Our Frankland Islands Cruise was one of the best day trips we took during our stay in Cairns. That’s not an easy statement to make with so many incredible things to see and do in Tropical North Queensland. We decided on this Cairns day tour due to the quick ocean crossing, small group size, and rave reviews.

This pristine archipelago consists of five islands: Normanby, High, Russell, Round, and Mabel. These islands form part of the protected Great Barrier Reef Marine Park, and healthy fringing reefs surround them.

The islands’ landscapes are diverse, with parts of mangroves, dense rainforests, rocky outcrops, and coastal flora. As a result, it has a large variety of birdlife, including seabirds, pied imperial-pigeons, fruit doves, varied honeyeaters, little tern, beach stone-curlew, crested tern, and white-breasted woodswallows.

The fringing reefs are home to a wide range of marine life; hard and soft corals, giant clams, schools of fish, turtles, and octopus, to name a few. Of course, you can’t forget the kids’ favourite, Nemo the anemone clownfish.

Where are the Frankland Islands?

The Frankland Islands are about 45 km south-east of Cairns, in Tropical North Queensland, located 10 km offshore.

green turtle under the ocean with coral on the sea bed on frankland islands cruise

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How do you get to Frankland Islands?

If you don’t own a boat, the only way to get to the Frankland Islands is by an organised full day tour. Frankland Islands Reef Cruises is the only company to hold a permit to visit Normanby Island, one of the Frankland Islands.

pristine clear ocean and a sandy tropical beach on an island

What is the Best Time to Visit Frankland Islands?

There are two distinct seasons in Tropical North Queensland; the wet and the dry. The wet season (November to April) brings high humidity and rainfall, while the dry season (May to October) is cooler with less rain.

The heavy rain in the wet season can reduce visibility for snorkeling on the reef, but the water is warm.

The dry season is the most popular time to visit the Great Barrier Reef, with the June-July school holidays being the peak time. We stayed in September and found the water warm, the weather great, and not too many tourists.

Box and Irukandji jellyfish (also known as stingers) are more common from around November to May. During this time you must wear a stinger suit.

Brief History of Frankland Islands

I would like to respectfully acknowledge the Mandingalby Yindinji and Gungandji people, the Traditional Owners, and First People of these lands. I would like to pay my respect to the Elders past, present, and future, for they hold the memories, the traditions, the culture, and hopes of the Mandingalby Yindinji and Gungandji people.

Frankland Islands were once connected to the mainland but separated by a rise in sea level thousands of years ago.

The Mandingalby Yindinji and Gungandji people used the Frankland Islands to fish, hunt, and gather food.

Lieutenant James Cook named the islands in 1770 after a Lord of the Admiralty and his nephew, who were both called Sir Thomas Frankland.

The waters became popular for fishing and boating in the early 1900s, with two boats being wrecked. Consequently, a lighthouse was built on Russell Island in 1929, which converted to solar power in 1989.

High, Normanby, Mabel, and Round islands were declared a National Park in 1936, with the surrounding ocean being added to the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park in 1983.

white dandy beach and rainforest on an island

Frankland Islands Cruise Review

The Frankland Islands cruise tour starts with a complimentary transfer by air-conditioned coach from your Cairns accommodation to Deeral Landing. This 45-minute journey takes you through sugar cane fields, UNESCO World Heritage-listed rainforest mountains, and Walsh’s Pyramid, the highest freestanding natural pyramid in the world.

Coaches depart Cairns from 6.55 am.

Alternatively, do what we did, and self-drive. Deeral is an easy drive from Cairns but allow plenty of time to check in at the vessel by 8.15 am. This self-drive map shows how to get there.

Once onboard the catamaran, you can relax inside the air-conditioned cabin or out on the shaded rear deck (our choice). The boat cruise along the Mulgrave River was peaceful as we journeyed past the Deeral and Russell Heads’ small communities. We hoped to spot a saltwater crocodile on the river banks but sadly didn’t have any luck. However, the scenery was spectacular, with rainforest and mangroves in front of the large mountain ranges. A fascinating commentary gives you an understanding of the river environment and landscape. Frankland Cruises provide tea, coffee, and biscuits during the river cruise.

a river with rainforest and mangroves along the banks of the river

The Mulgrave and Russell Rivers meet, forming the Mutchero Inlet, leading to the Coral Sea. Frankland Islands are only a 10 km water crossing from the Mulgrave River mouth. This is the shortest ocean crossing to the GBR from Cairns and is ideal for families with small children or anyone suffering from seasickness. It’s worth looking out for dolphins and whales as people often see them in this area.

We stood out on the deck and saw the Frankland Islands come into sight. The view was incredible; they looked how I imagine paradise to be.

This tropical island adventure is to Normanby Island, an uninhabited natural heaven. This breathtaking island has pristine white sandy beaches, rock pools, crystal clear water, and fringing reefs. You can even snorkel right from the beach.

Frankland Islands Reef Cruises are the only operator allowed to visit Normanby Island. Therefore, there will only be your tour group on the island, and they can choose any mooring location based on the conditions.

The tour is flexible, and the guides can change the itinerary due to the weather, swell, and tide This happened to us. The tour guides decided to do the certified scuba dive first, which is an optional extra. The dive talk mentioned that you might get to see turtles, anemonefish, giant clams, wrasse, and manta rays. Dave, being a certified diver, opted for this activity. Anyone not diving had a choice of going on the semi-submersible or the glass bottom boat tour.

We opted for the semi-sub, a small submarine-like vessel with glass viewing windows on each side and a bench in the middle to sit on. It’s a great way to see the reef up close and marine life without getting wet; excellent for non-swimmers. It went slowly to stop the ocean bed from being stirred up, so we saw lots of sea creatures, including a couple of turtles, parrotfish, giant clams, and large coral formations.

The Marine biologist onboard the semi-sub provided an informative commentary on the different corals and mammals that reside around Frankland Islands and, in particular, this large reef. It was amazing to see and hear about the diversity and richness of the reef.

It did feel a bit stuffy in the semi-sub, and there was quite a bit of movement, so I’d recommend taking anti nausea tablets if you suffer from seasickness. There is the option to go upstairs for fresh air too. Here you can see the semi-submersible in front of the catamaran.

view of a tropical island from a boat with a semi submersible

Once everyone was back on the vessel, we headed for Normanby Island. There were two snorkel options; the adventure snorkel safari or the snorkel from the beach. If you have advanced to intermediate swimming skills, you can go on the adventure snorkel safari to the western reefs to explore coral bombies. For novices, beginners, and young families, you can choose to do the easier Marine Biologist led snorkelling tour from the beach.

Cold water channels surround the islands, which keep sea temperatures cooler during the hot summer months. So, if you want to hire wet suits, they can be booked and paid for on the boat (it was A$15).

The catamaran came right into the island’s shallow water, and steps led down from the boat onto the sand. This made getting onto the island easy for adults and children.

As soon as we arrived , we were excited to head into the water and take the guided snorkel off the beach. Our daughters were still relatively young, so they were provided with noodles as an extra buoyancy aid. Frankland Islands Cruise include all snorkel equipment in the tour price.

It was one of the best snorkels I’ve ever done. We saw a wide range of coral, tropical fish, and even a couple of green sea turtles. I still remember our daughter’s squawks when she saw one swim past her. Locals told us that these islands provide some of the best snorkelling of all the Cairns islands, and I agree.

Once the snorkel tour was over, we had a brief rest but couldn’t wait to explore more of the ocean. The water was so clear that it was easy to see the beautiful coral reef, sea cucumbers, and sea stars in the shallow and sheltered island lagoon.

a sea cucumber under water
Sea Cucumber seen while snorkeling by Frankland Island beach

You have four hours on this slice of paradise to choose a range of activities, including kayaking or having a go on a Stand Up Paddleboard. Two-seater kayaks are available for 30 minutes of hire during the day for free (transfer only passengers cost is A$20). The water around the island is calm, making it an ideal place to try Stand Up Paddle Boarding. Again, the SUP hire is free for 30 minutes for day tour guests.

A tropical buffet lunch is included and served under the shade of the trees. There were fresh salads, cold meats, prawns, and fruit, with plenty to go around.

After lunch, we went on a guided walk around the island. The marine naturalist gave an interesting and informative talk about the marine life and wildlife found in the rock pools, in the rainforest, and under the water. There’s even a treasure hunt to keep the kids occupied on the walk. It was fascinating to learn about the various creatures we came across on our walk. The island itself is full of beautiful nature with white sandy secluded beaches, lush green rainforest, and turquoise blue ocean.

Some of the marine life you may come across on your walk is giant clams, spider conch snails, sea cucumbers, sea stars, and feather stars. Even some small sharks have been caught in the rock pools.

a beautiful orange spider shell with a snail inside in rock pool
Spider Conch Snail

At 2.30 pm, it was time to leave this blissful island and transfer back to the main vessel. Our daughters were so exhausted by the fun day trip that they slept on the return journey. Dave and I enjoyed a relaxing cruise back with afternoon tea of coffee and cake. You get back to Deeral around 3.30-4 pm, and coaches arrive back in Cairns about 5-5.30 pm.

a cruise boat moored off a tropical beach

How to book the Frankland Islands Cruise & Tickets

We use Get Your GuideViator, and Klook to book our tours. We like the instant confirmation, free cancellation with 24 hours notice (this is the best reason for us with volatile travel), and price guarantees.

When checking prices for future dates, I noticed that Viator had a significant discount on the tickets. However, see prices for your dates by clicking on the links to Get Your GuideViator, and Klook.

There is an option for transfer only. You bring your snorkeling gear and lunch. The guided walk is free to join, but charges apply for equipment hire and the guided snorkel trails.

What to Bring on the Frankland Islands Cruise

Here are a few items that I recommend you bring on your Frankland Islands Cruise Day Tour:

a desserted tropical beach with a girl looking out to the ocean

Frankland Islands Cruise Tips

  • Pay attention to the safety briefing on the way out to Frankland Island
  • If you go snorkeling on your own, make sure you have a buddy (partner)
  • Know your swimming capabilities
  • Make sure to bring and apply sunscreen frequently and wear a hat
  • Drink plenty of water throughout the day
  • Do not feed wildlife including birds and fish—it is harmful to their health
  • Avoid damaging coral – never stand on or touch it
  • Take all rubbish back with you
  • Leave everything where you found it (living or dead), and don’t take anything back with you under any circumstances 
  • Avoid touching any shells or creatures unless under the direction of the tour guides (some can inflict a painful sting or bite)
  • Stingers (dangerous stinging jellyfish) are present in the water year-round but are more common during the warmer months. Frankland Islands Cruise provides passengers with a stinger suit during this time, which MUST be worn when in the water. You can find details on beach safety and dangerous marine life on the Surf Lifesaving site.
  • Stay out of any fenced off areas; the sand spit on Normanby Island may be fenced off from 1 September to 31 March to protect nesting seabirds
  • There are no toilets on the island so go before leaving the boat. The guides do a “toilet run” back to the boat if required.
a white sandy desserted beach on an island

Frankland Islands Accommodation

Frankland Islands are uninhabited, but you can camp on Russell Island and High Island. You must obtain Camping permits from The Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service.

We stayed in gorgeous apartments overlooking Trinity Beach, one of the northern beaches in Cairns. Trinity Beach is a quiet suburb with a great community feel with restaurants and cafes. It’s a cheaper alternative to Palm Cove.

Our apartments, Seapoint on Trinity, have two options. The apartments at the back of the complex have mountain views, while the front has sea views. Both have two bedrooms and two bathrooms with air-conditioning and fully equipped kitchens. The balcony in the sea view apartments is large with a barbeque and table setting.

We stayed a couple of nights in each, and the sea view is more luxurious, and who doesn’t love watching the sunrise over the ocean? However, it is more expensive, and the mountain view apartments are excellent value.

Have a look at the photos and reviews on BookingCom. We use them to book our accommodation due to their instant confirmation with Free Cancellation at most properties on their site.

a BBQ dining table and chairs on apartment balcony overlooking the ocean and palm trees

Flights

plane flying over a beach

I use different sites to try and get the best possible price for flights.

First I visit matrix.itasoftware.com to get an idea of the cheapest dates, but you can’t book through this site.

Next I compare the cost of flights with Trip.com and try different routes.

Accommodation

Affordable Frankland Islands Cruise Informative Review

I mainly use Booking.com for accommodation as they consistently have the lowest rates with free cancellation on most properties.

Car Hire

black car

To compare rental car company prices, I use Rentalcars.com. They are world’s biggest car rental site, comparing all main brands including Europcar, Budget, Ace, Hertz, Avis, and Alamo.

Travel Insurance

Affordable Frankland Islands Cruise Informative Review

Don’t travel anywhere without travel insurance, it’s not worth the risk.

Travel insurance: simple & flexible

You can buy and claim online, even after you’ve left home. Travel insurance from WorldNomads.com is available to people from over 130 countries. It’s designed for adventurous travellers with cover for overseas medical, evacuation, baggage and a range of adventure sports and activities.

Travel Information & Guides

This Australia Travel Guide, which includes all essential information and tips, will help with the planning of your holiday to this beautiful country.

For more things to do in Queensland, check out this Queensland Travel Guide.

Marine Life in the Rock Pools on Frankland Island

Note: We were paying guests of Frankland Islands Cruise Tours and received no discounts or benefits for writing this article.

If you found our Frankland Islands Cruise guide helpful, please consider booking through one of our links. It won’t cost you anything but will help towards the cost of running this site. Thank you 🙂

photo of a turtle tropical fish and coral on a reef

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37 Comments

  1. Wow, a perfect day trip with lots of activities! I never even heard about Frankland Islands before but they sound like a great place to visit.

    1. I’d recommend the Frankland Islands to anyone staying in or around Cairns.

  2. What a lovely day out, and scenery to match Wendy! I’m so envious that you get to go on day trips, it feels like an eternity since we did one. Thanks for the tips about nausea, I always get sea sick so I’ll be better prepared!

    1. Thanks Lisa. I suffer from seasickness as well which was another reason this dat trip was excellent. We went on a dive trip to the Great Barrier Reef and I was sick all the way there and back.

  3. Paradise indeed! What beautiful islands – I especially love Normanby Island. The snorkelling looks fabulous, as does the trip in the semi- submersible. I don’t do scuba, so good to know there is an alternative. This is definitely on my hit list for my my next visit to Australia.

    1. I don’t scuba dive either Jane but there was so many other ways to view the beautiful marine life.

  4. This looks mind-blowingly gorgeous. Have always wanted to visit the GBR. Roll on the Trans-Tasman bubble!

  5. I visited Carins many decades ago and took a day trip to some island. It was not Frankland but another one. And it was glorious. Would love to do it again.

    1. There are many islands off Carirns to choose from that appeal to different people. We enjoyed the tranquillity of Frankland Islands.

  6. I visited Cairns as a teen and didn’t go here. Bummer! Sounds very interesting and reminds me of an island I sailed to outside Grand Cayman that was secluded with nature and forests all over. A great island for a relaxing day tour, even though snorkeling is not my forte.

    1. The Grand Cayman island sounds amazing too. I’m not the best snorkeller either but it was so easy off the beach.

  7. Gosh, Wendy, the Frankland Islands look amazing! All that blue water, the marine life are fascinating.. with that Sea Cucumber and Spider Conch Snails. Thanks for sharing those wonderful tips too!

    1. The Frankland islands are a true paradise and the most marine life we have seen.

  8. The color of the sea is so inviting! Fascinating to see these marine creatures and I like the exclusivity of the tour, regulating visitors on the island.

    1. That’s what I liked too. It’s great to see Frankland Islands not being a victim of over tourism.

  9. Vanessa Shields says:

    This looks like a dream day in paradise! The water is breathtaking and is more clear than a pool! It sounds like an excellent tour and love how it doesn’t seem crowded as there aren’t other operators. I’d definitely want to do the diving extra activity!

    1. We liked the fact that it wasn’t crowded and didn’t have to fight other people in the ocean to view the turtles or marine life. The diving was fantastic apparently.

  10. I always have to look up where you’re at in Australia because you go to so many cool places. We’re not that familiar with Oz but I think we can now plan a vacation there, thanks to you. I’ve been snorkeling twice but I’d really enjoy the semi-submersible boat. How fun!

    1. Love your comment, thank you! So happy that I’m inspiring you to visit Australia. Hopefully by the time you are planning your trip, I’ll have more ideas and itineraries for you.

  11. What a great trip you had. Would.of.loved to do it
    We did the glass bottom boat on Green Island was amazing. Such a beautiful part of the world.

    Interesting that it was once part of the mainland.

    Enjoying reading your post on northern Queensland

    1. Thank you! We did Green Island too but preferred Frankland Islands. It wasn’t as touristy and felt more intimate.

  12. This seems like the best place to have that go at a standup paddleboard. Perhaps I will stay above the sea cucumbers (unlike the last go when I plunged in head first!) Thank you for this inspiration!

    1. We didn’t have time to try the stand up paddle board as we were spending too much time snorkelling and exploring the rock pools.

  13. Franklin Islands Cruise looks like an amazing day trip from Cairns with the family! Would love to visit these islands and do some snorkeling!

    1. The snorkeling from the beach at Frankland Islands was incredible and we saw so much marine life.

  14. John Quinn says:

    This looks truly glorious Wendy. My idea of a deserted island. That water!! I like the idea of the semi sub tour, definitely a Great way to see the marine life. This was a brilliant trip I imagine. Great guide.

    1. The day trip to Frankland Island was one of our best day tours to date.

  15. I was convinced to visit these islands when I saw the turtle! The beaches look so pristine and scuba diving must be great there. I would sure like to camp out in these islands.

  16. Sounds like a very fun day trip, Wendy. I had never heard of the island, despite having visited Cairns many times, what a great find. Those sea cucumbers and spider conch snails are on their way to becoming my favourite animals. Such curious creatures.

    1. It’s amazing what information we can find on the internet. I came across this island whilst researching islands off Cairns. It really was the best one we’ve been to. We weren’t very keen on the touristy ones.

  17. Wendy, this looks like an amazing day! Always the barometer of an excellent day: when the kids had so much fun they fall asleep before bedtime, even for a nap! Photos are just beautiful 💕 the sea turtle. Can’t wait to be able to travel again.

    1. So true Cindi, our girls were always falling asleep at the end of our day trips haha

    2. Liz Hubbard says:

      I enjoyed this Wendy. You’ve described everything so well and so thoroughly! I would definitely book a day trip to the islands after reading this helpful and comprehensive guide.

      1. Thank you so much Liz. We had such a fantastic day on Frankland Island. It was definitely memorable and highly recommended.

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