Michaelmas Cay is a small sand cay located on the famous Cairns Great Barrier Reef. In my opinion, visiting the outer reef was one of the best experiences I had in Cairns.
So, if you’re looking to visit the best of the Great Barrier Reef, make sure you don’t miss a trip to Michaelmas Cay.
How to Get to Michaelmas Cay and the Outer Reef
Cairns has become one of the most popular places to visit on the Australian East Coast. This is due to the relatively easy access it provides to the reef.
When you’re planning your outer reef trip, there are dozens of different coral cays and reefs to choose from. In my opinion, one of the best is Michaelmas Cay.
To get here, it’s a 40 KM boat ride North East of Cairns.
You can book a trip to Michaelmas Cay online with Ocean Spirit Cruises. This will cost roughly $220 per person. However, it includes a full day of cruising past the Great Barrier Reef Islands, snorkeling at the reef, and a glass-bottom boat ride.
On the way, you’ll pass the popular Green Island. This is one of the best islands to visit close to Cairns, as you can enjoy tropical island rainforest and coral reefs on the same day!
If you’re looking for other options to visit the outer reef, then you can book this complete Great Barrier Reef Cruise here.
READ THE FULL BLOG POST: Green Island, Cairns – Your Complete Guide to Great Barrier Reef Island Paradise
About Michaelmas Cay National Park and the Cairns Great Barrier Reef
Michaelmas and Upulu Reefs are National Parks and protected under the World Heritage Listing. As a result, they are pretty well looked after, besides the threat of coral bleaching due to climate change.
The reef was initially named Oyster Cay in 1849 but was later renamed when it was used by the beche-de-mar (sea cucumber) industry. It was recognized as an official National Park in 1975.
The small stretch of sand is located at the tip of Michaelmas Reef, which itself stretches for many kilometers further north.
The cay has little to no vegetation and resembled a sandbar with surrounding reef. There is no overnight camping at Michaelmas Cay, since the site is an important nesting place for birds. Furthermore, you can only walk on the sand cay inside the roped area, and only between 9:30 AM and 3:30 PM.
Bird Nesting Site
Up to 20 0000 birds in the peak nesting season. For a short time, the droppings left by the birds were collected and sold as guano. Since the National Park classification, the birds and reef have been much healthier. Now, only indigenous use is allowed by the traditional owners; the Gungandji, Mandingalbay-Yidinji and Yirriganydji people.
Snorkeling at Michaelmas Cay
The main attraction at Michaelmas Cay and the rest of the outer reef is the incredible snorkeling and diving.
If you book a boat, they will probably take you to some good snorkeling spots just off the edge of the cay. Here, you’ll see hundreds of species of healthy corals, large schools of fish and occasionally a cruising turtle.
Some tour companies even offer a guided snorkeling tour. This is a great way to learn about reef biodiversity.
Scuba Diving at the Outer Reef
Of course, scuba diving is probably the best way to experience Michaelmas Cay and the outer reef. However, you’ll need to book ahead either in Cairns or Port Douglas.
There are hundreds of businesses that offer trips to the reef. The dive sites will vary depending on the company and the weather conditions. If you’re interested in scuba diving day trips, then I can recommend Quicksilver for regular trips and reliable equipment.
If you’re a beginner and want a complete 5 Day Scuba Diving Course, then you can click that link to get a cheap online deal. This offers 9 dives, and you’ll get certified under PADI, which is the most recognised body in diving.
Scenic Helicopter Flight over Michaelmas Cay
Looking for a bit of adrenaline and the best possible view of Michaelmas Cay and the Great Barrier Reef? You can take a scenic flight over the cay and surrounding reefs.
Seeing the Great Barrier Reef from the sky is one of the most surreal views imaginable, and certainly one of the best things to do around Cairns.
Sailing and Anchorage Information at Michaelmas Cay
Michaelmas Cay is great for sailors and boaters since it’s a fairly quick and straight shot from Cairns Harbour. It took us roughly 2 hours to reach the cay from Green Island, and approximately 5 hours from Cairns in total.
There are two public courtesy moorings available if you want a convenient mooring close to the cay. To get here, you’ll need to navigate around the white reef markers and navigate through the bommies on the North end of the reef.
If none are available, it’s possible to anchor just outside the northern entrance to the cay in 16 meters of water.
Boaters and sailors looking for more information about Michaelmas Cay can do so here.
READ THE SAILING LOG: Sailing Log Week 11: Green Island and the Great Barrier Reef
Marine Stingers on the Reef?
If you’re already on the Great Barrier Reef, then you’ll have probably already have heard about the dangerous marine stingers.
It’s generally advised to wear a stinger suit in the summer months, as they are much more prevalent on the coast at this time. However, stingers are hardly ever seen on the outer reef, but it’s up to you to take precautions.
More Photos of Michaelmas Cay and the Great Barrier Reef
Already in Cairns and thinking about the next thing to do on your Great Barrier Reef itinerary? Hopefully, some of these aerial and underwater photos from Michaelmas Cay will inspire you to visit one of Queensland’s best destinations.