Sudbury Cay is a spot you will want all to yourself.
Sudbury Cay is a spot you will want all to yourself. TTNQ

Exquisite island off north Queensland more than O-cay

Ask Wikipedia just exactly what a cay is and it will tell you it is "a sandy island on the surface of a coral reef".

Good enough information for us, people who cautiously trust Wikipedia. It will also tell you it could be pronounced "keys" or "key" but we prefer to say it how it looks, "cay".

We were off to Sudbury Cay, a place you may not be fully acquainted with, but as suggested, it is a sandy island ... this one about two hours sailing out of Cairns.


Aerial of Sudbury Cay Great Barrier Reef.
Aerial of Sudbury Cay, Great Barrier Reef. Tourism Tropical North Qld

I'd seen photos of this glorious cay, a small patch of shimmering white sand floating serenely on the surface of a deep and vivid blue ocean with a circle of pure aqua water surrounding it. It looked like a picture that had been photoshopped. It was far too exquisite to be real.

But there we were, approaching it on a private boat after sailing out of Cairns, past the mangroves, along an estuary where we were told we may see a crocodile basking on the banks (we didn't, very pleased).

A small stop at Mission Bay, then Turtle Bay, to gaze in wonder at the giant rock formations on shore, giant dream-like sculptures, soaring from the embankment, some balancing their own small formations on their tips ... all against a backdrop of the Murray Prior Range mountains, shaded colours of mauve and green, infinitely fascinating in their unique Australian beauty. Turtles aplenty here.


Green turtle swimming Great Barrier Reef.
Green turtle swimming on the Great Barrier Reef. Tourism Tropical North QLD

Already, the anticipation was high. So much unspoilt beauty, so close to Cairns - velvety blue ocean against green rainforest - vistas so spectacular and natural people would happily travel from the other side of the world to see for just a day.

Then it was on towards and past Fitzroy Island, where the rainforest meets the reef, as the tourism people tell us, a very accessible island from Cairns by a regular ferry. Marine life, walking trails, a modest hotel, water sports ... family friendly.

It looked tempting to stop at one of the public moorings and jump in the deep blue water but we were on a mission, the enchantment of Sudbury Cay and its floating colours just around the corner.

The approach was everything and more than expected. First the sight of the cay in the distance, the white sand peeking out from the deep blue of the ocean, then the pure turquoise of the sandy-bottomed ribbon of water encircling the cay.


Nudey Beach Fitzroy Island Cairns.
Nudey Beach, Fitzroy Island, Cairns. Tourism Tropical North Qld

"Is this real?" is the first thought. It is a postcard, a calendar, a tourism brochure. Nothing can be this exquisite. But it is. Ideally you need this place alone, but there are usually a couple of boats hovering in the water and no one should resent sharing.

Ten minutes to take our gear off the boat - food, wine, champagne, chairs, umbrellas, fishing rods - and then it was simply a matter of sitting back and marvelling.

The water lapping softy at the white sand is Bombay-Gin clear. Warm. Pure. Clean.

You must float in this unique water, look down to darting fish: coral trout, black tip reef shark, long-tails, spangled emperor. No need for a snorkel, in our opinion.

It is pinch-yourself stuff, a disbelief that anything could be so pristine, so simply glorious.

We were on a private boat but there are small charters that will take you out twice a day - not so comfy we are told, more backpacker-style sailing, where they must tie up at a free public mooring a distance away from the cay and have their passengers get in and swim to shore. There is also a commercial boat that stops on Sudbury Cay at sunset every Friday evening where the crew disembarks with eskies of goodies before the passengers gently step off, sit, sip and absorb the sunset beauty ... and probably think, as we did, "is this real?"