Best Aussie islands you’ve never heard of

But have you heard of the Frankland Islands? Most people haven’t, and these islands are up there with the best. Despite being only 30km from day trip favourite Fitzroy Island, it is one of the least-visited island groups in the region.

The idyllic Franklands comprise a series of five islands – Normanby, High, Russell, Round and Mabel – set in the pristine aqua waters of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park off Deeral, 40 minutes south of Cairns.

Uninhabited, the islands are surrounded by healthy fringing reefs full of hard and soft corals, giant clams, colourful schools of fish, turtles, octopus, small white tip sharks, manta rays and (sometimes) dugongs and whales. The islands are continental, meaning they’re simply unsubmerged outcrops of high ground, and the sandy beaches are lined with mangroves and rainforest, home to a world of birdlife and small reptiles.

How to get to the Frankland Islands

The jumping-off point for the Franklands is the tiny town of Deeral. We sailed to Normanby Island with Frankland Island Reef Cruises and, assuming you don’t have your own boat, so will you, because it’s the only company licensed to operate tours to the islands.

Transfer-only rates are available – take your own equipment and food and enjoy the tranquillity – or you can relax on a guided day trip from Cairns or Deeral from $205 (children $124).

The first leg of the journey is a cruise down the Mulgrave River (look out for basking crocodiles), followed by a 30-minute journey across the open ocean to Normanby. Part of the Marine Parks Green Zone, the island is a protected natural nursery for fish, turtles and marine life. 

Snorkelling at Frankland Islands. Picture: Tourism and Events Queensland
Snorkelling at Frankland Islands. Picture: Tourism and Events Queensland

What is there to do at the Frankland Islands?

While there are kayaks and stand-up paddleboards, everyone comes here for the snorkelling. You can swim straight onto the reef from the beach. The 200 different species of corals are among the healthiest on the reef, and there are plentiful pockets of the rare blue anemone that provides a home for clownfish families.

But the stars of the show are the turtles that flock here for the large bed of seagrass just off the beach. I spend a while peering under the rock ledges, until I spot my first green sea turtle sailing towards me through the crystal-clear waters. We hang out for the next 20 minutes, swimming around together over the sandy floor. Twice, she comes up to breathe right next to me, sticking her shiny, leopard-print head out of the water so we’re eye-to-eye.

Lunch on the beach is followed by a guided island walk (in a sudden torrential and steamy downpour) where we learn about the geology of the islands. Our guide tells us about the native cone snail, a beautifully shelled mollusc that shoots a venomous dart into its unsuspecting prey. People have perished by unsuspectingly putting these little critters in their pockets. It’s a remarkably effective lesson in not taking shells home as a souvenir.

The reef surrounding the Frankland Islands is a haven for wildlife. Picture: Tourism and Events Queensland
The reef surrounding the Frankland Islands is a haven for wildlife. Picture: Tourism and Events Queensland

Can you stay on the Frankland Islands?

Bush camping permits are available for High and Russell islands, and Frankland Island River Cruises can drop you off there by arrangement. You’ll need to take everything with you, including water.

If you want to stay ashore nearby, there are ensuite villas at the nearby Fishery Falls Holiday Park just out of Deeral, which has the added bonus of being the only way into the picturesque Fishery Falls. Take the rainforest track to the pool at the base of the waterfall and have your camera at the ready.

We then drove 15km south to the country town of Babinda and stayed at Babinda Quarters, in what used to be the nurses’ accommodation behind the hospital and is now repurposed as a quirky art deco guesthouse. 

Babinda Boulders is one of Tropical North Queensland's most stunning waterholes. Picture: Katie Purling/ Tourism and Events Queensland
Babinda Boulders is one of Tropical North Queensland’s most stunning waterholes. Picture: Katie Purling/ Tourism and Events Queensland

What else should I do near the Frankland Islands?

The Great Green Way stretches 350km from Townsville to Cairns. With your foot on the floor, you can do it in four hours, but it’s best enjoyed at a more leisurely pace.

Babinda, sitting in the shadow of Mt Bartle Frere, is home to one of the Far North’s best freshwater swimming spots, Bunna Binda, also known as Babinda Boulders. On a warm Monday morning, we have icy cold, jade waters and huge, smooth granite rocks to ourselves. A walk through the rainforest leads to a viewing platform over Devil’s Pool.

Legend has it that after being promised to a tribal elder, Oolana, a young woman from the Yidinji tribe, fell in love with a handsome young warrior. They fled into the wilderness but were hunted down and, in her grief, Oolana threw herself into the Devil’s Pool, where her anguish turned into fast-flowing water and turbulent currents.

Swimming here is forbidden but people still do it, and 20 or so have lost their lives since records began in the 1950s. Locals believe Oolana haunts the pool, pulling young men to their untimely deaths in everlasting retribution.

Walsh's Pyramid is the world's highest freestanding natural pyramid. Picture: Tourism and Events Queensland
Walsh’s Pyramid is the world’s highest freestanding natural pyramid. Picture: Tourism and Events Queensland

Half an hour north, towards Cairns, is the sugar town of Gordonvale, dominated by the shadow of Walshs Pyramid, the highest freestanding natural pyramid in the world.

The walk up is relentlessly steep, rising 900m in just 3km, and depending on how much you want to stop and stare, takes up to five hours for the round trip. The best time to climb is between May and October when it’s dry and cool(er).

We started soon after dawn so as not to risk it getting dark on the return leg. (Unbelievably, one of the hazards in the winter months is runners training for the annual race to the peak that takes place in August.) Just after the 3km mark is the summit. Along with a great sense of accomplishment at arriving here is the reward of the panoramic views of Cairns, the Innisfail Coast and, if you squint, the Frankland Islands.

This article originally appeared on Escape and do not necessarily represent the views of

About the author


Hi! I’m Ozzie!

Before joining Australia Exploring, I was a writer at Tripadvisor.

I'm looking for the best posts for you about travel adventures in Australia and around the world. This website has the purpose to inspire you to travel… travel more and better. I hope it can help you explore the world a little bit better.

I graduated from the University of Sydney. I live in California with my wife and two children.


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