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A Fitzroy Island Day Trip and Kayaking

Enjoy a Fitzroy Island day trip, kayak to Little Fitzroy, snorkel the fringing reef and relax on Nudey Beach, one of the most beautiful beaches in Australia.

Kayaking at Fitzroy Island

Fitzroy Island is a pristine coral island surrounded by a fringing reef just 29 km from Cairns.  It takes about 45 minutes to get out there and as soon as you arrive it’s clear you have found an island paradise.  The turquoise waters sparkle, the beach is impossibly white and the hill rising up behind the beach in the centre of the island is covered in pristine rainforest.

Fitzroy Island Day Trip Transfers

There are several boats that provide transfer services to Fitzroy Island.  We went with Raging Thunder on their sea kayaking and Fitzroy Island trip and had a fabulous time.

We drove down from Palm Cove to Cairns which takes about 30 minutes in the weekday traffic and parked at the Cruise Terminal Carpark right on the Esplanade.  We choose it as it’s very easy to find and is a pay and display car park that you can pay by the hour or for up to 10 days if needed.  We paid $10 which gave us the full day.  From here you follow the esplanade around to the Reef Fleet Terminal which you can’t miss with all the boats moored off the wharf opposite.

Even if you already have your pre-booked ticket confirmation you still need to head inside and pick out your cruise company from the dozen or so with offices here to exchange your voucher for the actual tickets.  There is also a small shop and restrooms if you’re looking for them in the terminal.  The Raging Thunder team gave us our wristbands to identify us as going on the kayak tour, tickets for the transfers and took us through a map of the island and key timings through the day and where to go.  It was all very organised, we then just needed to make our way out onto the wharf for boarding.

It’s a fairly large boat but not as big as some of the ones headed to the outer reef.  We went straight for the top deck and took seats at the edge in the fresh air.  Brendan, our kayak guide came and found us up there to sign the usual disclaimer and explain the process for the morning once we arrived.  The trip across on the day we went was calm waters and it takes less than an hour to get out there so before we knew it we were pulling into the Fitzroy Island wharf.

Fitzroy Island

Fitzroy Island Facilities

There aren’t a lot of facilities on Fitzroy Island but that’s a big part of its charm.  Near the wharf area, there are public toilets but no showers or dedicated changing rooms.  There are coin-operated lockers next to those which are very handy if you have any gear you want to secure or just not carry around for a portion of the day.  

Next to that is Foxy’s bar where you can get drinks, lunch and snacks throughout the day if lunch isn’t already included on your tour as ours was.  Then on the beach in sight of the wharf is the beach shack, this is where you go to hire snorkelling equipment, start your kayak tour, join a glass-bottom boat tour or hire a paddleboard.  There as many or few activities to keep you entertained on Fitzroy Island as you want.

Sea Kayak half day tour

We pre-booked onto the half-day sea kayaking tour with Raging Thunder which starts soon after you arrive.  If you don’t prebook you can arrange it on the way over or once on the island. We stowed our gear that we didn’t want to get wet in a locker and slipped on our reef shoes before headed to the beach shack near the wharf to join the group and get out paddling.

Kayaking on Fitzroy Island

A quick note on reef shoes.  Fitzroy Island is surrounded by a fringing reef that is part of the Great Barrier Reef, a coral reef system that has been around for 500,000 years.  

Coral are each made up of hundreds of thousands of tiny polyps and when old coral dies new young coral grows on top of it and inevitably bits of the dead coral with a hard exoskeleton break away.  The beaches of  Fitzroy island are covered in these bright white coral remnants that contribute to the water being so bright and clear but they are also large and sharp to walk on.  

There is sand in places on the island where the coral has broken down over an extended period but mostly it’s large pieces so you’re going to want something on your feet while walking on the beach and into the water to snorkel.

If you aren’t familiar with reef shoes or have tried them before and found them really uncomfortable, take a look at this new multi-purpose shoe by Tropicfeel. I am loving them, they function as a wet shoe for watersports like this but are equally comfortable for exploring the island trails or even stopping off for a casual dinner in the city at the end of the day.

So back to the beach hut and we collected our snorkelling gear from the hut before a quick briefing from the team on safety and paddle technique.  Then we are underway paddling into the stunning turquoise waters.  The course for the days paddling will depend on weather and tide conditions but today with low tide and little breeze we paddle off to the right and head in the direction of Little Fitzroy Island.  Our guide Brandon gets us to raft up several times along the way making sure everyone is doing OK and passing on information about Fitzroy Island the surrounding reef and marine life.

Kayaking on Fitzroy Island

Crossing the short straight to Little Fitzroy we are told is the hardest part with the cross-flow of water at low tide, you need to paddle into it not directly across it if you want to stay on your boat not take an early swim.  It’s not difficult in reality and our full group landed on the island and got their boat ashore with the help of the team without tipping out.

On the little island there is time for a climb up to the top and then snorkelling around the island and into the straight, it’s suggested we start at the top and let the current do the work rather than working against it to see the coral, small fish and huge clams.

Kayaking on Fitzroy Island

Our time out there went so quickly and it’s great snorkelling so really hard to tear yourself away when its time to leave. Reluctantly we headed are back on our boats launching ourselves back across towards the main island.  

Along the way you pass a turtle rehabilitation centre, rocky areas where the cliff meets the water and more beach before making it back to the beach hut.  We’ve kayaked quite a bit in the past but others who were out for the first time also found it relatively easy to stay upright and paddle the double sit on top boats that are fitted with a steering rudder.  

Kayakers off Fitzroy Island

If you are out as a couple, think about who gets to sit in the back, they will steer the boat. If you are on your own the guide will pair you up with someone else, it makes paddling so much easier with double the people power.

Discovering Nudey Beach

If you recognise the name Nudey Beach it’s because it makes regular appearances on lists of the top 10 beaches in Australia including the Australian Geographic list which is my go-to for pretty pictures of Australia to add to my bucket list.  

At the top of the hill when the beach first comes into view I just stood and stared, it was STUNNING!   The water is crystal clear darkening to a radiant turquoise as it gets deeper, the beach pure white a splattering of perfectly placed boulders at one end and segments of the reef clearly visible under the surface just offshore.  Add to that a clear blue sky and it was the picture I have in my head of the PERFECT beach.

A first glimpse of Nudey Beach

From the wharf and beach shack, it’s about a 15-minute walk along a walking path.  It’s an easy walk but it does have a number of steps and undulations, uphill and downhill sections.  It’s easy enough to carry in your snorkelling and other beach gear but not suitable for a stroller.  I’ve added a couple of photos here to give you an idea of what to expect.

Track to Nudey Beach on Fitzroy Island
Track to Nudey Beach on Fitzroy Island

As you walk around the corner and down to the beach it takes your breath away for a second time.  It’s not a large beach and you won’t have it to yourself unless maybe you stay at the resort and walk out at dawn before the boats arrive for the day.  

Having said that though it didn’t feel crowded once you got down to the beach you could find plenty of space to spread yourself out before grabbing your snorkelling gear and running down to the water’s edge.

There is absolutely no doubt that Nudey beach has a place on my top 10 Australian beaches list and I feel it’s very well earned.  Without a doubt I’ll be heading back out here anytime I’m in Tropical North Queensland.

Nudey Beach

Accommodation on Fitzroy Island

The big question I had in the comments on my many Instagram photos was whether you can stay on the island.  I didn’t know when we planned to head out there but the answer is yes you can although there is only the one choice, The Fitzroy Island Resort that’s located right at the wharf surrounded by palm trees and rainforest.  The resort is private and it’s clearly signposted that there is no access to the facilities or restaurant etc for day guests to the island so if you stay here you do have exclusive use which isn’t always the case with island resorts.

There’s a range of room types available from cabins to suites and I wish I’d known about it before we booked our trip as I think the prices are really quite reasonable.  I would love to be out here for sunset and to visit the beaches really early in the morning, I do love a deserted stretch of sand so hope to find the opportunity to do that one day soon.

Check availability and accommodation options at Fitzroy Island Resort

Fitzroy Island Resort

All up we thoroughly enjoyed our day on Fitzroy Island and the only negative I could say is that it was over way too soon, we really weren’t ready to pack up and head back when it was time to board the boat for the ride back to Cairns.  We could certainly have spent much longer out here and it would be high on our list to return to and complete the other walks and spend more time on Nudey Beach and snorkelling next time we’re in Tropical North Queensland.

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A guide to Fitzroy Island on the Great Barrier Reef, Australia

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Ryan Biddulph

Wednesday 4th of October 2017

Hi Toni,

Absolutely gorgeous. Loving these shots.

We too have a Nudey Beach here in New Jersey; this one involves dropping trow and walking around naked. Bada-bing; silly American humor here.

Seriously, Nudey Beach looks beyond beautiful.

I'd also enjoy paddling between the small islands, simply soaking up the peaceful, serene setting, getting in some cardio, and if that current really kicked up, getting in more cardio than I intended to get.

Thanks for sharing Toni.


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