If you’re reading this, I’m going to guess that you love turtles. And so you should. Magnificent creatures they are.
I remember when all I wanted was to swim with my first turtle. I loved them before I even met them. Unfortunately, they’re not always that easy to find.
So here are my top 3 locations in Tropical North Queensland to swim with the elusive turtle.
- Green Island
- Fitzroy Island
- Ocean Safari Cape Tribulation
Tropical North Queensland is the gateway to the northern section of the Great Barrier Reef which is loaded with things to see and do. Not only are these places great for turtles but they also hold incredible amounts of natural beauty that make them worth a visit regardless of the turtles. So even if you are unlucky enough to not see a turtle in one of these places, your trip will still be epic!
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I’m putting this one first because Green Island has the most turtles that I’ve ever seen in one place. As soon as you jump off the ferry you can see turtles swimming below the jetty or sleeping among the sea grass. I once saw 5 turtles cruising around in the same area! The island is surrounded by the most beautifully blue water and has always had great visibility when I’ve visited.
Getting to Green Island
Green Island is accessible via catamaran from Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal. The trip takes 45 minutes to an hour and can be pre-booked online (especially recommended for weekend trips).
Book Green Island day tour: Green Island Tour with Glass Bottom Boat included
As you step off the boat and make your way along the jetty, keep your eyes peeled for turtles swimming below. I often see more turtles from the jetty than I do snorkelling, just because they’re easier to spot from above.
There are 2 main spots for snorkelling straight off the beach (plus more if you go on a snorkel safari tour).
Near the jetty
The first spot is the area surrounding the jetty. Facing the island, on your left are some seagrass beds so this is an absolute hot spot for turtles! They love a good snooze in the seagrass. Just be careful not to swim past beyond the ropes as this is a boat traffic area.
Make sure to also explore the right side of the jetty – I’ve seen plenty of little reef sharks and blue spotted rays hanging around here.
The second spot is accessible from the main beach on the north side of the island. This spot is said to be more beginner friendly for snorkellers and also boasts a high chance of seeing turtles but I’ve always had more luck near the jetty.
If you would rather a guided snorkel from Green Island, you can book a snorkel safari tour. A boat will take you further out from the island where you can see massive clams and coral structures.
Check the tides before you book your trip! Very low tides make it unsafe to snorkel as you risk damaging coral or injuring yourself in the shallow water. Try to avoid day trips with a tide lower than 1 metre during the day.
And lastly, don’t forget to wear a stinger suit in summer! These can be hired on the island or may be provided by your tour operator.
A variety of day tours and optional activities such as scenic flights around Green Island are available to choose from. Check them out below and get booking!
Fitzroy Island is a beauty of a spot, regardless of the turtles! Home to Nudey Beach (voted Australia’s best beach in 2018) and some incredible walks, it’s worth a visit for its sheer beauty alone.
Getting to Fitzroy Island
Fitzroy Island is a 45 minute ferry ride from Cairns, with boats running daily from Cairns Reef Fleet Terminal. I highly recommend booking in advance as the transfers often sell out, especially for weekend trips.
Book Fitzroy Island day tour: Fitzroy Island Full Day Adventure Tour
I’ll do a more detailed Fitzroy Island post soon but for now, let’s focus on the turtles and where you can find them.
There are 3 main snorkel spots I always go to on the island:
- White Rock (named for the white rock to the left of the jetty – most likely spot to see turtles)
- Out the front of Foxy’s Bar
- Nudey beach
When you arrive on the island, the tour operator will likely point out this rock to you (it’ll be to your left when facing the island). From the jetty to this white rock is good for snorkelling and I find it to be the most likely place to swim with turtles as well as reef sharks.
Out the front of Foxy’s Bar
I love the little section of beach here and the trees offer a nice escape from the harsh sun. You’ll often see turtles popping their head up for air while sitting on the beach, but they’re a little harder to spot in the water here. However, the coral and fish life is some of the coolest I’ve seen making this my favourite spot to snorkel on Fitzroy Island. Head towards the rocks on your left for the best corals.
I’ve only snorkelled once at Nudey Beach and I didn’t see any turtles (although I’m told they can be found here) but I did enjoy the coral walls and how they drop off near the rocks. Apart from being a certified sexy beach, Nudey Beach is also home to the Insta-famous swing so why not take the 20 minute walk to experience one of the best beaches in Australia.
Book ferry transfer: Fitzroy Island Return Trip by Catamaran
Ocean Safari – Cape Tribulation
This is hands down my favourite snorkel tour to date! A speedboat departing from Cape Tribulation in Daintree will take you out to Mackay & Undine Reef as well as Mackay Cay. The water is crystal clear and the most beautiful shade of blue on this earth.
The coral is some of the healthiest I’ve ever seen and the turtles are so damn chill they don’t even bat an eyelid when you swim next to them.
Getting to Cape Tribulation
Cape Tribulation is located in the Daintree Rainforest. If you’re based in Cairns and have your own transport you can drive north towards Daintree. This is a great way to also experience the Great Barrier Reef Drive (160kms of stunning coastal scenery on the edge of the world’s oldest living rainforest – how can you miss that?!)
The drive will take about 2.5 hours from Cairns or 1.5-2 hours from Port Douglas, eventually crossing the Daintree river by cable ferry into a whole new world.
Ocean Safari Snorkel Tour
The Ocean Safari tour runs twice daily, and will take you out to Mackay & Undine Reef via high-speed inflatable boat. The ride there takes about 25 minutes and is especially thrilling if you sit up the front of the vessel.
We had roughly an hour in the water at the first spot, and I spotted my first turtle of the day after one 2 minutes! I also saw heaps of blue spotted rays, colourful fish and even saw a massive cray fish.
Book Ocean Safari Tour: Ocean Safari Snorkel Tour Cape Tribulation
You can choose to tag along with the snorkel guide or go off on your own but it’s worth hanging around the snorkel guide for a photo of yourself snokelling!
We then moved onto Mackay Cay where the boat stopped and we jumped off for another snorkel. You’re also able to chill out on the sand cay and have a drink – they supply beer and soft drinks for purchasing on board.
Words nor pictures can fully describe how beautiful this place is – you have to see it for yourself!
Daintree has limited phone reception so be sure to book any tours and accommodation in advance. If you get stuck, I’ve found patches of Telstra reception at Alexandria lookout, near the petrol station and also around PK’s Jungle Village.
There it is folks – the 3 best snorkelling spots to swim with turtles in Tropical North Queensland.
I believe everyone should experience the incredibleness of cruising along with a turtle as it creates a deeper connection between us and the ocean – and therefore, greater care and consideration for our impact on it.
So get out there and find yourself some turtles!
Looking for more activities and sightseeing around Cairns? Check out my 5 day Cairns itinerary which includes some unmissable Tropical North Queensland highlights.
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