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A Cairns island getaway: rainforest to reef on a budget

From hiking in the Daintree to finding Nemo about the Great Barrier Reef, Cairns’ list of attractions reads like a who’s who of Australian tourism. But if you’re not one for day trips (and crowds), hop over to Fitzroy Island for a night. A national park nestled within the confines of the Great Barrier Reef, it’s paradise hidden in plain sight. Plus, it's one of the more budget-friendly trips you’ll find around Cairns. Here's Skyscanner Australia’s guide to Fitzroy Island so you don’t miss a thing!

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Things to do on Fitzroy Island

Think palm-fringed beaches flanked by forested peaks, waking with the Reef right at your doorstep – a morning snorkel, anyone? Often overshadowed by the Green Island hype, Fitzroy Island is ruggedly picturesque with Crusoe-esque vibes and a great scope for adventure.

Map of Fitzroy Island

Be a beach bum

Enter the famed coral beaches of Fitzroy Island: Main Beach is where you’ll first set foot upon arrival and is composed entirely of shells and coral. These are the bones of the ocean, worn by time and tide. If you listen closely, you can hear a soft tinkling sound as the waves come in and sweep the coral along in its wake. It’s mesmerising, and makes for excellent beachcombing. Main Beach has a certain wistful charm to it too, with rope swings and seashell dreamcatchers dangling off branches. It’s the hub for most of the island’s activities – rent kayaks and stand up paddle boards, or have a go at the ocean trampoline!

Main beach

Nudey is the island’s most cherished, and also most photographed, beach. It’s a 20 minute walk from the pier, clambering over moss covered rocks under a canopy of green. Or, you could take a kayak but that means missing out on the view from above. Emerging from the rainforest, soft white sand spills out into a crystalline ocean. Littered with hulking boulders, this stretch of beach curves around the southwestern rim island so it’s easy to find a sandy pocket all to yourself.

![Nudey Beach](http://content.skyscnr.com/2726b1469f9d0c5223643893290e9acf/nudeybeach.JPG "Nudey Beach)

Reef please

Let’s cut to the chase – when in Northern Queensland, the Great Barrier Reef is very often the main draw. Fitzroy Island makes a fantastic base for your ocean adventures as it’s part of the marine park itself. A whole other world awaits under its clear cerulean waters, so grab your gear and get swimming! Nudey Beach and Bird Rock by the main beach are fantastic snorkelling spots, teeming with colourful fish and soft corals that ripple in the current. If you’re lucky, you might even spot a turtle. Snorkel hire will set you back just $15 for a whole day, and daily glass bottom boat tours are available if you’re reluctant to get wet. Resort staff can even help with organising diving expeditions.

A popular snorkelling spot on Fitzroy Island

Befriend a turtle

If you didn’t manage a turtle encounter out at sea, fret not! Fitzroy Island runs a Turtle Rehabilitation Centre, where the sick and injured animals are looked after. The centre holds guided tours so you can befriend and learn about these lovable sea creatures, but the turtles do need days off (which sadly coincided with my own visit).

Swimming with turtles

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Take a hike

Wake early and attempt one of the island’s two hiking trails – the Summit track or the Lighthouse track. The 3.6km summit circuit is of course, the more strenuous of the pair. An unrelentingly steep trek through the forest, the stairs give way to a muddy path cutting through open woodland. The area is strewn with boulders, scramble on top of one for some amazing ocean views!

View whilst on the summit track

Push through over half a kilometre of sharp incline to the summit, towering over casuarina trees and the bluest of oceans at 269 metres above sea level. The panorama over the island is spectacular.

The Summit

Descending over open heath, the track joins up with the Lighthouse trail – which can also be done as separate (and shorter) walk. Leading to an old lighthouse tower, stop for a water break and a quick jaunt through history. During World War II Fitzroy Island was a radar station, monitoring ships and Cairns air traffic but these days the lighthouse has fallen into disuse.

Descending the lighthouse track

Chase the sunset

Or rather, wait for the sunset to come to you. Daytrippers start boarding the return ferry at 4pm, so cue the smug sipping of happy hour cocktails at Foxy’s Bar as you watch the island slowly empty of its inhabitants and the sun dip below the horizon.

sunset from Foxy's Bar

Where to stay on Fitzroy Island

When it comes to overnighting, you have two options. First up, Fitzroy Island Resort – it’s modern, family-friendly and decently priced. Extra brownie points for a pool with a swim up bar! Rooms vary from oceanfront suites to budget studios. Some come with a kitchenette, so you can save on eating out. If you’re strapped for cash, book a spot on the island’s camping grounds and sleep under the stars. The place has showers, picnic tables and barbeque facilities, so you’re all covered. Located just 20m from the beach, it’s easy to steal a quiet moment in paradise.

Sunset walking from campgrounds to beach

How to get to Fitzroy Island

Ferries run on a daily basis – mostly catering to day trips but they easily accommodate returns on a different day. Raging Thunder, Sunlover and the Fitzroy Island Fast Cat will get you where you need to go, with timetables to be found onsite and prices starting at $75 return.

Even including campsite costs and snorkel gear hire, it’ll still add up to less than a liveaboard or outer reef package tour – and you’ve got rainforest hikes, summit views and beautiful beaches fringed by the Great Barrier Reef. Not too shabby for budget island living!

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Nudey Beach

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Published 18 August 2016. Any prices are lowest estimated prices only at the time of publication and are subject to change and/or availability.

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