Tuesday 20 September 2016

Green Island - Tourist Trap or Cruising Nirvana

12-16 September 2016

Many cruisers we know give any place popular with tourists a wider berth than a category five cyclone in their quest for the quiet life on the water. Unfortunately in doing so they often deny themselves the opportunity to experience some truly remarkable places. Don’t  get us wrong. We love nothing better than the solitude of having a beautiful anchorage all to ourselves. However, we also take the view that if a location has enough going for it to attract people from all over the world it’s probably worth us having a look too.

At just  660 x 260 metres and up to 2,400 visitors per day Green Island has a high population density during daylight hours.
Green Island is such a place. It is only one of about 300 coral cays on Australia’s Great Barrier Reef but it is the only one vegetated by rain forest. Located just seventeen nautical miles (27k) off North Queensland’s major city of Cairns it is also the reef’s original island resort with the first thatched huts for visitors erected back in 1889. Now up to a permitted maximum of 2,400 people a day visit this tiny piece of paradise. Only 660 metres by 260 metres containing a 46 room resort and a crocodile park you could be forgiven for thinking as a cruising destination it would be about as peaceful as the London Underground at peak hour but nothing could be further from the truth.

Cairns to Green Island 16.7 Nautical Miles – 3 Hours 22 Minutes
Average Speed 4.9 Knots – Max Speed 7.0 Knots
We sailed from Trinity Inlet to the island into a 15 knot easterly breeze under overcast skies. We had read what little Alan Lucas’s cruising guide had to say about the island, studied the Navionics charts and Google Earth images to work out our approach and planned anchoring spot in the swing basin at the island’s western end. We followed the markers into the channel but promptly ran out of water about the end of the long jetty. With our depth gauge showing two metres we executed a very tight about turn and retreated back out the channel.

It turned out the wash off the props of the big tourist cats spinning onto and off the dock has created a sand bar all but blocking access beyond the jetty. Thanks to the advice of a local parasailing operator who saw our plight we made our way around to the north west corner where we found buoys marking the edge of the fringing reef and were able to pick our way through the coral heads to anchor about 500 metres from the beach in five metres of water over good holding sand. The large reef surrounding the island provided more than adequate protection from the easterly wind and swell while the water was nice and clear with our chain clearly visible stretching across the bottom.

Finding nothing but very shallow water a quick U-turn preceded us moving to Plan B of the anchoring play book.

Our track into finding good anchorage in five metres over clear sand on the island's northern side overlayed on Google Earth in Open CPN
A little over 500 metres of water provided good separation from the tourist hoards during the day.
The island may be well populated with tourists but the anchorage was nice and quiet. The resort is located near the centre of the island and is well hidden from the water by the thick vegetation providing a more peaceful outlook from the boat.

One of the many coral heads near our anchoring spot we snorkelled around.

We were one of only two private boats in the lagoon north of the island. As the other was the cat  La Jorja with our friends Matt and Deb on board a social evening  later on was assured. One tourist boat is licensed to operate in this part of Green Island. It’s about a 60 foot sailing boat that carries a maximum of 25 guests for snorkelling and diving day trips to the island. It arrives mid-morning, moors in the far corner and is gone by three so proved far from a problem for us. In fact, there were never any more than two other boats anywhere near us during our whole stay.

We took our dinghy into the beach to explore and had a pleasant time circumnavigating the island on foot. It’s only a 1.6 kilometre stroll so not exactly strenuous.
Our Dreamtime anchored offshore from Green Island's swimming beach
Once away from the swimming area we had most of the island's shoreline to ourselves.

Apart from the occasional tourists looking for the perfect holiday photo.

Looking towards Fitzroy Island across the extensive reef at low tide.

It's all a green zone so no fishing and nothing can be removed from the environment.
All the island's on water tourist activities like para-sailing were concentrated at the western end away from our anchorage.
There is a very good network of boardwalks through the rain forest national park areas with good information boards explaining the island’s geological history, flora and fauna including the fifty five breeds of birds regularly seen here.

One of the feathered locals
After our walk we took advantage of the fresh water pool available for day guests on the island to cool off before enjoying a nice refreshing ice-cream from the gelato shop. Bar, snack and restaurant facilities are also available should you wish to partake. There are definitely some advantages to having a resort handy when at anchor.

Not another boat in sight as we enjoy tropical sundowners anchored off Green Island.
The best part of our stay at Green Island though was found under the water. The entire area is a conservation green zone with no fishing of any kind permitted. We were very, very pleasantly surprised at the quality of the snorkelling here. The water quality was exceptional while the reefs are very healthy with an abundance of colourful soft and hard corals. Huge giant clams are found everywhere. The range of brilliant colours of their flesh is something we never tire off.
Karen floating over another of Green Island's reef areas.
There is no shortage of impressive plate corals on the reefs around Green Island.

These were friendly little blokes.

Colourful fish at every turn.
Brilliant blues and vibrant greens are common colours amongst the giant clams.


 Over four days we explored many areas and saw an incredible diversity of fish life of all colours, shapes and sizes. It was so good to swim amongst schools of BIG fish who seem totally unconcerned by our presence. Our biggest buzz however was spending about twenty minutes in the company of a curious turtle that seemed to enjoy swimming with us. At first we were careful to remain a respectful distance but then found it moving closer to us. We felt privileged indeed that this beautiful creature shared  its home with us for a brief period.
Having this guy swim around us for ages was the highlight of our time at Green Island.

We shot a lot of video as well which we'll upload when we have better internet service.

We found Nemo and his clown fish siblings.
There was no shortage of good sized fish amongst Green Island's coral.

Yes there may have been a couple of thousand people on the island during the day but, from our quiet anchorage a few hundred metres away, we would have never have known it. If we had avoided the place on the basis of it being a ‘tourist trap’ we would have missed this piece of paradise and our lives would have certainly been the poorer for it.  On the basis of the amazing few days we spent at Green Island we have now included two more tourist hotspots in the form of  Michaelmas Cay and Low Isles in our immediate plans. Let’s go!

Karen relaxing with a book in Our Dreamtime's hammock between snorkelling expeditions.
Our Dreamtime all on her own in the Green Island anchorage.
Goodnight from gorgeous Green Island on Australia's Great Barrier Reef.

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