Dunk Island boat

A Dunk Island camping adventure like no other

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I had never heard of Dunk Island before my friend suggested we go camping on it. So I looked it up and after seeing the pictures, I was already packing my bags.

Located just off the coast of Mission Beach – around two hours’ drive south of Cairns – most of the island is covered by national park, making it the perfect place to get back to nature (and keep costs low).

Heading up with my wife and a bunch of mates, nothing could have prepared us for the epicness of our first-time encounter with Dunk Island. If you’re thinking of travelling there anytime soon (hint: it’s the perfect time), here’s my story to help make your decision easier.

Getting to the island

As we decided to travel up in the middle of cyclone season, the water taxi was not running but you can normally buy a return ticket for $35. The ride from Mission Beach only takes about 10 minutes.

Luckily, I have a friend with a boat. So our crew packed up our supplies and climbed aboard.

I felt like the king of the world as water splashed my face and the warm tropical air blew through my hair (Leo DiCaprio, eat your heart out). As we approached Dunk Island, I turned my head to see the sun setting on my right and an orange moon rising out of the ocean depths on my left. A good start? You betcha.

The campsite

Dunk Island pathway | Photo by Ben Brayley on blog.queensland.com

Hopping off the boat carrying swags, tents, beers and Eskies over my head through the warm water made me feel like this was the start of an adventure movie. A really relaxed adventure movie.

Setting up a camp at night is probably the worst idea in the world. If you have the chance to do it one day I suggest you wear shoes. I, however, was not wearing shoes at the time and stepped right onto a piece of coral which made a lovely hole in my foot. But Bear Grylls would have kept going, so I did too.

We were the only group camping on the island (how’s the serenity?!) and the only other people we saw were the workers who are helping with the reconstruction of the Dunk Island resort. They also know all the good fishing spots and if you’re REALLY nice they might even tell you where they are.

That night, we tried our hand at catching some squid. The results of other successful anglers were sprayed all over the newly constructed jetty but unfortunately we could only watch as the squid bolted away from our lures. So, instead of fresh calamari we had burgers.

We settled in for an undisturbed night of sleeping on a tropical island where nothing could possibly wake us up.

The night of the horses

The last thing you expect to wake up to on a tropical island in the middle of the night is five horses clomping around your campsite. Seriously, they came out of nowhere and I was thinking, ‘Maybe someone is walking through our camp!’.

Wrong. It’s a horse, on an island, in the middle of the night. Duh?!

Camping on Dunk Island has all sorts of surprises... like horses! | Photo by Ben Brayley on blog.queensland.com

We thought he was the coolest thing in the world before he grabbed an entire bunch of bananas, kicked sand all over our tent and disappeared into the night. I’m pretty sure he yelled ‘SUCKERS!’ as he ran away with his buddies.

I hate horses.

The reef

Fishing on Dunk Island |Photo by Ben Brayley on blog.queensland.com

After our equestrian evening, I opened the tent to my first daylight view of my surroundings. It was perfect. The beaches, the palms and the islands surrounding us quickly made me forget about the thieving horses, until I stepped in a nice warm ‘reminder’.

I washed my feet and set off on our boat to go fishing. It took us 30 minutes to reach the Great Barrier Reef from Dunk, thanks to the perfect conditions. The water was like glass. I’ve been on lakes with more chop.

We caught coral trout (yum), large-mouth nannygai (not as yum but HUGE) and even had a visit from a sea snake (terrifying). Considering it was the middle of cyclone season and by all rights we should have been in a tropical version of Deadliest Catch, we had the best day imaginable.

When I pulled the large-mouth nannygai onto the boat, the locals in Papua New Guinea probably heard us cheering. It was the biggest fish I have ever caught. (And of course, I don’t have a photo to prove it.)

I even made the mistake of saying to my wife that this was ‘the greatest day I’ve ever had.’ She promptly reminded me of my wedding.

This was the second best day I’ve ever had!

The island

A snorkelling wonderland awaits under the new Dunk Island jetty | Photo by Ben Brayley on blog.queensland.com

I couldn’t climb to the highest part of Dunk Island like I had hoped thanks to that nagging hole in my foot, but from what I was able to see, it’s pretty much perfection.

There’s a landing strip in the centre of the island for the more affluent among us, but it’s the regrowth over the old pathways that gives Dunk a sense of mystery. It’s probably where the horses came from?

The newly-built jetty is pretty much your own personal aquarium. Snorkeling underneath it, I was followed by friendly fish and teased by giant silhouettes in the distance.

The amount of fish and the ‘wildness’ of the island is astounding when you think it’s only four kilometres off the coast. That’s the appeal of Dunk though; it’s the convenience of running water and gas barbeques, mixed with the overgrown paths and mystery horses that make this place magic.

Need to know:

The water taxi from Mission Beach is the best option for getting to the island. If it’s not running you’ll need your own boat (or Grant Hackett’s arms and legs).

Camping permits cost $5.75 per person per night, or there is a family rate of $23.00 per night for two adults and up to six children. Email dunkcamp@bondgroup.com.au to make a booking.

What to pack:

– Tent or something waterproof to sleep under

– Food and drink (there is running water on the island but bring some just in case)

– Fishing gear

– Snorkel and mask

– Stinger suit (you can never be too careful)

– A sharp knife for all the squid and coral trout you’ll be filleting

– Insect spray

– Horse repellent (recommended brands “Woah!” or “Giddy Up!”)

– Extra bananas, just in case the horse repellent doesn’t work

– A camping chair to sit and appreciate the view

– A mobile phone for emergencies (great reception on the island)

Have you ever been camping on Dunk Island? What are your favourite memories? Share in the comments below.




  • @misswinkel

    Hey Ben. Shame you didn’t get to the top of Mt Kootaloo. Apart from the view, there’s the relics of an old radio tower to remind hikers of the role Dunk played in the battle of the Coral Sea in 1942. There used to be a 9km walk from there back to the campsite – through some giant fern territory. If Miss Universe was an Island, she’d be called Dunk!

    • Benjamin Brayley

      I agree completely!

      Miss Universe, on a horse, with a giant fishing rod. It’s the best thing ever.

      I had no idea about the radio tower either! Next time i’m wearing my hiking boots the whole time!