Great Barrier Reef daytrip to Michealmas Cay

Meeting friends in Cairns recently, I was keen to show them the reef. An incredible number of people visit the Great Barrier Reef each year and, since a lot of them go to Green Island because of its proximity, which keeps costs down, we decided to go elsewhere. Michealmas Cay presented itself as an option, and looked amazing – easy decision.

With over 900 islands, covering roughly 2,300 kilometres, choosing which island to visit could be an endless task. Fortunately tour operators only offer trips to a few islands or the choice might take all day.

We started the day with a leisurely 33 kilometre sail out to sea, which took about two hours, and lounged around on the deck of our large catamaran, chatting in the sunshine.

Michealmas Cay on the Great Barrier Reef

When we arrived at Michealmas Cay it looked like an isolated atoll in a travel magazine; it was perfect. The cay is a bird sanctuary so only a small section is accessible to daytrip visitors, but there was plenty of room. The birds were fun to watch too.

Scuba diving

As keen divers, we had signed up to dive, so promptly vanished when the boat moored up for the day at the edge of the reef that surrounds the cay. We dropped down the reef wall and were promptly met by schools of fish. There were lots of soft and hard corals. We swam through a narrow canyon and found a turtle waiting for us on the other side. As we swam back to the boat we also saw a pregnant blacktip reef shark resting on a sand patch. The water was warm, the visibility fair, and the lack of sea lice was a bonus!

Scuba diving, Michealmas Cay, Great Barrier Reef, Queensland, Australia

Lunch on the reef

Having been underwater, we had missed the morning tea that was served on arrival at the cay and a marine biology slideshow presentation, but we returned in time to join our friends for the buffet lunch, which consisted of a few hot food options and a variety of cold meat slices, cheese and salads. Drinks were extra.


It was possible to snorkel along the edge of the reef, off the back of the boat, but there was also a glass bottom boat transfer to Michealmas Cay, so we hopped on that to have a better look at the cay, see the birds, and snorkel from shore.

Snorkelling from the beach, Michealmas Cay, Queensland, Australia

There were a lot of birds. The cay has a small wire fence separating a section of the island for visitors and, amusingly, the birds kept to their section. It definitely had a desert island feel, with chunks of driftwood covered in birds and then just the ocean as far as the eye could see.

Michealmas Cay bird sanctuary, Queensland, Australia

Snorkelling from the shallow, fine sand beach was wonderfully easy. It was a short swim in waist-deep water until the inner edge of the reef, which was not in quite as good condition as the deeper section we had dived earlier, but then it probably gets a lot more visitors, and the accompanying fin scrapes. There were lots of fish in the shallow section, and several turtles munching lazily on the coral as they slowly cruised around, delighting snorkellers.

Turtle, Michealmas Cay, Queensland, Australia

Afternoon tea on Michaelmas Island

As per Aussie tradition, afternoon tea of tea and coffee and biscuits was served as the boat crew rounded everyone up for the return trip. We had spent four hours at Michealmas Cay (We could quite happily have stayed longer). Pleasantly tired and salty, we snoozed in the bow nets of the catamaran as we sailed back to Cairns.

Was Michealmas Cay worth it?

The trip to Michealmas Cay cost a bit more than other trips that were offered such as Green Cay and Fitzroy Cay, probably because it is a bit further away, so it takes more fuel to get there. The benefit of this is that lots of people are not prepared to spend that extra money and time sailing, so the boats that go further are not so busy. Our catamaran was not full; it was certainly busy, but not unpleasantly so. We were always able to find somewhere to sit or stretch out and there was plenty of food, and snorkelling and diving equipment (including dive computers) available. The crew was friendly and approachable, and reassuringly concerned about safety without unnecessary impositions. All in all, it was a great day, and we’d certainly go again.

Snorkelling selfie!

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