Great beaches in Cairns, but yes need to go out by boat.
Green Island is the closest and a great day out. You can get good discounts for locals also.

One day trip – A trip out on the reef to Green Island – I use http://www.greatadventures.com.au – jump on board at the Pier right in town.
$67 for an adult
Return air-conditioned fast catamaran cruise
Tea and coffee served until departure from Cairns
Self Guided Eco Island Walk
Choice of Glass Bottom Boat coral viewing tour OR use of snorkeling equipment
Entry to island swimming pool
Use of day visitor facilities

About Green Island Resort here – http://www.greenislandresort.com.au

There’s also scoobdo – http://www.scubadoocairns.com or seawalker http://www.seawalker.com.au – all great experiences there is half day trips or full day.

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