Discover how to explore the Frankland Islands, a group of 5 amazing Great Barrier Reef Islands, from Cairns, Australia.
The incredible Frankland Islands are one of the least-visited islands off Cairns. However, with amazing snorkeling and some of the healthiest coral reefs around, these hidden gems make for one of the best Great Barrier Reef Island day trips you can experience!
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 my 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!
- Frankland Islands Video
- Where are the Frankland Islands?
- What to Expect on a Frankland Island Day Trip From Cairns
- Review: Should You Visit the Frankland Islands?
- More Cairns Islands and Epic Day Trips
By Olly Gaspar, traveler, travel blogger & photographer for 5+ years with 600+ published travel guides. I visit every place I write about & share real tips from what I learn.
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.
However, there's only one organised day trip from Cairns visiting Normanby Island, which is the best Frankland Island for snorkelling and the one that I recommend after visiting each.
How to Get to the Frankland Islands
As I mentioned, there's only one company licensed to operate tours and day trips to the Frankland Islands and this is exactly how I first got here.
Frankland Island Reef Cruises have operated in FNQ 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. This makes it really accessible for anyone staying in Cairns.
$5 OFF your Frankland Islands tour online with Backpacker Deals when you use code: OLLY5
If you want to save money, I recommend booking this deal with my partner BackpackerDeals and using code OLLY5 to get $5 off (making it $214). This is currently the cheapest way to get to the Frankland Islands since there are no discounts if booking directly.
This is the same all-inclusive Frankland Island day trip that I went on and covered in this blog post. Don't worry, you don't have to be a backpacker to take advantage of this cheaper deal!
While the Frankland Island tours are more expensive than Fitzroy or Green Island, I believe it's well worth it since the snorkelling is far better than both.
What to Expect on a Frankland Island Day Trip From Cairns
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 are:
- 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 island for snorkelling)
- Use of snorkel gear, stinger suits, water gear like kayaks, SUPS, etc.
- A guided snorkel tour with a Great Barrier Reef marine guide
- Guided Island Walk
- Delicious morning tea, lunch and afternoon tea
While island transfers to Green Island and Fitzroy Island are generally cheaper, I recommend the Frankland Islands for those who want to witness a healthy reef ecosystem that I believe rivals the outer reef.
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 provides 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.
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.
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.
Why is 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.
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 really delicious. The team offered a wide range of fresh fruits, salads, meats and cooked dishes.
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.
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!
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 Cairns tour you're looking to book for you.
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, scenic flights, and helicopter tours 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. This is one of my favorite tours in Cairns!
Remember, you can get a $5 discount on any tours at BackpackerDeals.com 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!
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 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.
If you want to stay on a tropical island, check out my review of Fitzroy Island Resort, or get inspired for Fitzroy with this summit hiking guide.
- 60+ Things to do in Cairns - my ultimate Cairns and FNQ travel resource covering the best activities, hidden gems, and unmissable experiences.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.