Fitzroy Island
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Fitzroy Island

Swimming with turtles and other magical moments

by Susie Baber  |  24 February 2023

Just a 45 minute ferry ride from Cairns and yet a million miles from everywhere. The rugged beauty of Fitzroy Island is one of the most accessible islands on the Great Barrier Reef. The island is famous being home to one of Australia’s most beautiful beaches as well as world class snorkelling with friendly turtles. For such a small island there is so much to do, relax in the shade, swim, snorkel or explore the islands walking tracks. An easy day trip from Cairns or stay for longer and enjoy the island life.


Ferries run several times daily from Cairns and deposit you on the wharf in the aptly named ‘Welcome Bay’, directly in front of the resort. As you approach the island you can just see the resort nestled amongst the trees and as soon as you get off the boat there are brightly coloured fish swimming in the crystal-clear water under the jetty. By the time you wander up to reception your bags have arrived, and you can check in and settle into your room. There is only one resort on the island so deciding where to stay won’t take long. There are however choices of accommodation style with bungalows and hotel style rooms as well as a camping area for the more adventurous. Fitzroy Island Resort take caring for their island and its surrounds very seriously and are involved in many environmental programs on the Great Barrier Reef.

The resort has two restaurants. Zephyrs is near reception, is only available to resort guests, serving breakfast and dinner daily. Foxy’s Bar is right on the beach a short walk from the main resort building and serves lunch and/or dinner each day – not always both. Day visitors and resort guests can all enjoy the views and atmosphere at Foxy’s while they have a drink and a bite after exploring the island. There is also a bar at the pool (resort guests only) which does fabulous cocktails by the jug from their wet bar and has pizza and burgers as an extra dinner option. Rooms in the resort do have cooking facilities but shopping options are limited with only one small convenience store. If you plan on making some of your own meals it might be safer to bring some pantry items with you.


Captain James Cook sailed the coast, between Fitzroy and the mainland, back in 1770 and gave the island the name we know it as today. Since then it has had a long and varied history. In the 1800’s ships stopped regularly in Welcome Bay to cut firewood and refill water supplies. The island became well known by botanists, with many new species of flora and fauna being discovered here.

During the goldrush the Island was used as a Chinese quarantine station for smallpox. It was home to sea cucumber and pearling industries, and in the early 1900’s it was used as a penal colony where residents of a Qld Mission were sent if they misbehaved. During the war years Fitzroy was the base for the No. 28 Radar Station, and lightkeepers were in residence from 1947 until the light closed in 1992. Relics of these various incarnations can be seen scattered around the island and a booklet with details is available online or at the resort if you are interested to learn more.


There are four walking tracks on the island. Two short easy walks that start just south of the resort near Foxy’s Bar, one to Nudey Beach and a short rainforest walk called The Secret Garden. Nudey Beach was named best beach in Australia in 2018 and it is easy to see why, this walk is a must do for all visitors to the island. If you are after something more challenging head north from the resort to the lighthouse or up to the highest point on the island on the Summit Walk. Read more about walking on Fitzroy here.

Turtle Rehabilitation Centre

The Great Barrier Reef is home to six of the world’s seven species of marine turtles. A number of these are seriously threatened by a range of natural and human induced factors. Many of the turtles rescued are suffering injuries caused by boats, discarded fishing gear or ingested plastic that is mistaken for food.

The Turtle Rehab Centre on Fitzroy Island is part of the Cairns Turtle Rehabilitation Centre. Sick and injured turtles from all over FNQ are taken for specialist treatment in Cairns before being transferred to Fitzroy Island to be cared for while they recuperate. It can take years for some animals to get well enough to fend for themselves again.

Fitzroy Island Resort has donated land, infrastructure and equipment for the rehab centre which is run by volunteers. For a small fee resort guests can visit the turtles and learn about the program, the entry cost goes directly back into the program. Tours run six days a week except if the turtles are very unwell or stressed, the well-being of the animals being the first priority of the centre.

On our visit we met Shaz the Green Sea Turtle who has been in care since 2018 after being found with orange nylon wrapped around her. The rope was bound around her shell for so long that it caused a deformity in her growth and gave her floating syndrome. Floating syndrome is common in injured animals, air becomes trapped between the turtles’ shell and body and they unable to dive and feed. She was beautiful, but looked a little sad in her plastic tank, hopefully she will soon be well enough to swim out in the ocean again.


Another way to get up close and personal with a turtle is to get into the water with them. Snorkelling equipment is available to hire from the resort’s sports hub, including stinger suits which are required from November to May – as unattractive as they are I wouldn’t swim in FNQ without one, and they have the added benefit of keeping the sun off!

The calm tropical waters that surround Fitzroy Island are just perfect for snorkelling. The fringe reefs around the island are part of the World Heritage listed Great Barrier Reef, and the colours and variety of coral are absolutely world class. Water temperatures remains at a warm tropical 24 degrees in winter to a maximum of 30 degrees in summer. Just walk straight off the beach and submerge yourself in an underwater wonderland. Within a few metres of the shore you can see an abundance of sea life including brightly colour fish, little reef sharks, stingrays and turtles.

There are sea Kayak tours that will take you further out if you are feeling more adventurous or glass bottom boat tours if you don’t want to get wet. You can snorkel off each end of the beach in Welcome Bay and at Nudey Beach. We went out nearly every day of our stay and saw several turtles, giant clams, amazing corals, and fish in every colour of the rainbow. Some of the best snorkelling we have ever done.

Fitzroy Island is a big bucket list tick for me, and I would love to come back again.

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