From Sea to Summit

Just 8 km off the coast from Townsville lies Magnetic Island, often referred to as Maggie by the Townsville locals; a mountainous and thickly wooded 5184ha land mass with approximately 40 km of coastline (23 bays and beaches), 11km at its widest point and rises to 497m at Mount Cook. Magnetic Island has over 300 days of sunshine a year and 24 kms national parks walking tracks.

The eastern side of the island has four small settlements at Horseshoe Bay (the island's major residential area), Arcadia, Nelly Bay and Picnic Bay. Some 2533 ha of the central area and western side of the island are now national park.

Mount Cook is the highest point on the island and the Royal Australian Air Force has an obstruction beacon and helicopter landing pad on the mountain. An application for a section 35 authority is currently under assessment as the previous authority under the old National Parks and Wildlife Act has expired.

The island was first discovered by Captain Cook who called it Magnetic Island because he believed that the ores on the island had affected his compass. Cook's concerns seem to have been unjustified as subsequent tests have shown no magnetising qualities in the island's predominantly granite boulders.

Mt Cook Pinnacles panorama

There are several ways to get up a mountain but I've been told the easiest way is Duck Creek. There also use to be a rough path to the top in the early 1990s what has been called the 'goat-track' that went up along the ridgeline immediately above upper Gustav Creek. The other route to Mt Cook's summit is up Gustav Creek (near the pump station).

On this walk you may encounter barbed wine vine (Smilax australis), wild raspberry (Rubus moluccanus), stinging tree (Dendrocnide moroides) and thick ferns. I recommend wearing hiking boots, long pants and a long sleeve shirt.

There is no view from the top unless you jump the Obstruction Beacon's barbed wire fence and illgally climb the tower. As usual, take your rubbish back home with you. The last trip up I found two bottles, a bread clip, and a piece of styrofoam.

Mt Cook Pinnacles view

How to get there

Here's an interactive map of the routes:

Gustav Creek

This walk passes through a rainforest pocket, bolder garden, climbs gradually to the saddle between Nelly and Horseshoe Bays and follows a ridge with views over Horseshoe Bay. The track then branches, with one track leading on to Horseshoe Bay, where you can continue on to other tracks and the other to Arcadia Bay.

Allow a full day return to the summit. It's a 30 minute ferry ride to Nelly Bay from Townsville; Park your car at the SeaLink terminal ($7.50), purchase a return ticket over to Nelly bay ($33.50), and then walk Nelly Bay Street.

The road heads towards the mountains; you should be able to see a boulder field low in the mountain range. Follow the Nelly Bay to Arcadia Bay walking track a few hundred meters. You should see a sandy creek running parallel with the walking trail. Cut down into the sandy creek and walk along for a few meters and you will see a rock cairns.

Follow the creek up keeping left at the fork. You may want to go right because the creek is more open but stay left! Follow the rock cairns up the creek which opens up into a bolder field. You will soon have a little view and see a few more rock cairns. Watch out for the stinging trees though. Dead and alive stinging trees leaves, when disturbed, can produce fine hair particles and can cause respiratory issues when inhaled.

These rocks can be very slippery in the wet so be cautious. When I did this hike last, it was on an over cast day with slight drizzle. Also be sure to watch out for death adders, as they can been seen in the brush.

The vegetation start to become more bushy but continue up left to the saddle between the pinnacles. From here you can make a quick walk up to the pinnacles and the head over to the summit of Mt Cook.

Mt Cook Pinnacles

Once in the saddle, take a right and follow the ridgeline up through the sheoaks and grass tree and over a few minor peaks. Once at the summit, you will see a pole concreted into rock on top of the highest point. There are possibilities to camp at the summit but there's not much of a view. I would prefer camping on the first peak or at the pinnacles along the way.

Mt Cook totem pole

If you have some spare time while at the summit, there is the totem pole to see or the bushwalkers memorial plaque.

In 1962, two members of Townsville NFC Bushwalkers (from which Townsville Bushwalking Club arose), also members of the RAAF, set out in a kayak from the Strand for Magnetic Island. They disappeared and were never found, despite an intensive search including two RAAF Neptune maritime patrol aircraft. Their kayak was located days later near Lucinda. The bushwalking club attached a memorial plaque to a rock near Mt Cook looking towards Pallarenda, the plaque facing the line of the airport runway.

Mt Cook Plarke

From the radio tower, follow the star pickets with yellow caps on them to the helicopter landing pad just West of the summit. Once you run into the siam weed quarantine area, hook a left and follow the cut track around the fenced off area. Once past the helicopter landing pad, continue through the Lantana and over to hill 479.

Duck Creek

The Duck Creek route is a very easy way of getting up to Mt Cook, said to be better than the Gustav Creek (Nelly Bay) route. It does go through private property, so permission may be required. Although it rises steeply up towards Mt Cook, there isn't any overly hard areas to traverse and the vegetation is a lot less thick in the creek so you don't have to bush bash.

Follow the creek line all the way to the slopes of Mt Cook take all the right forks in the creek. Once near the top, it's a quick scrub bash up to the summit. You may want to stop by the bushwalkers memorial plaque of the north-western side (mentioned above). The other advantage to the western side is the almost absence of stinging tree (Dendrocnide moroides) and barbed wire vine (Smilax australis) until the slopes of Mt Cook, whereas on the eastern / northern side their there are some large clumps of it leading towards the summit. Anyone who has run into these plants will know how bad they are and why avoiding them is necessary.


After doing some research online, I've found several interesting blurbs of text:

Have you heard of the rock pool on upper Peterson Creek?

I've read that there are caves up on Mt Cook but haven't found them myself...
I have also read that there are springs 300 meter from the top the has water all year round - Discovering Magnetic Island By James G. Porter
If you have more information about the caves or the springs, please leave a comment below or contact us.