As an Australian, I’m pretty lucky to have some of the world’s most beautiful islands, beaches and national parks all just a short flight away. Fitzroy Island is no exception. So when the opportunity finally rose to travel to Fitzroy Island, I jumped on a plane before I could even think twice.
Fitzroy island is packed full of epic nature, all within arms reach of the beautiful hotel (and camp ground for those who are keen). It is a must see destination. A haven for those who love turtles, snorkeling and perfect for those who just want to relax. You cannot go wrong.
I flew from Melbourne to Cairns with Jetstar at 6am, arriving into Cairns at 9:30am and then caught the Sun Palm shuttle bus into Cairns city. A little known fact is that Sun Palm offer different prices to different locations in Cairns and Port Douglas. As I was meeting a friend at a hostel in Cairns, I paid just $6 through Cairns Backpacker shuttle for the exact same service. Jetstar offers a discounted rate for $10 one way for their customers. Sun Palm charge $16 if you book it directly through them. Worth hunting around.
Sadly, throughout my stay I was pretty unlucky with the weather. I visited on what turned out to be the wettest weekend in May in Cairns in 96 years. It rained more than 200mm in 24hours. To some, this might mean the trip is ruined, but I try to look at it from the perspective that a) there is nothing you can do about it, b) you’re on holiday where you are planning to get wet anyway and c) there are a lot less people around. Yes, I won’t deny that a blue sky is better, but a little rain (or in my case, a lot) is never going to stop enjoying my time away from home and the office. It was still beautifully warm, almost no wind, so overall beautifully pleasant and refreshing with the rain drops.
I booked the 1:30pm Fast Cat ferry to Fitzroy Island from Cairns Marina. This meant I had time to have breakfast in a cafe (an absolute necessity as I’d been awake since 3:30am) and go to the supermarket. I opted to not take breakfast included in my room rate on Fitzroy Island. Breakfast at Zephyrs (the fancy restaurant) is $15pp for a cold simple breakfast and $25pp for hot breakfast. Whilst this isn’t an amount that is too great or much more than on mainland in a Cafe, paying this cost everyday really adds up. So we decided to bring our own cereal and milk, and viola! Breakfast in bed, oh how fancy 😉
THINGS TO DO ON FITZROY ISLAND
Fitzroy Island is on the edge of the Great Barrier Reef, so it is surrounded by 2 reefs either side of the jetty.
The Coral Reef to the left of the jetty up against the rocks is absolutely beautiful. Filled with plenty of fish and lush corals. The reef stretches all the way to Nudey Beach, making it quite long and is seriously awesome. Perfect for an afternoon snorkel as this reef is unaffected by the tide. The only problem we encountered was that the water was cold, so we briefly stopped snorkeling and warmed up out of the water before jumping back in for more!
The reef to the right of the jetty is where you’ll find the best ever experience, turtles!!! The Turtle Reef is called so for good reason. We bumped into a green sea turtle that was totally unphased by us, sharing a few glorious minutes swimming together through the water.
Just remember; look but don’t touch. Turtles are a protected species and can become really distressed if you touch them. This can result in you being bitten (yes turtles have teeth) and the turtle suffering significant emotional stress, which can seriously effect their long term health. If you spot a turtle, approach it calmly and see how it reacts to your presence. If the turtle doesn’t swim away, you can slowly get closer to it and swim alongside. You can see from the photo above that this little guy is actually a bit sick – the colour of his shell is very pale. Hopefully he gets better soon!
The remainder of Turtle Reef is a little more damaged, and not as alive as the Coral Reef. However you’ll still spot lots of fishes and even clams. You can only swim at this reef on high tide, usually in the morning from 9am til 12pm. Check the weather board in the lobby to be sure before you attempt snorkeling here just to make sure there is enough clearance between you and the corals, protecting both you and the reef from harm.
When you’ve had enough snorkeling for the day, you can rent a kayak or a paddle board to view the island from afar. Or take a jump on the sea trampoline all for a small fee. You can sort it all out from the beach shack near Foxy’s.
I’m a real lover of turtles (if you haven’t figured that out already). I get giddy around them and think they are the coolest marine animal. So a visit to the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre was a must for me, and is highly recommended to everyone. The centre is run by volunteers that are extremely dedicated, and can help up to 6 turtles at a time when in need. The centre is just a short walk from the hotel and is critical to the Great Barrier Reef region marine care. Turtles that are either injured by boats or malnourished will end up receiving treatment here. Pictured below is Ella, who was released shortly after my visit, after 2 years at the centre.
The volunteer guide will teach you a lot about turtles. Let me give you just a taste. Queensland is home to 5 of 7 turtle species; The Green Sea, Olive Ridley, Hawksbill, Loggerhead and Flatback turtle. All of these turtles are considered endangered species. The volunteers taught us why plastic bags are so terrible for turtles, and it’s not just because their heads get stuck in the hand loopholes (which is also a huge problem). Turtles will often mistake plastic bags for jellyfish (which they eat) and if ingested, it causes the turtle to float at the surface. This means that the turtle can no longer dive deep down to eat, sleep or even be protected from the sun. Imagine being stuck up the top and not be able to get away from the hot Australian sun, or even eat! Turtles are known to brave floating at the surface because of an ingested plastic bag for years. The turtle basically ends up starving because it can’t eat, and becomes incredibly weak. And then eventually, they wash up ashore or are found by a boat and brought into the centre for treatment. It’s more important than ever before to dispose of rubbish correctly.
The centre had treated over 170 turtles. Whilst that number might not seem high, the treatment of each turtle can take months if not years. I found the tour highly worth the $8.50pp fee as all proceeds go direct to the turtles. It’s used for their medications and food, which means it’s all going for a good cause. Just spray yourself with a little mosquito repellent before you go.
One if the more unique surprises Fitzroy Island had to offer was the hike to the Summit. From the hotel, you’ll find the journey is just shy of 1000 steps to the Summit. The steps are staggered, and the hike will take you through rocky outcrops and red dirt paths.
Once you reach the summit the view is absolutely spectacular, with a 360 view of the Great Barrier Reef, the coastline, and seeing everything else Fitzroy Island has to offer from above.
You have two options then, either return the way you came, or continue onwards to the Lighthouse. We went to the Lighthouse.
I recommend you do the hike as described here, as the track from the lighthouse to the Summit is quite steep and doesn’t have as many steps. Going up this would be seriously hard as it’s a continuous incline. Going down it was fine, and still had beautiful scenery to enjoy. Once you reach the Lighthouse, you can admire the view. The Lighthouse itself isn’t anything special, but the view from the other side if the island is beautiful. The walk back to the hotel is also pretty cool, somewhat Game of Thrones landscape inspired. Overall, it took about 3hrs to do the round trip.
There were a few extras that we didn’t opt for, but were offered to us. Fitzroy island offer glass bottom boat tours (for those who don’t want to snorkel), and can also arrange outer reef tours, so you can see more than what’s just there on the island. The outer reef tour was priced similarly to those you can buy from Cairns (around $200). They can also teach you how to Scuba Dive on the island. Just enquire in the dive shop. Snorkels + fins can be rented $15 a day and stinger suits are also $10 per day. There was also a cinema above the reception area, which played 3 movies a day.
Nudey beach was probably my favourite part of Fitzroy island. It’s tucked a 20 minute walk away from camp. That small walk means there is almost no one here, and you get to enjoy the beautiful beach in peace. The reef is great, the beach is rocky and sandy, and the sunset… well, is out of this world – just keep that secret to yourself 😉
Fitzroy Island has two restaurants, Foxy’s and Zephyr. The prices at Zephyrs were all around $40+, which simply stretched my budget too far, hence did not eat there.
The food at Foxy’s is casual pub style, order at the bar. There are a range of entrees, salads, sandwiches and mains on offer. The menu isn’t extensive, but enough to comfortably enjoy for a few days stay. Prices were typically between $22 and $30 for a main. As a traveller with food intolerances, Foxy’s handled this well, with multiple Gluten Free and dairy free options, just remember to tell them you want the Gluten free option, otherwise they will make it normal way! For dinner, we enjoyed steak and salad, barramundi and chips, chicken tandoori with rice, snapper and mash, caesar salad with chicken and chicken karage.
GETTING TO FITZROY ISLAND
Fitzroy Island is a 45 minute boat trip from Cairns, Australia. The ferry ‘fast cat’ (as they affectionatly call it) operates 3 services a day to and from Fitzroy island, catering for guests and daytrippers. As with any boat trip on the Great Barrier Reef, conditions can get rough. A lot of people think that the reef is immediately on the edge of the coast or Cairns, which is not the case. The reef is quite a way off shore, so if you are prone to sea sickness, I strongly suggest you plan appropriately for your journey to Fitzroy Island. The skippers onboard the boat will be able to tell you how conditions are and what degree of caution should be taken. Book your tickets for the boat in advance, as the ferry is known to sell out.
The boat leaves Cairns Marina to Fitzroy Island at 8am, 11am and 1:30pm.
The boat leaves from Fitzroy Island to Cairns Marina at 9:30am, 12:15pm and 5pm.