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.
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Where are the Frankland Islands?
The Frankland Islands are about 45 km south-east of Cairns, in Tropical North Queensland, located 10 km offshore.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
- Swimsuit & Rash Vest
- Sunscreen (I like these from Nivea)
- Hat and Sunglasses
- Insect Repellent (we use either Bushman or Aeroguard) for the rainforest mosquitoes & flies
- Camera (I love my Nikon D7500 and Go-Pro)
- Beach Towel – these microfibre sand-free towels are fantastic
- Thongs (Flip Flops)
- A warm jacket for the return boat journey
- Water Bottle like this Vacuum-Insulated Stainless-Steel one from Takeya that keeps your water cold all day
- Motion sickness tablets if you suffer from sea sickness (the trip over was calm, but we found the semi-sub to be quite rocky)
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.
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.
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.
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