Part of Australia’s UNESCO-listed Great Barrier Reef, the sandy island of Michaelmas Cay—now a bird sanctuary and national park—is a nesting site for thousands of seabirds, from common noddies to sooty terns. Marine creatures such as leopard sharks, stingrays, and sea turtles also call the offshore coral reefs home.

The Basics
To reduce environmental impact, access to the island is limited to a small portion of the beach. Michaelmas Cay is typically visited on catamaran cruises from Cairns, which offer snorkeling and scuba diving, and are usually led by marine biologists who explain the unique environment of the coral cay and reef. See the reef without getting wet on a semi-submarine tour or, for an alternative perspective, take a scenic flight over the Great Barrier Reef. 

Things to Know Before You Go
  • Michaelmas Cay holds a rookery of some 20,000 seabirds, which makes it a must-visit for bird-watchers.
  • There’s no wheelchair access or public facilities at the cay, though most tourist boats are equipped with restrooms.
  • Avoid sudden movements and loud noises as they may scare nesting birds.
  • Collecting corals and shells from the cay is prohibited.
  • Most tours provide full-body lycra suits, which provide protection against stinging jellyfish—common in the warmer months.  
How to Get There
Michaelmas Cay is about 25 miles (40 kilometers) northeast of Cairns and is only accessible by boat. Travel time from the marina in Cairns is about two hours. 

When to Get There
Unlike other cays, Michaelmas Cay is always above water, so you can visit regardless of the tide. The best time to observe birds is during the summer breeding season, while optimum scuba diving conditions occur between June and October, when there’s typically less rainfall and therefore better visibility.

What Else to See in Australia’s Great Barrier Reef
With some 900 islands and thousands of reefs, the Great Barrier Reef offers an abundance of marine treasures. If you’re based in Cairns, take day cruises to other Great Barrier Reef destinations; top picks include the easy-to-access Green Island—ideal for time-tight or budget travelers—and the far-flung Hastings Reef, a colorful coral garden in the Outer Barrier Reef.


Cairns & the Tropical North, Queensland


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