Ever wanted to snorkel with a turtle? We did that and discovered so much more when we went snorkelling on Green Island. Highlights included colourful clams, parrotfish, rabbitfish, fringing reef, a Moorish Idol and Eagle Ray. We stayed overnight, which allowed us to also enjoy the sunset fish feeding with complimentary glass of bubbles and some sunrise jetty jumping. Green Island is a 6,000 year old coral cay and part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. It’s beautiful and just a short boat ride from the mainland, so what are you waiting for?
Snorkelling on Green Island showcases fringing reef with hard and soft corals and array of marine life.
Green Island is 27km offshore from Cairns. If you don’t have your own boat (and we don’t), there are a few different reef operators who provide tours and transfers to and from Cairns to Green Island. The beauty of this, is that you can pick and choose the time and tour to best suit your needs. The earliest departure from Cairns is at 8am aboard Ocean Free, which provides a beautiful day tour to Green Island and Pinnacle Reef, returning to Cairns around 5pm. Great Adventures has two departure times from Cairns – 8.30am and 10.30am – and three return times from Green Island – being 9.30am (if you’ve stayed overnight), 2.30pm and 4.30pm. Finally, there’s Big Cat Green Island Reef Cruises which departs from Cairns at 9am, 11am and 1pm and has one return time, being 5pm.
“We’ve travelled and experienced all three of the Green Island reef tours from Cairns. While each provide comfortable travel between Cairns and Green Island, the boats, tours and actual time spent in transit are all different. Ocean Free is a sailing boat, providing a peaceful 2-hour journey from Cairns to Green Island. Great Adventures has large, modern catamarans which shoot over to Green Island in just 45 minutes, while Big Cat Green Island Reef Cruises’ catamarans take about 75 minutes to make the journey from Cairns to Green Island.” – Julie Johnston
Green Island is a 12ha coral cay believed to be 6,000 years old. It’s within the sea country of the Guru-Gulu Gungandji Aboriginal people and was sighted by Lieutenant James Cook in 1770. The first ‘official’ tourist ferry service between Cairns and Green Island commenced in 1928 and operated every second Sunday, with guests having to row ashore. The island’s first jetty was constructed in 1931 and has been replaced several times since then. Over the years we’ve visited and snorkelled at Green Island on numerous occasions, so if you are wondering where the best place to snorkel on Green Island is – we believe it’s under and adjacent to the jetty. This can be reached from the beach, or our top tip is to use the stairs, which are located halfway along the jetty, between the boats and the beach – these put you right in the middle of the action.
Things you might see snorkelling at Green Island include Green Sea Turtles (we had several lovely moments watching a curious turtle explore the coral gardens), Parrotfish, Rabbitfish, Butterflyfish, Starfish, Clams (small and large), Moorish Idols, Chromis, Barracudas, Giant Trevally, Sea Cucumbers and an array of hard and soft corals. If you stay overnight at the Green Island Resort, which we did, there is a sunset fish feeding session at the jetty, which is when we saw several Black-tipped Reef Sharks. This also provided the opportunity for sunrise jetty jumps and snorkel sessions, during which we saw an Eagle Ray, Octopus, more Turtles and many different varieties of reef fish.
Where can you get snorkelling equipment on Green Island? If you are travelling with any of the reef tour operators mentioned above, then snorkelling equipment is generally included in your day tour / overnight tour price. On Ocean Free and Big Cat Green Island Reef Cruises, they provide your snorkelling equipment to you on the boat. If you are travelling with Great Adventures, then you collect your snorkelling equipment from the Dive / Snorkel Shop on Green Island. Generally speaking, the snorkelling equipment provided for the day is a mask and snorkel, fins and either a lycra sunsuit or wetsuit (pending time of year), but this may vary between operators.
Where can you snorkel on Green Island? Other than under and around the jetty, you can also snorkel on Green Island’s outer reef and fringing reef. Ocean Free has an exclusive mooring at Pinnacle Reef, which is 1km offshore from Green Island and has colourful coral gardens for you to explore. For those snorkelling from the island itself, if you have reasonable fitness and confidence as a snorkeller in the open water, you can swim out past where the big boats are moored to the jetty, here will you find some coral walls and shelves with a diverse array of marine life. Please note, if you are snorkelling from the beach by the jetty, then depending on the tide, you can expect to swim over sandy flats for quite a while before reaching any coral and reef (hence our tip on using the stairs).
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During our October stay at Green Island, we snorkelled with turtles on at least 5 occasions.
Yes, there are turtles on Green Island. We saw several Green Sea Turtles, but other species live in the waters here too, including Hawksbill Turtles.
The turtles we saw while snorkelling at Green Island are ‘wild’ sea turtles, so while I can tell you where we saw them, there is no guarantee they will be at the same place when you visit. But, to answer the question, we snorkelled with turtles at Green Island in the fringing reef ‘in front’ of the boat moorings at the jetty. For a guaranteed sighting you can visit Marineland Melanesia Crocodile Park, which is located on Green Island – an entry fee applies which is in addition to any reef tour costs.
Yes, Green Island is good for snorkelling as long as you know where to go, which we have covered in this story.
Yes, because you are snorkelling from an island, you have complete control over how deep and how far you want to go. Additionally, if you are snorkelling around the jetty, you are on the leeward side of the island and as such are protected from the winds and can expect generally calm surface conditions.
In our opinion, Green Island provides much better snorkelling than Fitzroy Island. We have snorkelled at several locations at Fitzroy Island and while there are corals and marine life, there is much more ‘reef’ and diversity of marine life to be found snorkelling at Green Island.
Green Island is 27km offshore from Cairns. The time taken to get there all depends on how and who you choose to travel with. We’ve provided times and details in this story.
Yes, Green Island is a part of the Great Barrier Reef and is considered one of the most popular and accessible reef islands.
Yes, you can buy lunch on Green Island. Green Island has a resort and there are several places you can purchase lunch which include the Canopy Grill and The Café, as well as Emeralds Restaurant & Bar (although at the time of writing this – December 2022 – only resort guests staying at the island can purchase meals from Emeralds). You can also take your own lunch.
Yes, Green Island is in the Great Barrier Reef and it’s also a part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.
The Reef Fleet Terminal does not have public car parking. However, you can park your car underneath the nearby Pier Shopping Centre, which is about a 7 minute walk to the Reef Fleet Terminal, or in the aboveground car park which is between the Reef Fleet Terminal and Esplanade Lagoon pool. Charges apply at all parking areas. The Reef Fleet Terminal is where the tour boats depart Cairns to Green Island.
No, snorkelling at Green Island is not the same as the outer reef. When you visit outer reef destinations, the reef itself is more ‘plentiful’ and diverse in appearance and characteristic, with reef walls, coral gardens, bommies and swim throughs. You can also expect to see a greater quantity and variety of marine life.
No, you do not need to bring your own snorkelling equipment to Green Island. All of the reef operators either provide or hire snorkelling equipment, as does the Dive / Snorkel Shop on Green Island itself.
Yes, there are sharks in the waters surrounding Green Island, and in most places on the Great Barrier Reef. Sharks are a natural part of the marine environment. During our many visits to Green Island we have only ever seen reef sharks at one time / moment, which is during the scheduled sunset fish feeding from the jetty. At this time, a few black and white tipped reef sharks come to feed, as do numerous giant trevally and other marine species.
Green Island is relatively close to Cairns and can be visited on day tours, or longer stays when you check-in to the Green Island Resort. The island itself is a 12ha coral cay, which developed around 6,000 years ago on top of a reef platform. Since then, the island has ‘grown’ and is today home to closed vine forest, which provides shade to the island’s interior. Over 134 plant species have been identified here and you can see some of them from the island’s boardwalks. In addition to fringing and offshore reef, Green Island also has extensive sea grass meadows, which provide feeding grounds for turtles and other marine creatures. The snorkelling here is suitable for beginners and can be done straight off the beach. In addition to snorkelling you can book glass bottom boat tours, scuba diving – introductory and certified – and you can also rent kayaks. Cairns to Green Island reef tours operate very day of the year and you can choose half day, full day or longer stays.
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