In Cairns City, there aren’t any sandy beaches. Despite being the famed jumping-off point for visits to the Great Barrier Reef, you won’t find a place to swim in the ocean in Cairns. It’s a massive mud pit that potentially has crocodiles lurking beneath the surface. A brief, 45-minute ferry ride away, however, is one of the most stunning places I’ve ever been. Fitzroy Island.
Fitzroy Island is a fantastic day trip to take from Cairns. It’s a lush island that is part of the Great Barrier Reef system, with beautiful, white-coral beaches and sparkling turquoise waters. There’s a hotel on the island if you want to stay longer than just a day, as well as camping options available on the national parkland. I bought my ticket the same day from the ferry terminal in Cairns, and it was $80 AUD for a return fare. Pack a towel, your mask and snorkel, sunscreen, and a water bottle and you’ll be set. I wish I would have brought a spare change of clothes, as there are showers and it would’ve been nice to be dry and out of my swimsuit, but it was fine in the end.
Getting to Fitzroy
There are several ferry options to reach Fitzroy Island, with 3 different companies to choose from. The earliest leaves from the Cairns marina at 8 A.M. but for me, that was a bit early, so I went with the Sun Lovers Reef Cruises, which left at 9 A.M. all of the ferry services are roughly the same price.
Thankfully, it’s a short journey from Cairns to Fitzroy, because if you’re like me, and you get seasick, it can be a rough ride on a ferry being tossed by waves. The free ginger tablets that the ferry service provided helped, but weren’t a full cure for my feelings of nausea. Thankfully I was able to get off the boat long before chunks started to fly.
Once on the island, I didn’t really have a plan for exploring. I walked first to Nudey Beach, considered one of the best beaches in Australia. I expected it to be swarmed with tourists, but when I got there, it was quiet, almost no one else was there. Despite what it looks like, it’s not a fine, white sandy beach. It’s composed of small pieces of white coral that have washed up off the reef. It does have one short stretch of sand to relax on if you arrive early and beat the crowds. This was the perfect spot to start with a morning snorkel. I was amazed at how close to shore I could see fish swimming about.
If you have water shoes, definitely bring them for walking on Nudey Beach. The coral pieces can be a bit painful underfoot. I had fun flying my drone here, it’s a picturesque place that photographs well from the sky.
Lunch on Fitzroy Island
There’s only one restaurant, Foxy’s Bar, and one small convenience shop on Fitzroy Island, so needless to say the prices are a bit steep, although I wasn’t shocked considering the massive size of the meals. I’d recommend bringing your own food if you’re a backpacker looking to save money, but if you want to sip a cold beer with a stunning view of the ocean, don’t hesitate to stop here.
The prices for drinks were comparable to anywhere else in Australia, and the scenery was well worth it. The portion sizes of the meals were generous as well – the fish and chips platters I saw were enormous!
After lunch, I hiked one of the nearby trails through the woods, and almost had a heart attack when I noticed that a stick that was moving across the path in front of me was actually a snake! I took a video of it as it slithered into a thick bush, and a local ranger said it was a scrub python. Not venomous, thankfully, but still was scary to almost step on.
There are 4 different walking trails to do on Fitzroy, depending on how much time you have. If I were to go back, I’d definitely do the lighthouse track first, since it takes longer. I didn’t have time to do it this trip, and I’d recommend visitors to do it first thing when they arrive. You might as well work up a sweat and an appetite instead of swimming first thing, however by swimming earlier, I had the gorgeous Nudey Beach to myself. I guess when traveling you have to make these sorts of decisions a lot.
The ferry back to the mainland came around 4:15. Be sure to pay attention to the timetable of your specific ferry company – they all come and go at different times.
I arrived back in Cairns at the marina around 5 in the afternoon, so perfect time to head back and get dinner. Fitzroy Island was one of my favourite things I’ve done so far, it’s a great day trip to take from Cairns. When traveling, I think it’s important to find a balance between booking group tours where all the work is done for you, and figuring out how to do a trip yourself, and spending some time alone or just with your travel companions. While I thoroughly enjoyed my time on the group tour to the waterfalls with Uncle Brian’s Tours, if you’re looking to connect with nature, get away from the crowds, and just relax in the stunning beauty of tropical Queensland.