Generally, we find one day on a holiday stands out as an exceptional day. Often, it’s an unexpected trip highlight – which makes it even more delightful. For AJ and I, the Frankland Islands Cruise was just that. Given we were on a mother-daughter trip I was keen to do something we are not able to do with BJ now that he is older and more dependent on his wheelchair. But, I will add we would have definitely given this trip a try when he was still in the back carrier. Keep in mind he was in the back carrier up until the age of seven. This is a lovely day trip from Cairns for families who can manage it and I encourage those of you with younger children with special needs to consider doing these types of trips while they are young.
There are so many cruise operators offering trips out of Cairns it can become a little bamboozling, so I looked for something a little different for our adventure. Given AJ’s slight motion sickness, we liked the sound of the cruise offering “the shortest open water crossing.” The Frankland Islands Cruise only spends 20 minutes in the open water.
Conveniently a bus transfer was available to pick us up from our hotel in Cairns and take us 40 minutes south of Cairns to the Franklands Islander docked on the Mulgrave River. Previously we’ve only driven north of Cairns so it was lovely to see a different stretch of sugar cane lined roadway.
The 30-minute cruise on the Mulgrave River passed quickly as we peered into the mangroves hoping to spot a crocodile. It was a little early in the day but I did my bit just in case.
The crew gave us a rundown of the day’s agenda and we were fitted with our snorkel gear ready for arrival.
Everyone was reminded of the lack of facilities on the island and the opportunity to use the boat’s bathrooms before disembarking. I was amused to hear a “toilet run” had been organised from the island to the moored Frankland Islander the previous day after lunch due to a need by guests. Apparently, those on the “toilet run” were rewarded with a dolphin sighting on the way.
At the mouth of the Mulgrave River we could see the 5 islands which make up the Frankland Islands. Frankland Island Cruises is the only commercial operator with permission to take tour groups to Normandy Island, so we were met by a blissful stretch of sand with not a person in sight.
Our group was split into two with one group taking to the water to snorkel and the rest of us joining the semi-submersible.
The semi-sub rocked about quite a bit but it was a good way of seeing a range of coral and some lucky spotters on the other side of the sub saw quite a few turtles. Alessandra, the marine biologist, joined us in the semi-submersible to answer questions and educate us on what we were seeing. AJ and I jokingly think she has a brain which is as large as some of the brain coral we saw because there seemed no end to both her passion and knowledge. She is amazing!
AJ and I enjoyed our guided snorkel where we saw sea cucumbers, starfish and a turtle who popped his head up for air. Jack, our enthusiastic guide, ensured everyone found Nemo and was reassuring to the less experienced snorkellers in the group.
I am not at one with the water. I may have sea legs on a boat but I’m the most uncoordinated snorkeller to ever hit the reef. Despite this, I happily embraced the experience. In my enthusiasm I may have managed to hit many a fellow snorkeller with my flippers but no-one seemed to hold it against me. I was thrilled to see the turtle and the whole episode gave AJ and I something to laugh about for the rest of the day.
Our swimming, snorkelling and the fresh sea air left us quite hungry. Under the shade of the trees the staff swiftly put together a lovely buffet lunch with a range of salads, meats and prawns. Lunch was delicious and just what we needed. It was accompanied by the opportunity to meet our fellow passengers and a great chance to swap travel stories. It led to a lovely friendly and happy atmosphere around the picnic tables.
My paddle-board loving AJ was keen to cruise around on a board. I was impressed to see a staff member in a run-about keeping an eye on everyone in the water.
The last activity of the day was a walk in the rock pools at low tide. This was the highlight of the day for me. Alessandra had the adults and kids hanging off her every word as she explained the reef’s eco-system.
Alessandra delicately revealed a range of marine creatures as she walked. What an amazingly diverse range of animals call the reef home. It is wonderful to hear of the research which is continuing.
We always take the opportunity of peering in rock pools but we’ve never been rewarded so well as we were on Normandy Island, even spotting a Port Jackson Shark (below).
Before boarding the boat to head back to the mainland there was another chance to chat to our fellow travellers over a wine with cheese and crackers.
It was really special having this day with AJ and further emphasised to me how important it is to carve out time for siblings.
AJ and many others dozed off on the boat trip back. For those who didn’t nod off with the gentle rocking and afternoon sun, tea, coffee and cake was served.
We were certainly well looked after the whole day. The friendly nature of the staff, their enthusiasm and knowledge of the reef, really made this a special day.
You can read more about Frankland Island Cruises here.
We were guests of Frankland Islands Cruise but this rave review comes from an absolutely fabulous day.
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