ($89)||More expensive boat trip ($110)|
|Best Day Trip||Ferry & snorkeling trip||Catamaran & snorkelling trip|
|Accommodation||Fitzroy Island Resort||Green Island Resort|
|Distinctive Feature||Larger, more rugged island||Smaller, flatter island with a unique rainforest|
|Experience Type||Adventure & wildlife||Relaxation & diverse activities|
This table serves as a snapshot of what each island has to offer, drawing from my direct experiences and offering you insights that go beyond the surface.
Both islands are easily accessed via either a fast boat or private snorkelling and island hopping tours.
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 a little easier.
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.
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.
A Thorough Comparison of Fitzroy Island & Green Island
Now that you know what to expect from each island, let's compare them for the different reasons why you'd be looking to visit an island from Cairns. I'll judge each based on the following and let you know which island is better for each:
- Snorkelling and Diving: Comparing underwater clarity and marine life between Fitzroy and Green Islands, each a gateway to the vibrant Great Barrier Reef.
- Nature and Wildlife: Assessing the biodiversity on land and beneath the waves to see which island offers a richer natural experience.
- Hiking Opportunities: Exploring which island offers superior trails for hiking and nature walks
- Great Beaches: Find out which island boasts superior beaches for relaxation
- Activities: Finding the better destination for adventure activities like kayaking and paddleboarding.
- Cost to Visit: Breaking down the expenses involved in visiting each island to see which offers better value for money.
1. 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.
2. 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!
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. Best Island for Acitivies: 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.
6. Which Island is Cheaper 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
- Snorkelling or Diving Day Trip with Down Under Cruise & Dive (the best boat)
- Fitzroy & Moore Reef Full-Day GBR Cruise by Sunlover (great for seeing Fitzroy and Moore Reef)
- Overnight GBR Cruise with Sunlover (Pontoon Experience)
- Great Barrier Reef Scenic Flight from Cairns (cheapest way to see the GBR from the sky)
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!
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.
Alternatively, check out my Port Douglas accommodation guide for more ideas on where to stay in Far North Queensland.
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.
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.
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.
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?
- 60+ Things to do in Cairns - my ultimate Cairns and FNQ travel resource covering the best activities, hidden gems, and unmissable experiences.
- Cairns Tours - my roundup of the best tours you can book in Cairns and FNQ, from the Great Barrier Reef to the Daintree Rainforest.
- Cairns Packing List - tips on what to pack for a trip to Far North Queensland.
- Top Things to Do in Port Douglas - a comprehensive guide to the sleepy Far North Queensland town of Port Douglas.
- Epic 5-Day Cairns Itinerary - my suggested adventure itinerary if you only have 5 days to spend in Cairns.
- Cape Tribulation Travel Guide - discover where the rainforest meets the reef at one of my favourite places in Australia.
- Cairns Hiking Guide - a huge list of epic rainforest, waterfall, and lookout hikes in Cairns.
- Cairns Waterfalls - a huge list of epic waterfalls that I've visited in Cairns and the surrounding tropics.
- Cairns Islands - discover my favorite Great Barrier Reef islands near Cairns and Port Douglas.
- Magnetic Island Travel Guide - your ultimate resource for visiting "Maggie" near Townsville.
- Best Things to do in the Atherton Tablelands - my guide to one of Far North Queensland's most underrated adventure destinations.
- Accommodation Resources: Discover where to stay in Cairns, the best hotels in Port Douglas and my Cape Tribulation accommodation guide.