Freelance copywriter and blogger. Avid dog owner, living in Brisbane's bayside. If you like my articles please hit subscribe or 'like' at the end of the post!
Published October 20th 2021
The Summit of Dunk Island overlooking the Family Island chain
While not as famous as some of the Great Barrier Reef's island icons, Dunk Island still can lay claim to being one of Tropical Queensland's beloved islands and conjures up many memories of family holidays, especially during the peak of the island's popularity during the 1990s and early 2000s.
Situated due east of Mission Beach, Dunk Island, or Coonanglebah as it was known to its indigenous inhabitants, is just four kilometres from the mainland at Mission Beach and approximately 200km south of Cairns. It is part of the larger Family Island's chain and makes up the largest of these islands.
The archipelago is part of the Cassowary Coast government area, given the namesake from a stretch of pristine rainforest where Australia's largest and Jurassic-like flightless birds roam wild.
Dunk Island from Mission Beach, just 4km from the mainland
Before and After Cyclone Yasi
Since the 1930s, the island has served as a popular resort playground for wealthy holidaymakers and played an important surveillance role in WW2. Sadly though, since 2011, when the eye of Cyclone Yasi passed directly over the island, most of the island's infrastructure was destroyed, the resort almost completely gutted, and the slice of paradise has been left all but abandoned.
Remants of the resort still remain, as nature begins to take over
You can still see the devastation that the immense tropical storm wrought on the island. As you land on the main beach, it's impossible not to see resort bungalows smashed and exposed. While the resort area is off-limits, it's easy to get a sense of the destruction simply by walking along the beachfront that runs parallel to the resort.
The resort has been left abandoned since Cylone Yasi all but destroyed it in 2011
Visiting Dunk Island in 2021 is like being dropped off at a true deserted island with a bit of an eerie twist. Despite remnants still remaining of its former heyday, including a tarmac airport and solid-looking pier for deepwater watercraft, there is barely a soul to be seen. This is despite grand plans to redevelop the island for more than 10 years, which have been a bit of a blow to locals who feel that the plans have amounted to little more than 'false hope'
Getting to Dunk Island
Nowadays, the only real option of getting to Dunk, short of having your own vessel, is to take one of the daily departures of the Mission Beach Water Taxi at Wongaling Beach. For 40 dollars, daily return transfers to Dunk Island are possible, allowing guests to explore at their leisure. Snorkelling equipment is also available to hire, as is the possibility to bring camping equipment and stay overnight at the campground near the island's jetty.
Looking towards Mt Kootaloo and the beach that runs parallel to the resort. Picture taken from the island jetty
As there is nowhere to buy food on the island, passengers are reminded to pack their own lunch, freshwater is available at the island's campground, as well as showers and toilets.
Hiking on Dunk Island
The highlight of hiking on Dunk Island is definitely scaling the summit of Mt Kootaloo. From the island's spit, walk north along the westward beach that faces the resort until the beach runs out and the rainforest begins. From here, a fork in the road will direct walkers to a track to either Muggy Muggy Beach, one of the island's best snorkelling spots, or to the summit of Mount Kootaloo.
The hike is a 7km return hike from here to the summit and back, and despite it being a mountain, the incline is forgiving, gradually climbing on a leafy and relatively flat track, winding upwards through many switchbacks. It's a fairly dense rainforest and you'll be under the shade the whole hike which, given the tropical humidity and the ascent, is a blessing. Before you begin the last 1km to the peak, there's a turn off to complete the island circuit track a 9km walk, taking you downwards on the opposite slope, to the east side of the island and along the Coconut beach back to the spit and campground.
Walkers can choose between the Island circuit track at 9km or the summit return hike, with there also an option for a detour track to Muggy Muggy Beach
While I was happy with the trek to the summit, and a detour to Muggy Muggy beach, for those camping on Dunk with more time, this complete island circuit would be a great challenge.
The peak of Dunk was home to a radar station during World War Two, which provided surveillance of the surrounding coast when Japanese forces were combing the Pacific. The rusty mechanism of this still remains today and it is quite incredible to imagine soldiers stationed there around the clock who forged the trail, camping at the peak and switching shifts and hiking the route each day, while hauling heavy equipment.
Dunk Island served as an important station for troops during WW2
Part of the radar mechanism still remains at the summit
From the summit lookout, it is a perfect opportunity to take a break and take in the spectacular views of the Family Islands National Park. These vistas extend all the way along the southern Cassowary Coast, through the Hinchinbrook Island and coastal communities of Tully Heads and Cardwell.
From the summit incredible views of the Family Island national park and the Cassowary Coast region of FNQ
Muggy Muggy Beach
Definitely take a detour to the private beach at the base of the summit hike
On the journey back to the drop-off point near the spit and jetty, it is well-worth stopping at Muggy Muggy beach for a quick refresh after all the physical exertion. Here between the rocks, a stunning beach sanctuary awaits with perfect blue waters to frolic and snorkel. Sitting among the coral and palm trees, you can see why the location was chosen for James Cameron's 2010 film Sanctum.
Absolute island seclusion and an authentic castaway experience
Despite the devastation that still stands today, for those visiting the region, the island is by no means off-limits. In fact, to make lemonade of the situation, when compared to other Queensland island experiences, a visit to Dunk is an easy way to feel completely off-grid, especially if you camp overnight when the rest of the day-trippers head back on the boat at 3pm, you'll have the place virtually to yourself.
For those looking to exercise a kind of remote castaway fantasy, in a pristine setting, a visit to Dunk offers adventure and wonderment in spades.