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Green Island National Park and Recreation Area

© Big Cat Green Island Reef Cruises

Green Island National Park and Recreation Area

Discover a tiny tropical coral cay covered in lush rainforest and surrounded by blue waters and coral reefs, close to Cairns.

Green Island jetty is the entrance to this tiny cay for most visitors.
Green Island jetty is the entrance to this tiny cay for most visitors. © Tourism and Events Queensland
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Park Green
Traditional Owner Traditional Owners
Park Ranger Park Ranger
Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area

Wander around this picturesque coral cay at low tide to enjoy stunning scenery then step into the shade of cool rainforest to explore the island's heart. Cool off with a refreshing swim or hire mask and snorkel and discover the colourful underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef.

Just a short boat ride from Cairns, Green Island's coral reefs with diverse marine life, white sandy beaches and lush tropical rainforest make this coral cay one of the Great Barrier Reef’s most popular destinations.

Snorkel from the sandy shore to discover brightly-coloured fish, corals and other marine life. Take a glass bottom boat trip, paddle a kayak or try sea-walking to discover more of this watery wonderland.

Stroll around the cay's Beach walk, spotting seabirds, investigating driftwood and other flotsam, and exploring the reef at low tide (stepping only on sand).

Learn more about how the island was formed, its colourful history and its cultural importance for the Traditional Owners, the Gunggandji Aboriginal people, on the island’s Boardwalk. Then relax over lunch at one of many picnic tables with reef views framed by gently swaying casuarinas.

Visit Green Island for a day trip or stay overnight in the resort and enjoy the serenity of an evening on a coral cay after the crowds depart.

Green Island is part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, famed for its superlative natural beauty, outstanding examples of reef ecosystem development, evolutionary history and amazing diversity.

Keep discovering

Top things to see and do

For a different perspective of the reef, Green Island's jetty walk offers clear views to the sea life below.

Green's journeys

See Green's walks.

The coral reef surrounding Green Island is home to a stunning array of marine life.

Green's attractions

See Green's day-use area.

Getting there and getting around

Getting there

Green Island National Park and Recreation Area is 27km offshore from Cairns, in the northern Great Barrier Reef.

  • The island can be reached by ferry or private boat, and is one of the most accessible islands on the Great Barrier Reef.
  • Commercial helicopter services also fly to and from the island.

Ferry

Most visitors travel to Green Island via regular ferry services, which depart from the Reef Fleet Terminal in Spence Street, Cairns.

  • Travel time to the island is about 50mins.
  • For tourism information for all regions in Queensland, see Queensland.com, and for friendly advice on how to get there, where to stay and what to do, find your closest accredited visitor information centre.

Private vessels

Green Island has safe anchorage and public moorings for private vessels.

Getting around

  • You can access all parts of the island on walking tracks, boardwalks and beaches.
  • The resort on the island offers snorkelling equipment for hire and has facilities for day visitors as well as overnight guests.
  • You can't take a vehicle to Green Island.

Wheelchair access

Guided tours and talks

Tour operators and the resort offer tours such as glass-bottom boat trips, helicopter tours, sea-walker experiences, guided snorkelling excursions, scuba diving tours, semi-submersible tours and guided island walks.

  • For tourism information for all regions in Queensland, see Queensland.com, and for friendly advice on how to get there, where to stay and what to do, find your closest accredited visitor information centre.

Walking

Escape to the cool of the rainforest on Green Island's Boardwalk, or circumnavigate the island on the Beach walk or, for a different perspective, stroll along the Jetty walk.

Map of walking tracks

Picnicking

Picnic in the shade with beautiful ocean view at picnic tables scattered along the beaches and boardwalk.

Viewing wildlife

Green Island is alive with wildlife. In the rainforest, listen and look for buff-banded rails, emerald doves, rose-crowned fruit-doves, silvereyes, white-breasted wood swallows and pheasant coucals. On the beach look for white-bellied sea-eagles as well as shorebirds such as oyster catchers and terns.

As you walk around the beaches or paddle your kayak, look for green sea turtles popping up for a breath and small reef sharks hunting in the shallows; and when you don mask and snorkel, look for myriad colourful fish and other marine life.

  • Read be wildlife aware for important information about dangerous animals and plants.

  • Find out more about the island's wildlife.

Canoeing and kayaking

Hire a kayak from the beach hire hut and paddle over crystal-clear reef waters discovering a vibrant colourful world below.

  • Read water safety for important information about staying safe in and near water and caring for parks.

Swimming

Cool off with a refreshing dip in the ocean at the patrolled beach on the northern side of the island. This is the safest place to swim—we don't recommend swimming elsewhere around the island.

  • Read water safety for important information about staying safe in and near water and caring for parks.

Diving and snorkelling

Immerse yourself in the tropical wonderland of the Great Barrier Reef when you explore below the water's surface, just off the beach.

  • Read water safety for important information about staying safe in and near water and caring for parks.

Boating

Green Island has safe anchorage and public moorings for private vessels.

Other things to do

  • Visit Marineland Melanesia to discover Melanesian artefacts, tropical aquaria, watch croc feeding and meet Cassius, the world's largest crocodile in captivity.
  • Stay overnight in the Green Island Resort to spend more time in this island paradise.

When to visit

Opening hours

Green Island National Park and Recreation Area is open 24hrs a day.

  • Ferries run daily to the island.
  • For tourism information for all regions in Queensland, see Queensland.com, and for friendly advice on how to get there, where to stay and what to do, find your closest accredited visitor information centre.
  • Check park alerts for the latest information on access, closures and conditions.

Climate and weather

Green Island National Park and Recreation Area has a tropical climate. In summer the daytime temperatures average 30°C with high humidity and rainfall. From April to September the days are cooler and less humid. Despite the steady south-easterly trade winds, this is usually the best time to visit.

Permits and fees

Organised events

  • If you are planning a school excursion or organising a group event such as a wedding, fun run or adventure training, you may need an organised event permit. Maximum group sizes and other conditions apply depending on location and activity type.

Pets

Domestic animals are not allowed on Green Island National Park and Recreation Area, or on adjacent tidal areas within the Great Barrier Reef Coast Marine Park. Tidal areas include beaches, rocks, mangroves and tidal flats.

Staying in touch

Mobile phone coverage

Generally available. Check with your service provider for more information.

Tourism information

Brochure

Download this brochure and take it with you:

Information provided in this guide is correct at the time of printing. Check park alerts for the latest details.

For tourism information for all regions in Queensland, see Queensland.com, and for friendly advice on how to get there, where to stay and what to do, find your closest accredited visitor information centre.

Be prepared

  • Parks are natural environments and conditions can be unpredictable. You are responsible for your own safety and for looking after the park.
  • Read stay safe and visit with care for important general information about safety, caring for parks and essentials to bring when you visit Queensland’s national parks.

Open fires

  • Open fires are not allowed.

Drinking water

  • You can purchase bottled water from the resort.

Rubbish

  • Rubbish bins and cigarette bins are provided in the resort area, national park and recreation area.

Walking

  • Wear shoes to protect your feet when walking on the beach as beach rock can be rough and slippery.
  • Read walk with care for tips on walking safely and walking lightly.

Around water

  • Always swim between the flags at the patrolled beach—the flags mark the safest place to swim. There have been deaths here swimming outside of the patrolled beach area.
  • Always check with the lifeguard for safe locations for snorkelling. Snorkelling is supervised between the flags.
  • If you are a first time snorkeler, ask for instructions on how to snorkel from the dive crew on your boat or from the dive shop.
  • If you are a non-competent swimmer or snorkeler, we strongly advise you to wear personal flotation device (PFD).
  • You should always swim or snorkel in buddy pairs.
  • Follow advice on the water safety signs at the start of each beach access track.
  • Hire a stinger suit for protection from marine stingers. Beware marine stingers.
  • Read water safety for important information about staying safe in and near water and caring for parks.

Boating

  • The waters around Green Island National Park are in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park and Great Barrier Reef Coast Marine Park.
  • Before heading out on the water make sure you have a zoning map, know the zones and what's allowed there.
  • Fishing is prohibited in the waters surrounding Green Island.
  • Close to the island, the waters are also within the Green Island Recreation Area,which incorporates the national park, the public esplanade and the surrounding marine park to a distance of 1.6km beyond the reef edge.
  • Find out more about boating for waters around Green Island in the Green Island Recreation Area and Green Island National Park Management Plans:
    • Boating is not allowed within the buoyed swimming area.
    • Motorised watersports such as jet-skis, water-skis, water scooters, para-gliders and other noisy water sports are prohibited in the recreation area.
    • Fishing gear (spear-guns and fishing tackle) must be stowed securely on your vessel while in the recreation area.
  • There are public moorings in the waters around Green Island National Park. Moorings reduce coral damage from anchors and provide safe and sustainable access to popular reefs and islands. They suit a variety of vessel sizes and are accessed on a first-come-first-served basis. Time limits may apply during the day, but all mooring are available overnight between 3pm and 9am. Learn more about moorings and responsible anchoring and see maps and mooring locations.
  • Our national parks, including our precious Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area islands, need your help to remain pest‑free.
  • Read boat and fish with care for tips on boating and fishing safety and caring for parks.

Natural environment

Landscape

Green Island is a 12ha coral cay on a mid-shelf reef within the Great Barrier Reef. For the past 6000 years, winds, waves and currents have swept reef debris onto the sheltered side of the reef, creating an unstable sand bank. Seeds were washed ashore or were brought by birds. Plants sprouted and birds began to nest. Plant matter and bird droppings helped to stabilise and enrich the sand. Soils developed, allowing a range of plants to grow. Loose sand was cemented into cay sandstone and beach rock, protecting the new cay from erosion. Rainwater collected below the surface of the soil, forming a shallow layer of fresh water floating on top of a denser layer of salt water. This fresh water created a permanent water supply to nourish the island's plants. Birds deposited seeds from mainland forests and a closed vine forest developed.

Today, Green Island rises from the surrounding reef platform in a gentle dome and, like all cays, continues to change—from dramatic erosion by storms to a gentle reshaping with each tide.

Plants

Green Island has some of the most diverse plant life of all the coral cays in the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. It supports a closed vine forest typical of that found on forested coral cays on inshore reefs north of Cairns. The canopy reaches almost 25m high in places.

During the latter part of the 19th century, much of the forest was cut down to fuel the smoke houses of beche-de-mer (sea cucumber) fishermen. Green Island was nothing but 'an ugly tangle of shoulder-high burrs'. The forest you see today has regrown since that time.

Today 134 species of plants have been identified on the island—trees, palms, shrubs, scramblers, vines, herbaceous creepers, grasses and herbs. The complexity of the vegetation is due to birds, most importantly pied imperial-pigeons, which regularly transport seeds and nutrients from the mainland—enriching species diversity.

Seagrass meadows are widespread over much of the reef flat, with the most prominent beds occurring on the inshore flat, north and north-west of the island. Seagrasses are important feeding grounds for turtles and dugong, shrimps and commercially important penaeid prawns.

Animals

Green Island is home to 35 species of seabirds and 28 species of forest birds. You may see ospreys, sea eagles, egrets and terns near the shore. On the island, look for buff-banded rails, emerald doves, rose-crowned fruit-doves, silvereyes, white-breasted woodswallows and pheasant coucals. Pied imperial-pigeons roost on the island in summer during their annual migration from New Guinea for the forest fruiting season.

Green Island sits upon a platform reef of about 710ha. Fragile branching, plate and soft corals grow in the sheltered lagoon area on the western side of the reef. Robust corals such as boulder and mushroom corals survive on the more exposed eastern edge. Many invertebrates can be found on the reef including molluscs (giant clams, spider shells and cone shells), echinoderms (sea urchins, sea stars and beche-de-mer), and crustaceans (crabs and shrimps). The reef has been affected by two major crown-of-thorns starfish outbreaks. Soft corals are not preyed upon by the starfish and are more predominant around Green Island. Regrowth of hard corals can also be seen. Many species of fish inhabit the shallow waters surrounding the island. Green and hawksbill turtles and dugong—all with a conservation status of vulnerable—use the surrounding reef and seagrass meadows as feeding grounds throughout the year.

World heritage

Green Island is part of the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area, famed for its superlative natural beauty, outstanding examples of reef ecosystem development, evolutionary history and amazing diversity.

Request a species list to see what plants and animals have been recorded here.

Culture and history

Indigenous culture and history

Wunyami (Green Island and surrounding reef) is within the sea country of the Gunggandji Aboriginal people and holds traditional and contemporary cultural significance for them. They have lived in this area for thousands of years.

In times of lower sea levels, the Gunggandji hunted and gathered on the grassy plains of ancient reef formations, right out to the edge of the present-day barrier reef. Then, when sea levels rose and Green Island reef had developed, they paddled to the island in canoes for hunting and ceremonies. Today, the Gunggandji retain a strong spiritual connection with their country and have an active voice in managing the island.

The Gunggandji share an understanding of their land and sea country. This cultural knowledge includes the creation of all things, how to find food, and peoples' relationships with the country and with all living things. It is passed on to younger generations through art, music, dance and stories.

In the past, ceremonies were also an important way to teach about culture—Wunyami (place of spirits) was a place of initiation ceremonies where young boys became men. Today the Traditional Owners hope to revive initiation ceremonies to help keep their culture alive. Green Island reef is still an important hunting and fishing place. Through these continuing uses of the area and its resources, the Gunggandji people maintain their obligations that arise from traditional lore, kinship and totems.

The Gunggandji children all learn stories about Wunyami, Green Island. One story concerns a turtle and a crab:

A small turtle joined a group of other turtles gathering at the creek edge but he could not reach the fresh water. Desperately thirsty, he found a puddle of rainwater and started to drink when suddenly he let out a loud scream. A large mudcrab was pinching the end of his nose with its pincers. The little turtle pulled away and the crab fell off. The turtle was left with two small nostrils at the end of his nose. In time, the other turtles noticed that he became big and strong, so they asked the spirits to give them nostrils too.

Non-Indigenous culture and history

While exploring Australia's east coast in 1770, Lieutenant James Cook recorded on his chart 'a low green woody island...' naming the island after his ship's astronomer, Mr Charles Green. Although other European explorers passed by during the early part of the 19th century, including Captain P.P. King in 1819 and Stanley and MacGillivray in 1848, each adding more detail to charts of the reef and coast, Green Island was not settled by non-Indigenous people until the mid-1800s.

In 1857, the first of many beche-de-mer fishing stations was established on the island. The work was demanding, conditions harsh and the island took on a frontier-like atmosphere as vegetation was cut down, huts erected and birds and fish were hunted. The industry continued until the early 1900s by which time numbers of beche-de-mer had declined. The settlement of the port of Cairns in 1876 meant increased shipping in the area. There were so many ships wrecked on the reefs around Green Island that, in 1889, coconuts were planted to provide food for marooned sailors.

At the same time, Green Island was becoming a popular picnic destination for Cairns residents. In 1906, the local newspaper predicted:

In time (Green Island) will prove to be the popular resort of the whole district. Hotels will be erected and steamers will ply daily between the island and Cairns.

In 1928, the first regular ferry service began, with a wooden jetty built several years later. In 1938, the first resort was built.

From the late 1940s, international tourism began to develop. Green Island boasts several world-first tourism innovations—glass-bottomed coral viewing boats invented by Blake Hayles in the early 1930s, the Underwater Observatory built by Vince Vlasoff and Lloyd Grigg which opened in 1954, and Noel Monkman's pioneering underwater films shown daily in the Great Barrier Reef Theatre on Green Island from 1961 until 1992.

Another tourist attraction, Marineland Melanesia, opened in 1961 and in 1963, the Hayles company opened the Coral Cay Hotel which was enjoyed by many visitors, both local and international, until 1994 when the present resort was built.

Today's resort, which offers facilities for day visitors as well as luxury overnight accommodation, is a far cry from the early days of tourism on the island, although the main attraction—a tiny forested cay surrounded by coral reef—remains the same.

Today, Green Island draws more than 300,000 people each year from all over the world. Due to this high level of visitation Green Island is important to the regional economic base and is a significant recreation and tourism destination in the region.

Last updated: 15 October 2018
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