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Frankland Islands River and Reef Cruise

Home > Cairns > Beaches | Day Trips | Escape the City | Outdoor | Unusual Things to do
by Rose (subscribe)
In the words of JR Tolkien "Not all those who wander are lost". My passion and loves are my family, travel and writing. I'm fortunate to be able to combine all three for an extraordinary life adventure....
Published December 25th 2017
Normanby National Park Island, Frankland Island, National Parks in Cairns, Frankland Islands reef and river cruises, things to do near Cairns
Idyllic natural islands; the Frankland Islands


Have you ever imagined yourself as a Robinson Crusoe, stranded on an idyllic, uninhabited sandy beach and palm tree island for a day?

The Frankland Islands River and Reef Cruise gives you the opportunity to enjoy a natural reef experience with an intimate group of people. The day trip takes you on a special visit to Normanby Island, one of the five protected National and Marine Park Frankland Islands.

The Islands have a special significance for the Mandingalby Yidinji and Gungandji Aboriginal people who fished, hunted and gathered food on these islands and the adjacent marine environment.

Normanby National Park Island, Frankland Island, National Parks in Cairns, Frankland Islands reef and river cruises, things to do near Cairns
Normanby; 1 of the 5 Frankland Islands


Just off the coast of Cairns, spend the day here and escape the noise and frantic urban lifestyle, even if just for a short while, so as to experience a natural reef paradise. The boat tour departs from a lone jetty located approximately 40 mins drive south from Cairns just off the Bruce Hwy. If needed, there is a shuttle transfer option to take you there. Contact reservations for more information, click here.

On the day of our visit, we gathered excitedly for the boat's morning departure at 8:15 a.m, greeted by the friendly staff and crew.

Mulgrave River, Frankland Islands reef and river cruise, Mount Bartle frere national park, things to do near Cairns
Friendly skipper and crew


We settled ourselves in with coffee and biscuits as we began the scenic journey cruising along the Mulgrave river. We gazed in awe at the towering Mount Bartle Frere (the highest mountain in Queensland), clearly visible and breathtakingly nestled in the surrounding backdrop of lush National Park rainforest and open fields of sugar cane. This was a reef cruise of a different kind.

Mulgrave River, Frankland Islands reef and river cruise, Mount Bartle frere national park, things to do near Cairns
Cruising the Mulgrave river; leaving the dark skies behind


It is a unique way to travel to the reef, following the mangrove river out to the open sea, with the rare chance to spot a crocodile along the journey. As we ventured out to the open seas we left the drizzle and dark looming clouds over the mainland behind us, instead, following the beckoning call of the turquoise seas and blue skies in the near distance.

Standing up on deck with the sun on our faces and the breeze in our hair, we turned our anticipation to the day's exploration awaiting us.

Normanby National Park Island, Frankland Island, National Parks in Cairns, Frankland Islands reef and river cruises, things to do near Cairns
Antcipating our arrival on Normanby island- marine and national park


The Frankland Islands are characterised by a range of vegetation which is varied and diverse including pandanus palm trees, patches of lush rainforest, other coastal plant species and mangrove swamps.

The fringing reefs surrounding the islands are home to a diversity of reef life including both hard and soft corals. After a short hour journey, our boat finally came to a gliding halt in the shallows of the crystal clear waters and we lightly stepped off onto the fine coral sand with our bare feet, having tossed our sandals off moments before.

reef snorkelling, Normanby National Park Island, Frankland Island, National Parks in Cairns, Frankland Islands reef and river cruises, things to do near Cairns
Getting ready to take the plunge


With our suits on and snorkels at the ready, my boys did not need a second invitation to head into the water for our chance to reef snorkel off the beach. There are staff in the water who provide a 45 mins snorkel guide-led tour to ensure you get to see the main reef spots, including seeing some cool turtles.

sea turtles,Normanby National Park Island, Frankland Island, National Parks in Cairns, Frankland Islands reef and river cruises, things to do near Cairns
Sea turtle spotting


The staff glided through the water carrying an attached flotation device which was available for snorkellers, especially the younger ones, to hold onto at any time. This was very handy as my little 6 year old, who tired after a little while, stayed much longer and swam much further in the water than he would normally have with these opportunities for a rest.

snorkelling the reef, Normanby National Park Island, Frankland Island, National Parks in Cairns, Frankland Islands reef and river cruises, things to do near Cairns
Intimate snorkelling experience


There are no permanent structures in the water/reef area, which ensures this pristine island remains just so.

The thoughtful staff member also made sure my son did not miss out on seeing Nemo and friends by taking him over to the reef area we had missed. My son was very excited to see one of our favourite fish friends.

nemo, clownfish, great barrier reef, Normanby National Park Island, Frankland Island, National Parks in Cairns, Frankland Islands reef and river cruises, things to do near Cairns
Finding nemo!!


Following the morning snorkel, we had the choice of either a trip in the semi-submersible or an advanced snorkelling/diving opportunity in deeper waters on the west side of the island.

semi submersible reef tour, Normanby National Park Island, Frankland Island, National Parks in Cairns, Frankland Islands reef and river cruises, things to do near Cairns
Fascinated by the reef view



My children and I joined the glass bottom boat tour while my husband decided to take the opportunity for some lone snorkelling time and we both enjoyed some further close up encounters (us in the comfort and dry) of spotting turtles, a black tipped reef shark and viewing some stunning and beautiful coral formations.

This has been our second reef encounter off Cairns and we were impressed with the diversity and richness of this particular coral reef. We were in awe at the number of large boulder corals, giant clams, unusual and bright coral colours, and the range and variety of fish such as barracudas, puffer fish, parrot fish and other very cool species. My boys were so distracted and enthralled to not notice or feel any motion or sea sickness!

snorkelling, great barrier reef, Normanby National Park Island, Frankland Island, National Parks in Cairns, Frankland Islands reef and river cruises, things to do near Cairns
Spectacular snorkelling


The tour was accompanied by the marine biologist who was informative and knowledgeable, happy to answer my inquisitive son's many questions. We were also impressed by the care factor - with the research work undertake in this area by the marine biologist who is helping to map, record and collect relevant information to help us better understand this beautiful and unique part of our world.

Normanby National Park Island, Frankland Island, National Parks in Cairns, Frankland Islands reef and river cruises, things to do near Cairns
Loving the island view from above and below the waters


As we waited for my husband to make his way back onto the boat, we spotted more large turtles swimming just on the surface of the water.

Famished by the morning's activities and less Robinson Crusoe like, was the amazing buffet lunch prepared for us. We enjoyed lunch on wooden tables under the shady trees with a cool sea breeze and a view of paradise unlike any other.

buffet lunch on normanby Island, Normanby National Park Island, Frankland Island, National Parks in Cairns, Frankland Islands reef and river cruises, things to do near Cairns
Buffet lunch with a view


Following lunch was the opportunity to do whatever you pleased - either more snorkelling, lazing about or exploring the island on a guided walk with the marine biologist. We chose the latter.

1km circuit track, Normanby National Park Island, Frankland Island, National Parks in Cairns, Frankland Islands reef and river cruises, things to do near Cairns
Exploring the island's circuit track


The Normanby Island circuit track is graded an easy 1km return (20mins), walk but it can take about one hour as we meandered slowly, my boys stopping to locate interesting shells, bits of coral, seed pods, and for some time to spot a reef shark and stingray.

There are also rock pools to explore (if the tide is low) and the marine biologist is on hand to answer all those questions from curious minds, helping my boys to identify protozoa in the coral sand and to better understand the island's natural ecosystem. As much as we would have loved to take some of these amazing coral finds home with us, we had a new appreciation for the coral life cycle and its importance to the continual health of the sealife.

Normanby National Park Island, Frankland Island, National Parks in Cairns, Frankland Islands reef and river cruises, things to do near Cairns
Stingray and reef shark spotting


The circuit walking track passes through a range of environments, including rocky outcrops, dense rainforest, coastal vegetation and mangrove communities. The track gives you the opportunity to see a variety of plants and animals including seabirds.

Normanby National Park Island, Frankland Island, National Parks in Cairns, Frankland Islands reef and river cruises, things to do near Cairns
Learning about coral life from the marine biologist


If you are a bird lover, you will enjoy the easy sightings of various bird life such as honeyeaters and the migratory Torres Strait Island pigeons which we discovered above us in the treetops.

By the time we had explored the island and were just beginning to settle into Robinson Crusoe island life, it was already time to pack and head off again on the journey home to the mainland. For a brief moment, we glimpsed and had a taste of island life, envious of Robinson's 28 years worth ....

Normanby National Park Island, Frankland Island, National Parks in Cairns, Frankland Islands reef and river cruises, things to do near Cairns
Wild and uninhabited


To book a visit and tour with the friendly Frankland Islands river and reef cruise tour operator - the only tour which has access to these natural islands, click on the booking link here

The Frankland Islands River and reef cruises are a locally owned family business run by the friendly husband and wife team with an outstanding crew with lots of local knowledge and experience.

Experiences available include; beginner and advanced snorkelling, introductory and certified dives, sea Kayak and stand up paddle boards available, seadoo instruction.

Snorkelling gear and suits provided. Please advise if there are any dietary requirements

Morning tea, afternoon tea and lunch provided. Can bring own additional snacks on board.

Language staff guides available; Italian, Spanish, French, Japanese and German-speaking

Normanby National Park Island, Frankland Island, National Parks in Cairns, Frankland Islands reef and river cruises, things to do near Cairns
Heading home.....
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Why? Spend the day with an intimate group of people exploring the idyllic and sandy uninhabited natural island with beautiful diverse coral reef and sea life.
When: Tours run all year round.
Phone: 07 4031 6300
Where: Normanby Island, Frankland Islands Cairns
Cost: Infant under 4 yo; free, Child (aged 4-14 yo): $106, Adult: $176, Family ticket of 2 adults and 2 children costs $465.00
Your Comment
This sounds like such an amazing thing to do!
by Jay Johnson (score: 3|1364) 148 days ago
Beautiful Rose.
by May Cross (score: 3|2173) 148 days ago
Thanks Rose, makes me want to jump on a plane right now!!
by Infin (score: 0|2) 147 days ago
Great article and images!!
by Ines (score: 0|4) 124 days ago
Great article and images!!
by Ines (score: 0|4) 124 days ago
Great article and images!!
by Ines (score: 0|4) 124 days ago
Great article and images!!
by Ines (score: 0|4) 124 days ago
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