Return to Green Island – via Cairns, Far North Queensland

Last Updated on March 18, 2019 by Red Nomad OZ

Green Island from the Jetty, via Cairns, Far North Queensland
Green Island from the Jetty, via Cairns, Far North Queensland

We Arrive on Green Island

Although it was 20 LOOOONG years since our last Green Island National Park visit, Pilchard’s first action on our return just MAY have been a little bit extreme.

I mean, propelling a perfectly good hat into the sea wasn’t some kind of superstitious ritual, was it? Did he perhaps think it meant we wouldn’t have to wait another 20 years before our next visit??

The Beach from the Rainforest Boardwalk, Green Island
The Beach from the Rainforest Boardwalk, Green Island

But the capricious gust of wind that had plucked the hat from Pilchard’s head and flung it into the depths where it sank like a stone was pure accident.

AND embarrassing.

From the frenzied clicking and suppressed giggles behind us, I strongly suspected the whole episode had been captured on film …

Our return to Green Island wasn’t going well …

Green Island – the Facts!

The 12 hectare rainforest-covered coral cay – known as the Green Island Recreation Area – is one of the most popular and accessible tourist destinations in the Great Barrier Reef, a short 27 km (~17 miles) boat trip from Far North Queensland’s Cairns.

Green Island’s Fascinating Past

Estimated to be several thousand years old, post-colonial plunder and exploitation have threatened the island’s continued existence since its charting and naming by Captain James Cook in 1770. But luckily, the multi-layered protection that several regulatory authorities jointly brings will prevent further structural, environmental and biological damage, given the accountability and harmony so often seen in competing bureaucracies. Right???

Historic Letter from Green Island's Interpretive Signs
Historic Letter from Green Island’s Interpretive Signs

But changes to the island landscape since 1770 are far greater than those observed by Pilchard and I after our 20-year hiatus! Green Island’s new (to us!) interpretive boardwalk charts the effects of human interaction – and the changing demands for its resources.

From Guru-Gulu Gungandji Indigenous people’s hunting and initiation ceremony site to present day recreation area of reef, resort and National Park has been a long and bumpy road for this beautiful spot.

‘Plunder’ and ‘pillage’ the 1800’s themes, the island was exploited trashed cleared by bêche de mer fishermen who had no use for pristine rainforest and reef while involved in this labour-intensive industry. But in the 100+ years since the processing plant, living quarters and gardens replaced the forest, it’s grown back completely – with 134 charted plant species today.

During this time drunken ‘picnic’ parties, like those described in this postcard facsimile above, decimated island resources with activities including, but not exclusive to dynamiting fish, shooting birds and souveniring coral!

In what the unkind may describe as ‘poetic justice’, one local character’s arm was amputated after a nasty accident with the dynamite while ‘fishing’! Could this have been the rise of the notorious Aussie ‘yobbo’**??

Green Island Beach, via Cairns, Far North Queensland
Green Island Beach, via Cairns, Far North Queensland

In an almost complete turnaround, the island’s potential for tourism was exploited developed in the 1900’s complete with world firsts – including glass bottomed boats for underwater viewing, films of life on the Barrier Reef and Cassius, the largest crocodile (5.5m or 18′) in captivity in the only crocodile farm – Marineland Melanesia – on a coral cay. If that’s important.

Green Island – Now What?

now, around 300,000 tourists visit Green Island each year, continuing to exploit its resources, albeit more sustainably. In theory, anyway – imagine the impact of so many on the beaches, coral reefs, walks and wildlife.

The Sea from the Esplanade - Green Island
The Sea from the Esplanade – Green Island

But the multi-layered management model would have changed all this for the better, right? Well … look at what’s changed in the last 20 years – do the changes contribute to island sustainability? Or are they just cosmetic? You decide!!

20 years ago, you got a Green Island cruise or day-trip – now it’s a Green Island ‘Eco-Adventure’, although weirdly, most activities haven’t changed … and neither has the snorkelling equipment!!! How jealous would my friends have been in the early 90’s to hear about my Eco-Adventure!!

20 years ago, visitors could cross the island on a dirt track through the centre, and the only restricted areas were the resort grounds, and crocodile farm (as if you needed to be told that!!). Now, a boardwalk follows the beach, leaving the centre free from human activity. Oddly, the ‘walk’ from one side to the other is now marketed as a ‘self-guided tour’!

Buff-banded Rail, Green Island
Buff-banded Rail, Green Island

20 years ago, Emerald doves wandered the forest floor – but now, after a successful rat eradication program, large numbers of Buff-banded Rail aggressively hunt and gather from the main food court – and appear to be the only ground-based fauna. Like house-guests from hell, they bathe (and defecate) in the pool, snatch food from unwitting tourists, and hog the best sunbathing spots. In a strange zoological reversal, tourists unable to fend them off are invited to eat in a wire mesh enclosure (aka ‘cage’) the birds can’t enter …  The attractively marked Buff-banded Rail normally shuns human contact, so getting a close look at one isn’t that easy. But now? I don’t care if I never see another one …

20 years ago you were left to your own devices upon arrival on the island – now, there are warnings for the aged. Apparently a high risk group, tourists aged 50+ (aka ‘old’) are encouraged to alert the lifeguard when entering the water in case the exertion is too much. Although the only danger I faced was from Pilchard himself when I offered to tell the lifeguard that he was about to go snorkelling.

Rocks at Low Tide, Green Island
Rocks at Low Tide, Green Island, via Cairns, Far North Queensland

Green Island’s Natural Attractions

But these are minor points in the context of the magnificent beauty of the natural attractions. Broad white beaches. Water so clear and blue you could spot a hat through it. Superb corals, giant clams and fish. Lush, green rainforest. Ample birdwatching opportunities. Turtle spotting. And the ultimate? Whale watching!!

Sitting on a shady beach after the trauma of keeping our reef fish wraps and chips** from the hovering anxiety of a brace of Buff-banded Rail, we watched a pod of whates frolicking for a good 30 minutes before they moved out of sight. Then, another pod was spotted from the return ferry. Happily not required for scientific testing that day, the whales were free to cavort for the Aussie, American, French and Japanese photographers lucky enough – and thrilled – to capture them on film.

A stunning end to a fabulous day, our return to Green Island had certainly picked up from its inauspicious beginning.

Cairns from the Green Island Ferry
Cairns from the Green Island Ferry

SO … will we return? Hell, yes! After all, we’ve got Pilchard’s hat to look for …

* Yobbo = Aussie term of endearment for people (usually blokes) who indulge in ‘exuberant’ behaviour, usually taking the format of alcohol-fuelled best mate bonding sessions involving various combinations of camping, fishing, barbecues, hunting and cruising.

** Chips = fries

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  1. @TGN – Haha! Well you HAVE been once now – ‘virtually’!! Make the second time ‘actually’!!
    @Vapid Vixen – It’s a deal!! Let’s go NOW!!! And you’re right … it IS amazing!! Come back any time for MORE amazing OZ!!!

  2. Wow! This place looks amazing. If you bring me with you next time I promise to help look for the hat. Or at least bring a spare?

  3. I think I missed this post originally. Beautiful! I want to go back to Green Island too 🙂 Although I have never been before, lol.
    Thanks for always being a great participator in the Storytellers Blog Hop! Hope you are having a great weekend!

  4. @Stewart M – Hey, thanx! And if it inspires you to go there, then my work is done!! Look out for the hat when you get there …

  5. Hi there – what a great post – will have to add Green Island to the (already long) list of places to go!

    Cheers – Stewart M – Melbourne

  6. @Jim – Turtles seen but not photographed! They’re sighted reasonably frequently in these parts – will keep alert for Turtle week!
    @Sailor – yes, there are some places a cruise ship just can’t take you to …
    @Michelle – haha! You SHOULD be jealous!!!

  7. Wow Green Island looks beautiful! Reading your blog always makes me feel so jealous that I don’t live in Australia!

  8. An excellent read Red about an area of Oz we’d really like to explore.
    Did you see any marine turtles up that way?
    Got a Turtle week coming up you could link it with.

  9. @Manzanita – No problem! Sounds like you need a break on Green Island yourself!!
    @IWBY – Glad you enjoyed the virtual tour, but I bet you anything you like the actual tour was better!! Have a great weekend!
    @Mary – Well … there was no hat there 200 years ago!! And the history certainly adds another layer to the mystique!
    @FabFawk – you got that right!!!

  10. What a gorgeous spot for a day trip. The history of the island is fascinating. It would have been wonderful to see two hundred years ago. I hope you have a great day. Blessings…Mary

  11. What a gorgeous spot, I too wonder what the Captain thought in 1770!! Photos are gorgeous, thanks for sharing, I enjoyed the trip 🙂

  12. Red,
    Thanks for the link. I wrote it down this time. Marilyn has arrived and we spent last night talking. Now for the 5 mile walk that I do but she will run, I imagine. She’s in training for another triathaleon. She drove up yesterday in her conversion van with her bike on the back and ready for action. Better go and try to keep up with her. LOL Tee Hee

  13. @PDP – Thanx, you really know how to make a girl blush!! And Dunk Island? Apparently Yasi decimated it – and word is no one knows if, let alone when, the resort will reopen. Sad, huh.
    @SFlaGuy – Hahaha, you’re a funny guy. Millions, no billions are being spent in recovery, rehabilitation and buybacks in various key areas as we speak! At least GI appears to be relatively unscathed – but the resort, ferry company, island businesses and regional tourism are all huge stakeholders! So go figure …
    @Manzanita – We could see the chapeau – but too deep in the boat area at high tide, then not visible at low tide. Maybe one of the other tourists souvenired it as a relic from the past!! Yes, it was old … will visit yr blog with the URL you seek.
    @diane b – and many more to come!! I’m sure even after the splendours of your fabulous trip you won’t tire of more beauty!

  14. I liked your comparison post especially about the birds that was interesting.One beautiful place I have yet to visit.

  15. Water so clear and blue, you could spot a hat in it. So why not spot Pitchard’s chapeaux? What’s the old song where the words say, “She doesn’t wear a hat, she wear’s a chapeaux?” Uuhhh, uuhhh, just thought of it as I sang it in my mind. “The Lady is a Tramp.” Sung by old blue eyes.

    It’s a beauty, all right. Can you imagine in 1770, Cook and sailors coming upon this pristine paradise. They didn’t even have soda cans, candy bar wrappers and plastic cartons to line the beach.

    Remember when you gave me the link of the woman my age. I looked it up at the time but didn’t add it to my blog roll. I’ve searched my old comments for it and no dice. I thought perhaps it would appear on your comments, but I can’t recall the name at all. Please, one more time.I won’t ask again. Promise.
    Thanks for the new word ….. Yobbo…. like hobo.


  16. South Florida was treated the exact same way as your postcard indicated. Who needs a nasty old swamp now that the steam shovel has been invented right?

    Now we spend billions of tax payer dollars to put it all back to the way it was. Hopefully the folks in OZ wised up before making such a huge mess.

  17. Fabulously entertaining post Red, the copy of the 1889 postcard an absolute eye opener, unbelievable the things they got up to even way back then!! ‘water so clear and blue you could spot a hat through it’ hilarious!! We went to Dunk Island just off Cairns about 25 years ago and suspect that might have changed a bit from the natural haven it was then.

  18. @Joan Elizabeth – I guess I’ve been lucky then! This crossing was like being on a millpond – just as well, as if there WAS any vomiting, I’d be going out in sympathy …
    @Aleah – Yeah, you’re right! And that’s what politicians and other authority figures count on! Yep, I’m a cynic …

  19. @Windsmoke – Yeah, 50+ is the new 30 … and I laughed so hard when I saw the people – mainly overseas tourists – in the ‘cage’!! Pilchard & I just brushed the birds away if they got too close to our chips!
    @Lilly – We searched for the hat at low tide, but suspect it was carried away from the original drop point by the current!! P was forced to buy a touristy ‘Green Island’ cap – the sun was too bright to go hatless …
    @NJAMB – Hahaha! Yes, I told him his DNA (sweat on the hatband) will now forever be part of Green Island. He’s now thinking of putting in a land claim …
    @Jayne – Thanx! I’ll have to go back though – there’s a pic I DIDN’T get of the whole island!
    @Beach Bum – Would fit you to a ‘T’ – that’s if your nature matches your name …

  20. @SFlaGuy – Look forward to reading about YOUR weekend in paradise … wonder how it’ll compare with mine?!?!
    @Wendy – My pleasure! Keep watching – many more beautiful OZ spots to come!!
    @Andrew – what’s not to love?! At least the birds make it a more unique and memorable experience!! And it’s AGES since the 90’s – maybe time to visit again??
    @Magsx2 – I laughed at the 50+ ‘slur’, Pilchard did not. From this you can probably deduce something about our respective ages …
    @Alessandra – I bet I can guess what ‘jafa’ means – but maybe you need to email me the answer to be sure!!!!
    @Linda – Thanx for dropping by … and just so you don’t think I’m whooping it up in paradise while you’re stuck with the scorpions, the waters around the island have been known to contain marine stingers and crocodiles …

  21. Wow, that is one wonderful site! It’s funny about name changes sometimes, but it does work, doesn’t it. It somehow creates an impression in people that since the name changed, the place must have too. haha

  22. Ha ha, I’ve been to Green Island twice aged 3 and 15. Can’t remember the age 15 trip much other than glass bottom boat. The Age 3 trip is etched in my memory … it was a very rough crossing and people were vomiting all over the floor.

  23. Think of Pilchard’s hat as part of the ecosystem now–it’s probably become a house for a crab!

    Beautiful descriptions and great pictures!

  24. HiYa Red – Guess I will come to the island just to look for Pilchard’s hat. 🙂 Great Blog and Great Photos. And – imagine, you have been there twice – lucky u…………….aah, gotta start saving my coins for a trip. Thanks for all the wonderful information – much enjoyed.
    Have yerself a great day my dear.

  25. That’s a turn around its usually birds who are kept in cages instead humans have to eat in a cage, very bizarre indeed. Old at 50+ you’ve gotta be joking, i’m 56 and don’t feel old at all. :-).

  26. What a beautiful beach!
    However, I got kind of hung-up on 50 being old.
    That’s a drag about Pilchard’s hat. Such is nature.
    Thanks for sharing this beautiful place.

  27. It looks wonderful Red. It makes me think of what it would have looked like in 1770, and possibly in the 60s, good to have a clock turning back, eradicating rats not trees…

    Thanks for the definition of Yobbo. I don’t know if there is a Kiwi term to match, I know for sure that I am 0% yobbo myself, so I guess I wouldn’t end up being around yobbos to know what they are called here :-).

    But I know the term Jafa… can you guess what it means?


  28. Hi,
    I haven’t been to Green Island for many years, but I loved it and will one day go back. I had to laugh about the birds, this didn’t surprise me at all. I also had a laugh about the “high risk” age group, they cover themselves for everything these days just in case. 🙂

  29. I think we visited Green Island in the late nineties. I liked it. The underwater glass boat experience was great. We had some free time and just sat on the beach and admired. We weren’t under threat by any birds back then.

  30. This is a side of OZ I had not seen yet. Very beautiful. I had a very busy weekend myself that will take all week to post on SFlaGuy.Blogspot.Com. A little mix of nature, concrete, and terrifying weather along with poor and not so poor photography. Hope you enjoy and don’t mind the obvious plugging of my own blog 😉

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