Luckily, I found the perfect solution with a company called Raging Thunder. In partnership with Fitzroy Ferries, Raging Thunder provide day trips to the idyllic Fitzroy Island on the Great Barrier Reef.
The ferry to Fitzroy Island leaves the main pier in Cairns at 9 am and only takes 45 minutes. It can get quite choppy, so make sure you take sea sickness tablets if you think you’ll need them and try to watch the horizon.
As soon as the postcard-perfect white coral beach comes into view, you’ll know you’ve picked the perfect spot, whether you’re there to laze on the beach or get active.
Fitzroy Island is a continental island, rather than a coral cay. Coral reef has formed within the sheltered bay on the western side, providing perfect snorkelling conditions, and the coral beach is framed by picture-perfect palm trees and lush rainforest.
This provides the perfect backdrop for a variety of activities. The beach hire hut is located to the right of the jetty, where you can rent snorkel equipment, coral viewing boards, wetsuits, life jackets, stand up paddle boards and paddle skis. You can also book guided kayaking trips and glass bottom boat tours.
If you’re keen to try a few different activities, you might want to consider buying an Activity Pass. For AU$113, everything is included except kayaking. Alternatively, for AU$103, you will need to choose between renting snorkel equipment and going on the glass bottom boat tour. The price without hiring any equipment is AU$74, to which you can add on individual rental costs for the activities you’re most interested in. A deposit may be required.
HIKING FITZROY ISLAND
A walking track takes in the north end of the island, a lighthouse on its north-west point, and the island’s summit, which provides fantastic views of the surrounding reef as well as Cape Grafton.
It’s possible to do a circular walk from Welcome Bay pier, with a detour to the lighthouse in two to three hours. This is manageable in flip flops, but the path does get quite steep and rocky in places, so more study footwear is recommended.
Another place worth checking out on foot is Nudey Beach. A trail leads there from the southern end of the resort. As the name suggests, this used to be a nude bathing beach, but the practice doesn’t seem to be popular today.
Including a sea kayaking guided tour in your package brings the total price to AU$139. It’s a relaxed way to explore the island’s private beaches and to access some exclusive snorkelling locations. You may also have the chance to enjoy a guided walk up to the Fitzroy Island lighthouse, which provides spectacular views of the beaches and reef.
The three-hour return trip takes you clockwise around the island to Little Fitzroy Island. You’ll be briefed on safety and technique by a highly trained guide. Lunch and snorkel equipment are provided.
SWIMMING AND SNORKELLING
Subject to weather conditions, there’s a large inflatable trampoline floating just off the shore close to the rental hut. This is free for anyone on the tour to use.
It’s much more comfortable than the hard coral beach for sunbathing on, and although it mainly attracts children, there’s no reason why adults shouldn’t give at least one dive or somersault a go!
If you’re keen to do some snorkelling, it’s easiest to enter the water near the rocks at the southern end of the beach, where the reef begins only a few steps from the shore. You can then follow it around to Nudey Beach. Past the jetty at the northern end of the beach, you’ll need to swim out further to reach the coral.
Look out for clownfish, parrot fish and green sea turtles, among a whole host of other marine life.
STAND UP PADDLEBOARDING
Stand up paddleboarding has really taken off in recent years as a popular beachside commercial activity. In 2013, it was described as the outdoor sporting activity with the most first-time participants in the United States that year. However, it’s actually been around in one form or another since at least the 1700s.
The first board that closely resembled what we see today was built in the 1930s by surfer Thomas Edward Blake. While restoring ancient Hawaiian boards for a museum, he built a replica from redwood and lightened it by drilling holes and then covering them up. He went on to break virtually every established paddling record, some of which stood until the mid-50s.
For almost 20 years, professional paddleboarders have competed in the Molokai-2-Ohau Paddleboard World Championships in Hawaii, for which they use their arms to paddle, rather than an oar.
The stand up version, which uses an oar or pole, first became hugely popular in 2005.
GLASS BOTTOM BOAT
For those who’ve spent time snorkelling or scuba diving on the Great Barrier Reef, the idea of heading out for over an hour in a glass bottom boat probably isn’t that appealing.
Obviously, there are limitations. You don’t have any control over which direction you move, you travel fairly slowly and, each time the engine fires up, your view is obstructed by bubbles.
Don’t write it off too quickly, though. You can actually spot a lot from the boat and it’s easier to ask your guide questions than if you’re in the water.
We saw four sea turtles from our glass bottom boat (compared with zero on six dives with a liveaboard on the outer reef) and an octopus, which just goes to show that you should never be too quick to judge.
SUNBATHING ON FITZROY ISLAND
If relaxing on a beach is more your style, make sure you bring something padded to lie on, as the coral tends to dig into your back.
Don’t waste the entire day though. There’s plenty to do and almost seven precious hours to do it in. After all, you only live once.
SEE AUSTRALIA WITH CONTIKI…
…AND HAVE NO REGRETS
I visited Fitzroy Island as a guest of Raging Thunder and Fitzroy Ferries. Any opinions expressed in this post are a genuine reflection of how I felt about my experience. For more information on the tour, visit their Facebook page.