A complete and up-to-date travel guide to visiting Green Island from Cairns, Australia. Includes everything you need to know about how to get to Green Island, what to do there, things to see and how to make the most of your trip!
Visiting Green Island is the quintessential tropical Cairns island experience. Lush rainforest edges onto white coral-lined shores with tranquil turquoise waters stretch as far as the eye can see. For many, it takes the cake for the best Great Barrier Reef Island close to Cairns.
If pictures of Green Island Cairns don’t inspire you to visit, then please, take my word for it. I’ve visited Green Island over a dozen times while staying up in Cairns. I’ve taken both the regular ferry tour boats and sailed myself. In this blog post, I aim to provide you with all the information you need to visit Green Island from Cairns yourself and share some of my photos to inspire your visit.
- How to Get to Green Island From Cairns
- How Long Does the Ferry Take to Get to Green Island?
- Staying at the Green Island Resort
- Best Things to Do on Green Island
- Is there a Captive Croc on Green Island?
- Advice to Make the Most of a Day Trip to Green Island From Cairns
- Planning a Trip to Cairns
- Green Island Sailing and Anchorage Information
- FAQ About Visiting Green Island
- More Cairns Travel Articles & Adventure Guides
I'm Olly, a full-time traveler for the past 5 years. I visit every destination I write about & handpick all recommendations.
How to Get to Green Island From Cairns
The first step is finding out how to get to Green Island. Luckily there are several ferry options to choose from, departing from Cairns Harbour daily.
However, each option varies in terms of offering and price.
By far, the most cost-effective option is a fast-catamaran sailing and snorkelling trip. I've been on this trip and I had a great time. I have no problem recommending this tour since it includes everything you'd want for a great island day trip:
- You can design your own Green Island itinerary
- Fast-cat return transfer
- Free access to the Green Island glass-bottom boat
- Access to the air-con boat and time to explore the island
- Choose your times: earliest is 8:30 am and the latest return is 4:30 pm
How Long Does the Ferry Take to Get to Green Island?
Wondering how long it'll take to get to this incredible Great Barrier Reef Island from Cairns?
In total, the trip only takes about 45 minutes from Cairns Reef Terminal if you're taking the fast catamaran boat above. This is quite a quick trip since the catamaran absolutely steams out here!
However, on my other visits we sailed out here on our homebuilt yacht and this usually takes over 2 hours! This gives you a perspective of just how fast these boats are.
The distance is about 15 nautical miles (28 kilometers).
Staying at the Green Island Resort
Did you know that Green Island isn't only accessible to those on a day trip from Cairns?
You can also stay at Green Island by booking a room at the island resort.
The Green Island Resort is an eco-resort catering to luxurious travelers. They have incredible suites located on the island amidst lush rainforest. Each suite has a private balcony with a view of the rainforest or of one of the two on-site pools.
There's also a day spa at the Green Island Resort which offers spas, massages and beauty treatments.
Even if you're not usually a luxury traveller, you really can't go wrong by spending at least two days on Green Island. While there are plenty of beaches in Cairns, none of them offer the chance to swim out straight onto the Great Barrier Reef from the shore!
Best Things to Do on Green Island
Looking for some tropical Queensland travel inspiration? Green Island has an abundance of things to do, see and explore. In this section, I will share with you what to expect at Green Island Cairns so you can plan your itinerary and make a list of what to do once you arrive.
Still haven't made up your mind on which of the many islands off Cairns to visit? I've also written a comprehensive comparison guide that sums up the choice between Green Island and the popular Fitzroy. Make sure to check it out.
1. Explore the Reef: Snorkelling on Green Island
Wondering what to do on Green Island? You're in for a treat!
By far the most common reason why people want to visit Green Island is to snorkel or dive. The island is surrounded by reefs on all sides, which is home to hundreds of species of tropical fish and marine corals.
This makes snorkeling one of the best things activities on Green Island!
You don't really need to be picky when choosing a spot. In fact, you can snorkel pretty much everywhere around the island. However, the best sea life is always a little further out from the beach. You'll need to swim out a little past the sand patch and seaweed patches until you reach the bommies.
Just remember not to bring reef shoes! They encourage trampling on sensitive corals, even if you don't mean to.
2. Snorkel or Dive at the Pinnacle
The best snorkelling and diving site on Green Island is a small coral bommie known as the Pinnacle. It's best to take a boat out here, but if you're game, you can also make a 20-minute swim from shore.
It's a little tricky to find, but you can ask the local lifeguards on the beach, or just follow where the snorkeling boats moor up.
Once you arrive at the Pinnacle, there is a floating PVC construction that you can use to hold on.
While Green Island is great, by far, the best Great Barrier Reef Island off Cairns for snorkelling and seeing beautiful healthy corals is the Frankland Islands. Don't miss these ones!
3. See The Reef From a Glass Bottom Boat
If you booked the catamaran trip that I recommended at the start, then you'll have access to a glass-bottom boat trip included in your ticket!
The Green Island Glass Bottom boat is one of the best ways to immerse yourself in the Great Barrier Reef without actually getting wet!
What's best about this glass bottom boat trip is that it will take visitors to the outer bommies to experience the larger coral groups and resident fish.
So if you'd prefer to stay dry, then take advantage of this trip!
4. Swim With Turtles Around Green Island
Green Island is famous for being home to dozens of resident turtles. If you don't immediately see them cruising by when you're snorkeling, then you might need to go a little out of your way to find them.
The best place to spot turtles on the island is in the seagrass and sand flats section, left of the pier. You'll probably see them taking a breath on the surface or grazing on the bottom.
During my several visits to both Fitzroy Island and Green Island from Cairns, I always spot at least one turtle at each. However, I always see more turtles at Fitzroy Island.
5. Explore Green Island's Rainforest
Rainforest on a coral island? As crazy as it sounds, Green Island has its own rainforest ecosystem, which is home to hundreds of different bird species and wet tropical flora.
Once you get off the pier, you can walk past the resort and follow tracks that lead all the way around the island.
These tracks have boardwalks to make it an easy stroll through the rainforest.
Did you know? Green Island was born as a bare sandy cay? Over time, birds have brought seeds from the mainland which as terraformed the island and created a uniquely diverse rainforest ecosystem, right on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef!
6. Chill on the Beach
Keen to catch some rays after spending the day in the water? You can chill on the northern side of the island, just ahead and left from the pier. This area has a long stretch of white beach and is patrolled by lifeguards.
If you'd like a more secluded spot, I'd recommend walking all the way through, past the captive crocodile and onto the eastern end of the island. When I was here, I had the whole beach to myself for the afternoon and sunset. This spot is one of my favourites and chilling here is something everyone should do when visiting!
7. Take a Helicopter Ride for a Better View
If you'd like an experience of a lifetime and photo snaps you could only ever dream of, then you can book a scenic cruise and helicopter flight over Green Island. This isn't the most budget-friendly activity on Green Island at $400. But, it also includes a full-day cruise to Green Island with all the inclusions on available on the other tours.
Seeing the Great Barrier Reef from the sky is by far one of the greatest experiences you can have in Cairns. I haven't personally taken a helicopter from Green Island, but I have taken a scenic flight that passes it and I highly recommend this option if you want a separate half-day experience from Cairns.
Is there a Captive Croc on Green Island?
If you take the walking tracks, you'll probably see signs for the biggest crocodile in captivity; Cassius. He's said to be over 110 years old and was brought to Green Island from the mainland near Cairns over 30 years ago.
I don't support captive wildlife, and wouldn't recommend paying to see him, but it's best to know about it before you arrive.
Advice to Make the Most of a Day Trip to Green Island From Cairns
It wouldn't be a complete guide without some insider tips. Here are some quick ones that will hopefully help you out when planning your Green Island itinerary for activities and things to do.
1. When Is the Best Time to Visit Green Island?
It's possible to visit Green Island all year round. But, the best time to visit the island is from June to July. This period is outside of peak stinger season and has generally nice weather, averaging around 24-27 degrees during the day.
This is the great part about visiting Cairns. While the rest of Australia cools down for Winter, Cairns enters its prime beach season!
However, during this time, you'll need to pick your days as some can get quite windy. The calmest time of year is around November when the seas are flat and the wind stops. Still, if you visit Green Island during this time, expect hot and humid temperatures, and be wary of stingers in the water.
2. Make Sure to Get to Green Island Early
Green Island can get seriously packed in peak seasons.
My advice is to jump on the first ferry over to beat the crowds. If you want to make the most of the day trip to Green Island, then you could also stay a little longer.
I've noticed that most people start clearing out on the 3:30 PM ferries to head back to Cairns. So, if you want a less crowded boat and more time to explore, take the 4:30 PM ferry instead.
3. Bring Your Own Snorkel Gear
This goes without saying, you'll definitely want to bring some snorkeling gear. The island has some of the best reef accessible from Cairns, and there are plenty of turtles! If you book a trip from the link above, you'll get gear included.
In saying that, it's always better to have your own unless you like sharing germs with thousands of other tourists. A set of snorkels is a must when visiting Cairns and an essential item on anybody's Cairns packing list.
4. Be Reef Conscious
Remember, the Great Barrier Reef is the largest living organism on earth. Don't bring reef shoes, as they might encourage standing on the corals. Also, reef-safe sunscreen is a must!
Furthermore, this goes without saying but please ensure you take any waste back with you on the boat. This reduces the burden of transporting rubbish from the island.
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!
Planning a Trip to Cairns
Still in the planning stages of your trip to Cairns and the Tropical North? Here's a quick list of essential travel resources that I use to plan and book all my travels around the world independently.
Flights: Find & compare flight deals to Cairns International Airport using Skyscanner. Use the "search by month" feature to discover the cheapest day to fly.
Hostels: When it comes to scoring epic deals on hostels and cheap stays your secret weapon is Hostelworld. If you're traveling to Cairns to meet people, use the “See Who's Going” function.
Travel Insurance: HeyMondo is my top recommendation for travel insurance for Cairns and the Wet Tropics. They've got your back with comprehensive coverage, from unexpected flight hiccups to those "oops" moments. Click the link to get 5% OFF your policy.
Internet & Connectivity: Stay connected as soon as you land in Queensland with Airalo's eSIMS. Aussie sims will work. But if you're coming from overseas, I'd download their app and grab an eSIM before you set foot on Australian soil.
Car Rental: Don't overpay for a rental at the airport. Compare rental car prices across all dealerships in Cairns and Port Douglas. Use DiscoverCars to choose the perfect ride for your journey, whether it's a compact car or an SUV for off-road adventures.
Transportation: Public transport is limited to the natural attractions around Cairns and its best to use tour companies or rent a car. However, if you're arriving at the airport, or need a transfer between Cairns and Port Douglas, use the popular Cairns & Port Douglas shuttle.
To learn more about independent travel to anywhere else in the world, read my ultimate step-by-step guide on how to plan a trip.
Green Island Sailing and Anchorage Information
I've had the privilege of visiting Green Island and the rest of the Great Barrier Reef Islands several times on our own self-built sailing boat. Below is some information tailored to yachties and boaties looking to explore Green Island Cairns in their own vessels.
For sailors and those cruising the Aussie Coral Coast, you'll need to look out for bommies on the approach. There are three QLD courtesy buoys available to visitors for up to 24 hours. The first one is isolated on the western side, close to the jetty. This one looks a little more difficult to get to and will be more crowded with ferries and snorkel boats.
The other two are located a little further around to the north. You'll need to steer around the white buoys which mark the reef. Navionics and other chart plotters are pretty useless in mapping out the bommies, so once you get a straight shot into the buoys opposite the northern tip, you'll need to come in and keep an eye out.
It's also possible to anchor in the sand patch just past the curtesy buoys. There's a fair bit of swing room here and the sand is pretty good holding.
FAQ About Visiting Green Island
Want some quick information? Here are a few commonly asked questions and some things that I wish I knew the first time I visited Green Island.
The ideal time to visit Green Island is during the dry season, which falls between May and October. I've found that during these months, you get to experience calm seas, making water activities like snorkeling and scuba diving more enjoyable.
You'll want to pack light but be practical. I never forget to bring my underwater camera, reef-safe sunscreen, and a light jacket for the evenings. A good pair of walking shoes is also a must for exploring the island's interior since it's not that fun to walk barefoot on the rocks.
Yes, the island is a part of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. From my experience diving here, I can confirm that it offers some good, healthy and vibrant coral and marine life. However, it won't be as healthy as the Outer Reef. There are loads of isolated island cays out there.
I've recently written a comprehensive review of the best-rated Great Barrier Reef tour from Cairns run by the guys at Down Under Cruise and Dive. Head over to my blog or check out their offering on Klook below:
Yes, Green Island does offer accommodation options. I stayed at the Green Island Resort, which offers eco-friendly lodging.
More Cairns Travel Articles & Adventure Guides
No doubt, Green Island is one of the most epic islands on the Coral Coast. It's the only place where you can explore the rainforest and coral reefs on the same island paradise!
If you've enjoyed this guide to visiting Green Island from Cairns and you feel like you now have a good understanding of things to do, make sure you check out some of my other blog posts too!
- 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.