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The emerald cay and reef of Green Island Queensland is just a short 45-minute boat trip from Cairns. It is the perfect place to snorkel the Great Barrier Reef for people who prefer the comfort of being close to shore and swimming from the beach rather than in the open water.

There are two tour operators that go to Green Island from Cairns – Great Adventures and the locally owned and operated Big Cat Cruises. Both allow you the option of going for a half day or full day and include rental of snorkel equipment.

Stinger suits are usually an extra cost but they are recommended for protection against the sun as well as stingers. Lifejackets are also available for less confident swimmers.

snorkeling great barrier reef green islandWhen you arrive at Green Island the boat docks at the end of a long pier – if ever there was a perfect postcard picture of a tropical island, this is it, so get your cameras ready.


The best snorkeling on the island is around the coral gardens close to the pier.

You can get a good view of where to snorkel as you walk along the pier. Make sure you ask where the best places to snorkel are when you pick up your snorkel gear and they will show you on a map.

From experience, I have always found that it is best to snorkel around the pier in the morning because the wind tends to whip around the headland in the afternoon, which makes the waves choppy and creates tougher swimming conditions.

When the water is calm you can leisurely float above the reef as colourful fish of different sizes and species swim around you and come so close you could touch them. Parrot fish, angelfish, vibrant blue damsel fish and surgeon fish, bright yellow butterfly fish and clown fish zipping in and out of anenamies are just some of the fish you will see.

If you’re lucky you can also sometimes spot starfish, sea cucumbers, stingrays, rock lobsters and even turtles.

Please remember that the Great Barrier Reef  is a protected marine park so it is illegal to remove anything. And, in any case, it is best not to touch anything because there are some shells and corals that can sting.

other things to do

If you’re not keen on getting wet or if you’ve got small children with you, there are other ways to see the reef including glass bottom boat tours or the semi-submarine with Big Cat (this is actually really good because it allows you to experience what the reef looks like from under the water).

picture of green island shopsGreen Island itself has a few little shops and places to eat and drink so you don’t need to take your own food, unless you want a picnic on the beach. There is also a resort for those who want to stay overnight.

Inbetween snorkeling sessions you can laze on the beach or walk around the rainforest on the island.

travel nq fast facts:

  • There are two operators who take tourists out to Green Island every day
  • Snorkel equipment is included in the price of the day trip
  • Take swimwear, sunscreen and hats
  • Wear a stinger suit for extra sun protection
  • Ready to book?

Photos thanks to Big Cat Cruises