Daytripping at Fitzroy Island Australia
Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is one of natural world’s seven wonders. The world’s largest coral reef has over 3,000 individual reef sysems and coral cays and 880 islands. Many of the excursions involved day trips to permanently anchored pontoons in the outer reef area. We decided to spend our day instead at reef-fringed Fitzroy Island. This unspoiled island is on the Inner Barrier of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area’s Central Region. See how our day trip unfolded in this tropical paradise.
Our cruise to the island started off at Cairns Reef Terminal. This was where many of the other cruises to the outer islands or pontoons depart. It was a fairly smooth and quick 45-minute ride to Fitzroy Island aboard a catamaran which passed by uninhabited islands.
The island and its rainforest provided a stunning backdrop and the turquoise waters looked so inviting. Fitzroy Island has a total fo 838 acres (339 hectares). 95% of it is protected and reserved as Fitzroy Island National Park. We loved how unspoiled most of it looked with hardly any structures.
Fitzroy Island was originally part of the mainland but was separated from it during the end of an Ice Age about 8,000 years ago. It has a rich history with the Aboriginals to the island being used as a Chinese Quarantine Station. It was also used as a Mission School and a military base during World War II. In addition to the National Park and its beaches, the island is also now home to Fitzroy Island Resort with varying island accommodations that ranged from beach cabins to a three bedroom penthouse.
This was the dock leading to the resort as we stepped off the boat.
Many of the people on our cruise seemed to be staying at the resort. We were among the few day trippers during a July Tuesday and loved that it was uncrowded. The island is lucky enough to have a tropical climate year round with ocean breezes. Temperatures here range from 75 – 88 F (24 – 31 C) during the summer and 66 – 77 F(19 – 25 C ) in winter. It got cloudy at times but we were very comfortable with no humidity.
The resort also had a restaurant, a very nice pool, game room, indoor movie theater, mini supermarket and wellness area. There were enough activities to keep everyone occupied. But, it was also wonderful to see that this resort development had minimal impact to its natural surroundings.
Welcome Bay, in front of the resort, was appropriately named and lined with small boats and water recreational sports equipment. One of the most popular attraction was the water trampoline. My kids didn’t want to leave this but who can really blame them?
The great thing about Fitzroy and its resort is that one can make it action packed or do nothing at all. We decided to do a mix of both. We booked a package deal that included the catamaran transfer to get here, a Glass Bottom Boat Tour and Snorkeling. Day tour packages can be customized. This map greeted us and gave an idea just how vast the island was.
Our first activity was the 1.5 hour Glass Bottom Boat tour for viewing the fringe coral reef. There were two tours daily, one at 10AM which included the snorkeling and at 1:30 PM which was the dry boat with only coral viewing. This was a great way to see the marine life and corals in the area. It’s most likely not as much or as diverse to ones further in the outer reef but was still quite special.
Despite the limited views through glass paneled viewing areas in the middle of the boat, it still provided a good insight into the reef’s diversity. We have never seen so many varieties of corals before. The boat stopped and set anchor a few miles off shore. One of my husband’s travel wish list has been to snorkel at the Great Barrier Reef. Well, this was as close to it as he was going to get. Unfortunately, we only got about 45 minutes.
Even though the weather was fairly comfortable and sunny, the water was freezing even with a wet suit on. Well, it was their winter season after all. Here’s a little clip of our snorkeling.
One of Fitzroy’s most popular beach is Nudey Beach. And it’s really not what its name implies. No, we didn’t see any nude people. We were told that this was once popular with nude sunbathers before the island was developed. Fortunately, not anymore and was more family-friendly.
It took us about 20 minutes to leisurely walk the 1.8 km trail through a tropical rainforest to reach the beach but was worth every step. The walking trail was dubbed the Secret Garden. It involved some boardwalks and climbing on boulder steps which the kids enjoyed. We were glad we finally got to do a “bush walk” in Australia.
It was exciting to spot these white sulphur-crested cockatoos on the trees native to Australia and New Guinea. They were such beauties. Can you spot them?
As we got near the beach, it was unbelievable just how much broken and dead coral was here. Wear appropriate footwear when walking on these coral strewn shores.
There weren’t that many people here compared to Welcome Bay so it felt more secluded and a lovely place to actually relax. There were some nice, sandy areas near the water so it’s not completely covered with coral. It was easy to find our own little area to hang out.
It was too cold to swim or snorkel so my kids were content with playing on the sand and corals.
The right side area of the beach also had these rocks which my kids enjoyed climbing on.
I have caught my husband sleeping in some weird places all over the world. I even wrote a post dedicated to him about it awhile back. Here’s an addition of him sleeping against a rock. It looked uncomfortable but he really was knocked out for awhile. The ocean breeze and sound of the waves must have helped a lot.
One of the attractions we looked forward to doing was visiting the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre’s Fitzroy Island campus. Tickets can’t be reserved online but must be purchased and scheduled when on the island. There are limited spaces. They are available at the mini market and resort reception desk.
Our guide took us on a short walk to the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre. We entered a small area and there was a large, above the ground pool with a few tortoises swimming around. We all gathered around it to learn more about them and get a closer look.
These tortoises were rescued off the shores here and will eventually be released back to the ocean. It was heartbreaking to learn the conditions of some of the turtles that came here whether they were trapped in a fishing net or hurt from a boat’s motor. It’s a wonderful program that has many stories of success. It’s also completely run by volunteers.
It was pretty entertaining to watch our guide feed them broccoli. I doubt my kids even heard what was being said because they were so fascinated watching the turtles’ every move. We loved that the turtles got really close to us during many occasions but weren’t allowed to touch them. They were very playful and loved all the attention.
Visitors can also explore many of the walking trails like a steep trail to a lighthouse and the Summit Walk that lead to high vantage points and lookouts. Unfortunately, we didn’t have enough time to venture here.
Fitzroy Island was one of the highlights of our trip to Australia. Even though most of it was a designated National Park, there were enough attractions and activities here to satisfy everyone’s varying interests. The island was accessible, fun, beautiful and offered a range of activity options. It’s an ideal trip for families or for romantic getaways whether for the day or on an extended stay. Don’t miss this island when visiting Cairns or the Great Barrier Reef.
Visiting Fitzroy Island Basics and Tips
- Getting to Fitzroy island: Three of the companies that provide transfers and day trips to the island. Raging Thunder, Fitzroy Island’s Fast Cat and Sunlover Reef Cruises.
- Prices vary depending on the company and Day Tour Packages. These are from the Fitzroy Island site which we used. Prices (in Australian dollars as of Jan 2015): Fast Cat Transfers only – $72 adult; Kids (under 12) $36 ; Family (2 adults/2kids) $190; Fast Cat, Glass Bottom boat tour and Snorkeling: $98 adult; Kids (under 12) $56 ; Family (2 adults/2kids) $275
- Book ahead. We booked our tour online with Fast Cat in advance before we got there to ensure we could go on a particular day and time. We took the 8 AM cruise and left the island at 5 PM. We were sent email instructions on where to go to board the catamaran.
- Head straight to the dive shop at the resort after getting off the boat to book your coral viewing and snorkeling tour especially if there are a lot of people here for the day. Tours depart everyday at 10:00AM (includes snorkeling) and at 1:30pm (dry boat).
- There is also a diving school (beginner to certified) and a booth to rent stand-up paddle boards (SUP) and kayaks.
- Lockers are available at the resort for $7AUS for a couple of hours.
- Foxy’s bar, the mini-market and the resort’s restaurants were the only ones selling food. Pack water, sunscreen, snacks, sandwiches or your own picnic basket . The mini-supermarket has limited inventory and as expected, available merchandise is expensive.
- Bring water shoes for everyone since you will be walking on coral beaches. Your feet will thank you.