Think you’ve ‘done Cairns’? Don’t be so sure. We’ve been to Cairns many times over the years but only recently heard about Fitzroy Island. This island on the inner reef is home to some of the most accessible rainforest and fringing coral in Tropical North Queensland. Even better, it’s just a 45 minute trip on the Fitzroy Island ferry from Cairns to get there. You can take a day tour to Fitzroy Island which includes an activity or simply catch the ferry. Fitzroy Island is a haven for locals enjoying a getaway from Cairns and other savvy travellers who come here to stay at the affordable 4 star Fitzroy Island Resort. If you don’t want to stay overnight you can also book a day trip to soak up the tropical island vibe, visit a turtle rehabilitation centre, hike through the rainforest at Fitzroy Island National Park, and snorkel the reef. There is a Fitzroy Island camping site as well.
We opted for a one night stay to see if Fitzroy Island was for us. If you are planning on visiting this island, it’s best to wait and see what the weather is going to be like before you book. There are still things to do if it’s windy or rainy but Fitzroy Island is best enjoyed in good weather. When you arrive on the island, reception gets very busy with everyone trying to check-in so it’s best to head down to Foxy’s Bar for lunch while the line clears. Foxy’s is a casual bar and dining spot which serves excellent ‘pub meals’ and reasonably priced drinks. It’s a nice spot to chill out and is also open to day trippers visiting the island. Some parts of Fitzroy Island Resort like the swimming pool are for guest use only. If you aren’t ready for lunch you can fill some time booking activities at the Tour Desk. If you visit reception outside check-in and check-out time, it’s unlikely you’ll have to wait.
After lunch we checked into our Welcome Bay Suite which was fully self-contained and had a balcony with ocean views. The apartment also had a full kitchen, crockery and cooking utensils, large fridge freezer, hotplates and oven, microwave, dishwasher, guest laundry, iron and ironing board, toaster, plus tea and coffee facilities. You can also stay at one of the cute Butterfly Bungalows although these don’t have much of a view.
If you are staying for a few nights, it is worth bringing supplies from Cairns so you can eat in as well as dining the restaurants. There’s everything you need for a longer stay including a guest laundry down the hall. However, there’s no supermarket so you need to plan ahead. After dropping our bags we joined a tour of the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre. This departs from reception and takes around 45 minutes. Tours operate several times a day at a cost of $11.50 for adults and $7 for kids. This was one of our favourite activities on the island. Not just because it was extremely interesting but also because 100% of the entry fees go towards turtle conservation.
On our tour, we got to meet Jules the turtle who was just about to be released after a successful rehabilitation program. Jules had been hit several times with a spear with one (healed) wound still visible on her shell. This tour lets you get really close to one or more turtles and also find out how to help if you find one that’s injured. QANTAS flies injured turtles to the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre from around Australia at no cost and they also travel on the Fitzroy Island ferry for free in a special container to keep them safe.
Fitzroy Island doesn’t just have turtles in the rehabilitation centre, it is also home healthy turtles swimming in the clear waters surrounding the island. Unfortunately it was too windy for snorkelling with poor visibility when we visited, but White Rocks is the best snorkel spot to see them. With only one night to explore the island we also booked a sunset cruise on the “Eye Spy” catamaran. This comes with snacks and a non-alcoholic welcome drink but you’re also welcome to BYO alcohol. If you show your booking confirmation at Foxy’s Bar, you’ll get 20% off a bottle of wine to bring onboard.
It was windy on our sunset sail but “Eye Spy” handled the waves with ease. Along with a sliced fruit platter, there were also creamy local cheeses to enjoy. Only a maximum of 20 passengers are onboard for each sunset sail so it is never crowded but it’s worth boarding early for a ‘first class seat’ at the front of the catamaran. After the sunset sail we went to dinner at Zephyr Restaurant which is helmed by an Executive Chef who originally worked for the Four Seasons. Don’t be fooled by this restaurant’s simple laid back island vibe as the food is superb. It is also reasonably priced, especially for a resort, which was a pleasant surprise. I haven’t been able to get a juicy 200g eye fillet steak for $40 at a Brisbane restaurant in years.
After breakfast we managed to squeeze in the 45 minute return walk to Nudey Beach (which, contrary to what you might think, isn’t a nudist beach). Many of the island’s walking trails were created during World War II when the island was converted to a military base to protect the mainland from invasion. The paths are easy to navigate but there are lots of rocky steps which may not suit older travellers or those travelling with littlies. Fitzroy Island has some most accessible rainforest and fringing coral on the Great Barrier Reef, and there are plenty of ways to explore it. If you have better weather than us you can take a glass bottom boat tour. It looked like the one scheduled for the day we were leaving came with a pot of gold.
Disclosure: The writers travelled as guests of Tourism Tropical North Queensland.