Fitzroy Island is “where the rainforest meets the reef,” reachable by a 45-minute ferry from mainland Cairns in tropical North Queensland. The 833-acre private island is freely accessible to the public, making a Fitzroy Island day trip one of our favorite things to do during our 10-day visit to the Australian coast.
Located within the inner barrier of the Great Barrier Reef (one of the seven natural wonders of the world), Fitzroy Island National Park is a protected and pristine paradise of idyllic turquoise beaches, tropical rainforests, marine life, and spectacular hikes.
Fitzroy – a continental island, not a coral cay – separated from mainland Australia about 8000 years ago, due to rising water levels at the end of the last Ice Age. Subsequently, the indigenous Gurabana Gunggandji culture hunted and fished on the island.
Lieutenant James Cook named the island in 1770 after Augustus Henry Fitzroy, and in 1877 it was used as a Chinese small box quarantine station to screen immigrants heading for the Queensland goldfields. Later, Fitzroy was home to an Aboriginal mission school and then converted into a military base during World War II to protect Australia’s mainland from invasion.
In 2010 Fitzroy Island Resort opened and remains the only privately-owned island resort in Australia.
We loved our Fitzroy Island day trip! Here are our seven suggestions for things to do on Fitzroy Island to make your Australia holidays memorable!
1. Raging Thunder
We made the trip to Fitzroy on the modern catamaran, Raging Thunder. It was a quick trip and very soon we spied the crystal clear waters of Fitzroy’s main beach, Welcome Bay.
We rented lockers so as to not be laden down with different equipment/accessories we would need during various parts of the day.
2. Snorkel at Welcome Bay
The calm clear water at Welcome Bay is perfect for snorkeling and for underwater photography. No sharks, but consider wearing a stinger suit.
In addition to our GoPro, we brought our Optical Corrective Snorkeling Mask and snorkels, but you can rent equipment from a hut on the beach. We did rent stinger suits, though, just to be safe, because we were there in April, and stinger jellyfish season is from October through May.
Depending on how far out you venture, you can observe rich marine life, including clownfish, angelfish, trumpet fish, anemonefish, green sea turtles, and even whales between July & September.
We didn’t venture too far out, but had a lot of fun as Kary learning how to use the features of the GoPro while I swam in and out of the frame . After getting some really cool videos and shots, I said to him, “Great! I think we got enough. I’m getting out now.”
“I’d like to actually snorkel, you know, without worrying about taking pictures,” he retorted.
“Oh, yeah. I guess we should do that,” I said. And so we did. I love my photo ops and sometimes forget it’s about the journey too!
Important note: Be sure to pack water shoes. The beach is made up of sharp pieces of coral. I did not have water shoes and had one heck of a time tiptoeing gingerly into the water. When I got to where the water was up to my knees, I leaped out into the water to avoid more pain to my feet. It was so bad that Kary offered to carry me out of the water when we were finished snorkeling.
3. Hiking Trails
97% of the island is swathed in a lush, tropical rainforest.
The easiest and shortest walking trail leads to the Secret Garden where you can commune with hundreds of butterflies.
For those desiring a more challenging hike, there’s also the historic lighthouse trail on the eastern end of the island. If you want to do this hike, make sure you bring sneakers – flip flops won’t do. Bring plenty of water because the path is steep in places. At the top, you’ll be rewarded with panoramic views of the Coral Sea.
Summit trek leads further on from the lighthouse to the highest vantage point on the island. The birds-eye views all the way to the Great Barrier Reef are magnificent, but it takes a certain level of fitness (and time commitment) to accomplish this hike.
A typical open-air tropical beach bar right on the beachfront, Foxy’s was perfectly located right in the middle of our hike to Nudey Beach.
The views from the beach bar went right out to the coconut palms gently sloping into the shimmering Coral Sea.
Foxy’s has an excellent, casual, café-style menu and provides a wide range of food and drink options, like our beer and French Fries.
5. Nudey Beach
Aha! Fooled you, didn’t I? Once a clothing-optional beach, Nudey – Fitzroy’s second beach – is no longer a naked beach, so don’t plan on swimming au naturale because public nudity is illegal in Queensland.
Fitzroy Island floats in the calm, iridescent turquoise of the Coral Sea. Giant boulders are strewn across the beach giving it an otherworldly look. Unlike the sharp coral on Welcome Bay, Nudey Beach has soft golden sand.
Nudey beach was voted the Number One Best Beach in Australia for 2018, by Brad Farmer from 101 Beaches, and it’s one of the most photographed beaches in Queensland.
It does take about a 20-minute hike from Welcome Bay to find the beach, though. The path is hilly, meandering through the tropical rainforest and some scrambling up and over steps and rocks is required, but the views along the way are incredible – especially looking down on Nudey Beach.
Perhaps because of the arduous trek, there were hardly any people at all at Nudey Beach, and many sections were totally secluded (which is probably why it was once a naked beach).
6. Sea Kayaking
Sea kayaking is a great way to explore the remote and hidden beaches and coves along the calm waters in front of the island or a more challenging paddle over to Little Fitzroy Island.
The same hut on the beach where we rented our stinger suits also offers equipment for a range of water sports including kayaking and stand-up paddleboarding (SUP).
We rented a tandem kayak and paddled out into the waves and down to the Shark Fin Bay end of the main beach. I was having a great time taking selfies with our GoPro until I heard…..
“Um, Cleopatra? I could use a little help.” It was then that I saw we were heading straight toward a peninsula of large rocks jutting out into the sea.
Not to worry, I did my part to help turn the kayak around, and we continued our Fitzroy Island day trip adventure.
7. Fitzroy Island Tours
If you’re still looking for things to do on the island, there are day tours available, such as exploring the coral fringe reef in the comfort of a glass-bottom boat, a photography tour, a guided eco walk, or scuba diving at the Great Barrier Reef.
Fitzroy Island was one of the highlights of our trip to Queensland, Australia. Unlike nearby smaller but more touristy Green Island, Fitzroy is still relatively undiscovered, which we appreciated.
I would sum up our Fitzroy Island day trip as “romantic adventure” – the perfect power combination for us!
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About the Author
Patti Morrow is a freelance travel writer and founder of the award-winning blog Luggage and Lipstick. TripAdvisor called her one of “20 Baby Boomer Travel Bloggers Having More Fun Than Millennials.” Patti is the author of the book “Girls Go Solo: Tips for Women Traveling Alone,” and has over 150 bylines in 40 print and online publications, including The Huffington Post, International Living Magazine, Washington Post Sunday Travel, Travel Girl, Travel Play Live Magazine, and Ladies Home Journal.
Read more about Patti Morrow.