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About Michaelmas and Upolu

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Getting there and getting around

Michaelmas Cay, Queensland. Photo: Peter Lik, courtesy of Tourism and Events Queensland.

Michaelmas Cay, Queensland. Photo: Peter Lik, courtesy of Tourism and Events Queensland.

Upolu Cay at low tide. Photo: Leila Trott, Ocean Freedom.

Upolu Cay at low tide. Photo: Leila Trott, Ocean Freedom.

Michaelmas and Upolu cays are small, low, sand cays. Surrounded by clear water and a healthy reef, they are easily accessible from Cairns. Access to Upolu Cay (32.5km north-east of Cairns) and Michaelmas Cay (41.3km north-east of Cairns) is by commercial or private vessels. For further information, see the tourism information links.

Three public moorings (two at Michaelmas Cay and one at Upolu Cay) are provided for private vessels—vessel length, wind speed and time restrictions apply. See boating information for further details.

Vessels should access Michaelmas Cay via the northern channel which provides all tide access and a clear passage through the reef. Access onto Michaelmas Cay is permitted within the roped-off area between 9.30am and 3pm only. Access to all other areas of the cay is prohibited to protect nesting seabirds (PDF, 2.3M).

Activities that may disturb seabirds are also prohibited on Michaelmas Cay including the operation of horns, loudspeakers, public address systems and sirens, and the use of umbrellas and kites.

Upolo Cay may be inundated at high tide—check tide times before departing. Weather forecasts are available from the Bureau of Meteorology.

Wheelchair accessibility

No wheelchair-accessible tracks or facilities are provided on either Michaelmas or Upolu cays.

Park features

Seabirds on Michaelmas Cay. Photo: © Queensland Government.

Seabirds on Michaelmas Cay. Photo: © Queensland Government.

With clear water, healthy reefs and easy access from Cairns, Michaelmas and Upolu cays are popular boating, snorkelling and diving locations. What really makes the park special though is its seabirds—Michaelmas Cay is one of the most important seabird nesting sites in the Great Barrier Reef Word Heritage Area. Visitors can experience sights and sounds like no other with a chorus of thousands of seabirds attending to their young.

With up to 20,000 breeding pairs on the island at one time, Michaelmas Cay is a significant breeding site for four ground nesting species—common noddies, sooty terns, crested terns and lesser crested terns. It is home to one of the largest breeding colonies of sooty terns in Queensland. Nowhere else are sooty terns, common noddies and crested terns found breeding together in such vast numbers and in such an accessible location.

Michaelmas and Upolo cays and the surrounding marine waters are internationally significant and are protected in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area.

Camping and accommodation

Camping

Camping is not permitted on either Michaelmas Cay or Upolu Cay.

Other accommodation

There is a large range of holiday accommodation in and around Cairns. For more information, see the tourism information links.

Things to do

Go diving, snorkelling or just enjoy the beach at Michaelmas Cay, Queensland. Photo: Peter Lik, courtesy of Tourism Queensland.

Go diving, snorkelling or just enjoy the beach at Michaelmas Cay, Queensland. Photo: Peter Lik, courtesy of Tourism Queensland.

Birdwatching is a popular activity on Michaelmas Cay. Photo: © Queensland Government.

Birdwatching is a popular activity on Michaelmas Cay. Photo: © Queensland Government.

A roped off area for visitors protects nesting seabirds. Photo: Maxime Coquard, courtesy of Tourism and Events Queensland.

A roped off area for visitors protects nesting seabirds. Photo: Maxime Coquard, courtesy of Tourism and Events Queensland.

Spend time enjoying the coral reefs around Michaelmas and Upolu cays. Photo: Jodie Bray.

Spend time enjoying the coral reefs around Michaelmas and Upolu cays. Photo: Jodie Bray.

Guided tours and talks

Information about Michaelmas and Upolu cays is often provided by commercial operators on the way to the islands. Seaplanes are available but can only access Upolu Cay. For further information, see the tourism information links.

Boating

Easily accessible from Cairns, Michaelmas and Upolu Cays National Park is a popular boating destination.

To reduce coral damage from anchors, three public moorings are provided for private vessels—two at Michaelmas Cay and one at Upolu Cay. Maximum vessel lengths and wind speeds apply (PDF) and details are on the mooring buoys. Moorings also have a time limit of either two or four hours (displayed on the mooring). If a vessel picks up a mooring on or after 3pm it may remain on that mooring until 9am the next day. Read more about public moorings.

The Michaelmas Cay Locality (PDF) (one nautical mile radius from the cay) is designated as a sensitive location under the Cairns Area Plan of Management and special rules apply. In this location:

  • Motorised watersports are prohibited.
  • Maximum vessel speed is 6 knots.
  • The operation of horns, loud speakers, public address systems or sirens is prohibited.
  • Vessels over 35m cannot anchor.

Be aware that crocodiles can turn up anywhere in croc country, including tidal reaches of rivers, along beaches, on offshore islands and cays in the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait, and in freshwater lagoons, rivers and swamps. Crocodiles are dangerous and attacks can be fatal.

Fishing

Michaelmas and Upolu Cays National Park and the surrounding marine waters are internationally significant and are protected in the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. Zones in the two marine parks—the Great Barrier Reef Coast and Great Barrier Reef—provide a balanced approach to protecting the marine and intertidal environments while allowing recreational and commercial use.

The reefs and surrounding waters of Michaelmas and Upolu cays are in a Marine National Park (Green) Zone. These are ‘no take’ areas and all forms of fishing and collecting are prohibited. Check zoning information and maps before entering or conducting any activities in the marine parks.

Viewing wildlife

At least 23 species of seabirds have been recorded on Michaelmas Cay, with up to nine of those using the island for breeding. During summer months, when nesting is at its peak, up to 20,000 birds have been seen on the cay. Sooty terns, common noddies, crested terns and lesser crested terns are the main breeding species.

Eggs, chicks and adults of some species can be viewed at close range from within the roped-off area on Michaelmas Cay between 9.30am and 3pm. It is very important not to disturb the birds as eggs and chicks are vulnerable to heat, cold, and predators such as silver gulls, if left unprotected. See the restricted access area notice (PDF, 2.3M) for more details.

See the description of the park’s natural environment for more details about the cays' wildlife.

Snorkelling and diving

Snorkelling and diving offer the chance to explore the coral reefs that surround Michaelmas and Upolo cays. These reefs support many species of fish and invertebrates. Know your own health limitations for safe snorkelling and diving—do not put yourself and others at risk and always snorkel or dive with a buddy so that help is at hand.

Dangerous stinging jellyfish (‘stingers’) may be present in the coastal waters at any time, but occur more frequently in the warmer months. If you do enter the water, a full-body lycra suit, or equivalent, may provide a good measure of protection against stinging jellyfish and sunburn. Visit tropical stingers for the latest safety and first-aid information

For more information on safe snorkelling and diving see staying safe.

Things to know before you go

Green turtles are often seen on Michaelmas and Upolu reefs. Photo: K.Hoppen. © Commonwealth of Australia (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority).

Green turtles are often seen on Michaelmas and Upolu reefs. Photo: K.Hoppen. © Commonwealth of Australia (Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority).

Our precious Great Barrier Reef World Heritage islands are among the most pest-free islands in the world. They need your help to stay this way. Please Be pest-free! (PDF, 574K) before your visit.

Essentials to bring

Preparation is the key to a safe and enjoyable visit to Michaelmas and Upolu Cays National Park. Ensure that you bring:

  • drinking water
  • rubbish bags
  • protective clothing, sunscreen, hat and sunglasses
  • a comprehensive first-aid kit.

Opening hours

Access onto Michaelmas Cay is only permitted between 9.30am and 3pm in the roped-off area. Access to all other areas of the cay is prohibited to protect nesting seabirds. See the restricted access area notice (PDF, 2.3M) for more details. Upolu Cay is accessible 24hrs a day although it may be inundated at high tide.

Permits and fees

No permits are required to visit Michaelmas and Upolu Cays National Park.

If you intend conducting a commercial tour, wedding, school excursion or scientific research, a permit may be required. See park permits and policies for further information.

Pets

Domestic animals are not permitted on Michaelmas or Upolu cays or on tidal lands adjacent to Michaelmas or Upolu cays within the Great Barrier Reef Coast Marine Park. Tidal areas include beaches.

Climate and weather

Michaelmas and Upolu Cays National Park has a monsoonal, tropical climate. In summer the daytime temperatures average 30°C, and humidity and rainfall are high. From April to September, the days are cooler and less humid, with steady south-easterly trade winds. This is the best time to visit. Weather forecasts are available from the Bureau of Meteorology.

Fuel and supplies

There is no fuel or other supplies available at either of the cays. Limited supplies are available on Green Island, 17.3km south of Michaelmas Cay and 10.5km south of Upolu Cay.

Staying safe

Dangerous stinging jellyfish may be present at any time. Photo: Jamie Seymour, James Cook University.

Dangerous stinging jellyfish may be present at any time. Photo: Jamie Seymour, James Cook University.

  • Look for swimmers, snorkellers and divers as you approach both cays and keep to the 6 knot speed limit when approaching Michaelmas Cay.
  • Be sun smart—to avoid sunburn wear a hat, sunglasses, long-sleeve shirt and sunscreen, even on overcast days.
  • Ensure you carry plenty of drinking water and drink frequently to avoid dehydration.
  • Know your own health limitations for safe snorkelling and diving—do not put yourself and others at risk, and always snorkel and dive with a buddy so that help is at hand.
  • Be aware of wind, current direction and tides when snorkelling or boating.
  • Birds and their faeces carry diseases. Use proper hygiene before eating and do not handle wildlife.
  • Dangerous stinging jellyfish (‘stingers’) may be present in the coastal waters at any time, but occur more frequently in the warmer months. A full-body lycra suit or equivalent may provide a good measure of protection against stinging jellyfish and sunburn. Visit tropical stingers for the latest safety and first-aid information.
  • Be aware that crocodiles can turn up anywhere in croc country, including tidal reaches of rivers, along beaches, on offshore islands and cays in the Great Barrier Reef and Torres Strait, and in freshwater lagoons, rivers and swamps. Crocodiles are dangerous and attacks can be fatal.

For more information, please read the guidelines on safety in parks and forests.

Looking after the park

Never disturb nesting seabirds as they may abandon their eggs. Photo: Julie Dutoit, © Queensland Government.

Never disturb nesting seabirds as they may abandon their eggs. Photo: Julie Dutoit, © Queensland Government.

Many people visit Michaelmas and Upolu Cays National Park each year so it is important to minimise your impact.

  • Never feed wildlife including birds and fish—it is harmful to their health.
  • Domestic animals are not permitted on Michaelmas and Upolu Cays National Park or on tidal lands adjacent to the park. Tidal areas include beaches.
  • Rubbish bins are not provided. Do not bury rubbish—take it with you when you leave. This includes cigarette butts, which do not decompose.
  • Anchor only in sand—corals are fragile and easily damaged. Use public moorings where possible.
  • Avoid touching, kicking or standing on living coral when snorkelling or wading ashore.
  • All marine life is protected. Do not collect corals, clams or shells.
  • Remember this is a national park—everything is protected.

The seabird rookery on Michaelmas Cay is special, but the adult birds are very sensitive to disturbance. Once disturbed, adult birds can abandon their nests leaving eggs and chicks vulnerable to heat, cold and predators such as silver gulls.

  • Always stay within the roped-off area (PDF, 2.3M).
  • Never attempt to touch birds, chicks or eggs.
  • Avoid sudden movements or loud noises and back away if birds appear disturbed.
  • Do not operate horns, loud speakers, public address systems or sirens.
  • Never fly kites, use beach umbrellas or carry out any other activities that might disturb seabirds.

Be pest-free!

Our precious Great Barrier Reef World Heritage islands are among the most pest-free islands in the world. They need your help to stay this way. Please Be pest-free! (PDF, 574K) before your visit.

Before you visit, please check that your boat, clothing, footwear and gear are free of soil, seeds, parts of plants, eggs, ants and insects (and their eggs), spiders, lizards, toads, rats and mice.

Be sure to:

  • Unpack and clean out your backpack and hand, beach or camera bags and check them carefully before your visit, as pests love to hide in stored gear.
  • Clean soil from footwear and gear as invisible killers such as viruses, bacteria and fungi are carried in soil.
  • Check for seeds in pockets, cuffs and hook and loop fastening strips, such as Velcro.

While you are on the islands, remove soil, weeds, seeds and pests from your boat, gear and clothes before moving to a new site. Wrap seeds and plant material, and place them in your rubbish.

Everyone in Queensland has a General Biosecurity Obligation to minimise the biosecurity risk posed by their activities. This includes the risk of introducing and spreading weeds and pests to island national parks.

See the guidelines on caring for parks for more information about protecting our environment and heritage in parks.

Park management

Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) manages Michaelmas and Upolu Cays National Park to preserve the area’s natural, cultural and scenic values particularly the seabird rookery on Michaelmas Cay. Only nature-based, ecologically sustainable recreation is allowed.

The national park will be managed in accordance with the Michaelmas and Upolu Cays National Park Management Plan (PDF, 1.6M).

Michaelmas and Upolu Cays National Park lies within the Great Barrier Reef World Heritage Area. The reef and intertidal area surrounding the islands are managed under the provisions of the Great Barrier Reef Coast Marine Park and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Complementary management of waters adjacent to these cays is vital and continued close cooperation between the Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service (QPWS) and the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) is essential.

To protect Michaelmas Cay, special regulations apply to the Michaelmas Cay Locality (PDF)—an area extending one nautical mile around the cay. These regulations are outlined in the Cairns Area Plan of Management.

A code of conduct for reef tourism operators (PDF) has been developed. This code provides guidelines for best environmental practices. They complement government regulations to preserve the unique values of the cays and their surrounding reefs, while still permitting visitors to enjoy the cays. This code was developed through a collaborative process involving QPWS, GBRMPA and tourism operators.

Tourism information links

Cairns and Tropical North Visitor Information Centre
http://www.tropicalnorthqueensland.org.au/
51 The Esplanade, Cairns QLD 4870
ph: (07) 4051 3588
email:

For tourism information for all regions in Queensland see Queensland Holidays.

Further information

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Last updated
28 November 2016