Location: Cairns, AU
I have now visited the four major locations out of Cairns for trips to the Barrier Reef: The outer reef, Low Isles, Fitzroy Island, and Green Island. Green Island is hands down the best of the locations for the average traveler. I know that this may create controversy but for someone that wants the best experience in the shortest time accommodating as many people’s different wants, desires, and needs, Green Island does it. For those who want snorkeling, you have it. Scuba and helmet diving are available. Sitting on a beach (something that does not move and get you sick) it is there. You want to walk on the island, there are cleared walking paths that are bricked over or are raised ramps. There is rainforest and crocodiles (in a zoo like part in the middle of the Island). There are restaurants, bars, shops, and other amenities that make the trip fun for all (even those who do not want to sit on the beach or go in the water. In our case, the excursion we booked included a buffet lunch on the boat.
At low tide, you can snorkel within inches of the reef, you could (but please don’t) reach out and touch the coral. The fish are almost as plentiful as on the outer reef. In the day we were there we saw: sting rays, sharks, turtles, grouper, octopus, clams, and hundreds of varieties of tropical fish. The colors were explosive: reds, purples, yellows, blues. The mixture of coral and sea grass made it a perfect location for viewing sea turtles. We were not disappointed.
The front half of the Island was the developed area. The back half of the island was a national park. There is a stark contrast between the two. The national park was left pristine (except for the low impact walkways). You could see how the island looked 100 years ago. It was also educational. As there were signs in the park that provided explanations for how the rainforest grew, how the island developed, and for me, most interesting of all, how the aborigines have used the island over the years. The ocean and reef around the island is a food basket for them. On low tides they have come to the Island in the past to hunt and fish along with collecting bird eggs from nests on the Island. A fun day in the sun and an education experience, what more could you want.
Perhaps the best part of the experience is that it was not even crowded. The boat over was full but when we got off, people scattered and so when snorkeling there were perhaps three or four other people in the water with you. The beach was not crowded.
There are two controlled swimming and snorkeling areas on the Island. One is for beginners that have lifeguards on duty and the other for those who have some experience (and is unguarded). I spend three hours snorkeling in the unguarded area and felt perfectly comfortable. None of the fifteen or more foot drop-offs you experience in the outer reef and there were multiple areas of sand where you could stop, put your feet down and relax, catch your breath.
The only downside to the experience was the boat ride over and back. If you are prone to seasickness, you want to prepare yourself. The crossing was parallel to the prevailing seas and winds and so there was a great deal of rocking motion. They had rated the seas as moderate on the day I traveled. This meant one-half to one meter swells. I traveled with someone who does get carsick and she was feeling it. On the plus side, the Green Island boat ride is one of the shorter rides. Fitzroy Island takes about the same time and the Lower Isle and outer reef are longer trips.