We had originally planned to take the Bloomfield Track from Cape Tribulation to Cooktown, and it would have saved a lot of time. Unfortunately, one of the caravan wheels was locking up and although we had it booked in for a service when we got back to Cairns, it was currently in no condition to do the steep hills of the Bloomfield Track. Going the long way round – back on the barge over the Daintree River, back down the Mossman-Mt Molloy Road and up the Mulligan Hwy – took us about 6hrs of driving (compared to 2-3hrs on the Bloomfield Track).
Excited to arrive at Cooktown, we dropped the van at the caravan park and drove straight into town to check it out. Captain Cook beached the Endeavour here in 1770 and came ashore for 7 weeks, so it’s claimed as Australia’s first settlement by the locals. We were looking forward to learning more on the history of this well known town in Far North QLD.
Things we did in Cooktown
> Grassy Hill Lookout
With a stunning view over the coastline, the town and the Endeavour River, we stood at this amazing 360 degree lookout and imagined what it would have been like for Captain Cook in 1770. The lookout was popular with tourists and community pride is shown in the footpath up to the lookout, as local families, business owners and individuals have purchased pavers that line the walkway to the lookout and picnic areas. We ended up coming here three times we – as soon as we arrived in Cooktown, at sunset that day and again at 4am the next morning to take photos of the Persoid Meteor Shower. The cover shot of the Lighthouse was also taken before sunrise, you can see the clouds were coming in and it was very blustery but worth getting up early to get these shots.
> James Cook Museum
The people of Cooktown won a grant to restore the old convent and transform it into the James Cook Museum. There’s a lot going on here, with displays including a tribute to the traditional owners of the area, the reproduction of Captain Cook’s diary when he ran aground and stayed in Cooktown for several weeks, the Chinese history of the area, gold mining, convent history and more. The smallest of the Endeavour’s anchors is on display behind glass at the entrance to the building, as it was left behind during that fateful part of the voyage, along with a couple of canons.
> Nature’s Powerhouse
This modern building on the grounds of the botanic gardens had two interesting exhibitions. The first one was a temporary exhibit, with different artists giving their interpretation of Cook’s landing, and the second was a permanent exhibit showing beautiful botanical drawings from Cook’s expedition (prints of the original line drawings made by Sollander in 1770, which came in Kew Gardens in England).
> Cooktown Botanic Gardens
It was raining (as it does in the tropics) but we managed to have a quick walk around the gardens and look at plants native to this area.
> Keatings Lagoon
We were warned on Wikicamps but still got eaten alive by mosquitos at Keatings Lagoon, about 10mins drive out of town. There’s a great bird hide there and although it was raining we got to see the magnificent water lilies and birdlife at the lagoon.
> Finch Bay
This gorgeous beach is a no-go zone due to resident crocodiles so we didn’t stay long but were there long enough to appreciate this wide beach with beautiful boulders. Many people walk through the botanic gardens to get to the beach but the rain stopped us. The steep sandy walk down from the car park made a great place for the kids to jump and roll around and burn off some fuel!
> Cooks Landing Kiosk
We had lunch at the Kiosk on our last day and while the food wasn’t that exceptional, the setting was great – with tables on the deck right on the waterfront at Cooktown.
Where we stayed in Cooktown
> Cooktown Caravan Park
The sites were small but the check in and welcome from Mary and John were one of the best we’ve had. We had a really private site against a wall of tropical bush so the view from within the caravan was wonderful and we felt like we were camped in the bush on our own.
We enjoyed our time at Cooktown and although three days of heavy rain stopped us doing our long-day drive through Lakefield National Park and up towards Coen, we felt we learned a lot and look forward to coming back to do the Cape in our camper trailer one day.