Dunk Island


Dunk Island is the largest in the Family Group of islands, rainforest covered granite outcrops that lie off the coast near Mission Beach. Only 5 km from the coast, Dunk Island was once a popular luxury resort with its own airstrip and jetty. Successive cyclones hit the region, Larry in 2006 and Yasi in 2011. The resort recovered from the first, but Yasi caused significant damage to its infrastructure and it was abandoned.

Mission Beach is the point of access for the island, and we spent the night there before crossing to it. This gave us one last chance to spot a cassowary, as there is a population of them in the lowland rain forest that surrounds the coastal villages. Unfortunately, despite exploring a track beneath the green canopy, the only sighting was the one in the photo below. We were destined to leave the far north of Queensland without seeing one of these majestic and somewhat dangerous birds.

Cassowary country ....


.... but that is all we saw ....

...near Mission Beach

Our transport to Dunk Island

The only place to stay on Dunk Island now is the campground, comprising nine widely spaced sites on a shady sandspit at its north-western end. Camping is more our style than resort-living, which is why we found ourselves on a 10-passenger zodiac water-taxi heading out of the small harbour at Mission Beach bound for Dunk Island.

Time for a swim at our private beach

When we landed on the sandy beach with our assorted camping gear and supplies for the next three nights and looked around, we quickly declared this to be one of the best locations we have pitched our tent. That is, if you are lucky enough to have selected one of the four sites that sit beneath the shade of the trees on the leeward side of the sandy peninsula facing Brammo Beach. We had chosen well, as the other sites are closer and more exposed to the elements on the southern side of peninsula.

Our campsite next to Brammo Beach ......

.... and the view down the beach from it

We set up the tent, brewed a cuppa and took our fold-up lounge chairs down to our own little section of beach to watch the sun glistening off the calm waters of Brammo. It was a perfectly clear warm day with just a breath of wind - we had been lucky with the weather. For the next few days, we could relax to the sound of wavelets lapping on the shore with the rhythm of the rising and falling tide. A few yachts lolled gently on their moorings nearby as the water sparkled by day and the stars by night.

Dunk Island sunset

This was our last activity in tropical North Queensland before starting the long trip home and the main aim was relaxation. However, Dunk Island has some nice walking tracks and a bit of on-shore reef, which would need checking out. In the meanwhile, we will just sit back in our lounge chairs with a cold beer in hand and enjoy the sun setting in a pinkish-orange glow over the distant mountains of the mainland.

Dunk Island Loop Walk (10.5 km - 260m ascent - 0260m descent)

What a glorious day for a walk - not a cloud in the sky and temperatures in the low 20s. We set off around mid-morning to do the loop walk that took in the different landscapes of Dunk Island.

View along Brammo Beach towards Mt Kootaloo

Nearby Purtaboi Islet

View back over the pier to the mountains of the mainland

Heading down beneath the shade of the campground canopy, we emerged at the northern end of the airstrip and dropped quickly onto the coarse soft sand of Brammo Beach. Ahead was the site of the former resort and, as we wandered along, we could see the damage that Cyclone Yasi had done - roofs ripped off and walls blown out, though curiously, quite a few buildings seemed intact.

Ruined building of the abandoned resort

Into the rain forest ...

... and on the slopes of Mt Kootaloo

Our main interest, though, lay straight ahead - the green, rainforest clad profile of Mt Kootaloo, highest point on the island. At the end of the beach, a gap appeared in the rainforest. It was the start of a well-formed foot track that climbed gently around the slope beneath the shade of the dense tree canopy.

As we reached the steep upper slopes, we arrived at a junction and turned left to continue a slightly steeper climb around the mountain. On reaching its eastern flank, a short side-track led us to the summit of Mt Kootaloo. In the high humidity, my shirt was soaked and my brow dripping despite the climb being an easy one.

View from the summit of Mt Kootaloo

The summit had been a radar station during WW2, but now had a well-built viewing platform. However, the reward was worth it, as the wide panorama of the western side of the island, its neighbouring islets and across the sea to the backing mainland mountains was superb. We stayed a while to take it all in.

Campground sand spit and the distant mainland

Returning to the main track, we headed south and found ourselves descending a long spur of the mountain. The track was narrower now, on soft humid earth covered in fallen twigs and leaf litter. It seemed a good habitat for brush turkeys and scrub fowls as their scratchings and diggings cropped up regularly along it. At first, we stayed on the western side of the spur in deep shade, before crossing a small saddle to continue along the sunnier and drier eastern flank. Glimpses through the trees of the mainland gave way to glimpses of the Coral Sea.

Descent through the shady rain forest

The lowland forest of Palm Valley

After a while, a set of steeper switchbacks led us down the side of th spur and into Palm Valley. The vegetation of this lowland forest changed, with taller buttress-rooted trees, vines and palms appearing. Many of the palms were rattan with their long hooked tendrils waiting to grab on to the unwary passing walker.

The track through Palm Valley brought us out to beautiful Coconut Beach, a good place to stop for a break alongside the massive granite boulders that dot its shore.

The boulders framed views of the smaller islands of the Family Group as well as the distant mountains of Hinchinbrook Island.

Coconut Bay

The distant mountains of Hinchinbrook Island - viewed from Coconut Bay

Some of the boulders lining the shore

Coconut Beach is very stony and fringed in parts by mangroves. The track along it stayed in the forest just behind the beach, before climbing a small rocky point that separates Coconut and Pallon Bay. Here, it headed inland again to cross a series of small creeks in the rainforest.

Back into the rain forest ...

Mung-um-Gnackum Island with tree

... for more shady walking ...

This shows how much beach was ripped away by Cyclone Yasi

... before reaching the open pastures of the former resort

Tides out at the Pallon Beach mud flats

Finally, leaving the forest, we walked alongside the edge of the old resort lands - a broad grassy area backed by Mt Kootaloo. This brought us to the southern end of the airstrip and back onto the beach. The views from Pallon Beach out to Mung-um-Gnackum Island were lovely. It must have been even better before the cyclone, however, as it was obvious from the exposed roots and uprooted trees that a lot of sand had been ripped away and not replaced.

Final stroll back to the campsite

Yet another golden sunset

A short stroll from Pallon Beach across the sand spit brought us back to Brammo Beach, our campsite and the completion of a great tropical island walk. It would be our last coastal walk in the north and I have to confess that I hadn't fully appreciated how beautiful the northern Queensland coast is, with its backdrop of mountains, forests, offshore islands and sandy beaches.

Now I do.

A last bit of snorkelling

The best snorkelling area on the island is supposedly at Muggy Muggy Beach around the rocky point to the east of Brammo Beach, where the coral reef is quite close to shore. Its an easy stroll along the coarse sand of Brammo Beach and along the rainforest footpath that skirts the rocks of the point. Around the point lay Muggy Muggy, its western end piled high with bleached broken coral. The strip of sand beyond was straddled by dark rock ribs between the sea and the palm-fringed forest.

With some interesting off-shore rocks as well, it looked promising for snorkelling, but sadly did not deliver. The water was not very clear and much of the reef was covered with algae rather than coral. Was this also cyclone damage? Still, a few interesting fish and the odd surviving coral patch were the reward for putting on my mask and flippers.

Muggy Muggy Beach

Snorkelling the reef at Muggy Muggy

Our take-away memory of coral will remain the colourful Mackay Reef off Cape Tribulation. For Dunk Island, the memories would be the beauty of the beach and rainforest landscapes and the tranquillity of being here, far from the madding crowd.