Location summary – Fringing reef around unvegetated sand cay

Latitude/longitude Lat: 16° 41’ S, Long: 145° 56’ E
Distance from mainland 40km north-east of Cairns
The waters around Upolu Cay are in a Marine National Park (Green) Zone. The waters of the surrounding reef are in a Conservation Park (Yellow) Zone. The cay is often covered by water at high tide. Restrictions apply to vessels over 35m – please refer to the Cairns Area Plan of Management for further information.
Management Area Cairns/Cooktown Management Area
Traditional Owners Upolu Cay and the surrounding area is culturally significant to Traditional Owners

Zoning and location maps

Upolu Cay

Upolu Cay is a naturally formed, uninhabited coral cay surrounded by protected, shallow waters. Many years ago, Upolu Cay was nothing more than a sand bank, becoming more stable as sediment accumulated over time. It is constantly changing shape in response to weather conditions.1

The area is popular and provides visitors with an opportunity to experience a natural cay and surrounding reef without encountering any large permanent structures such as pontoons or jetties.

Upolu Cay is a Queensland National Park. Visit the Department of National Parks Recreation, Sports and Racing (NPRSR), for more information.

A number of seabirds commonly roost on Upolu Cay, such as black-naped terns, common noddies and crested terns. Visitors should keep at a reasonable distance and follow Responsible Reef Practices for bird watching.

Anchoring, mooring and group size limits

  • Anchoring is not allowed within a 50 metre radius of a permitted (private) or public mooring
  • One public mooring is installed to the north of the cay
  • Thirteen private moorings are permitted. The Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority (GBRMPA) encourages permitted mooring owners to develop agreements to allow other operators to use their mooring when not in use.
  • One designated reef anchorage is installed for use by vessels between 35 metres and 70 metres in length
  • Upolu Cay is a moderate use location (maximum 60 people per vessel)
  • View Responsible Reef Practices for Anchoring.

Tourism operators


  • Upolu Reef is surrounded by a No Structures Sub-zone, which prohibits the construction of most structures and permanently-moored facilities.