“SEEN one rainforest, seen ém all” doesn’t apply at Cooktown where in 1770 Captain James Cook and his crew landed on the banks of the Endeavour River after their ship ran aground on the Great Barrier Reef.
Exploring Queensland’s Cape York Peninsula was just a blip on my travel radar until last December. I’d already seen plenty of rainforests so with many other exciting places beckoning, I figured if an opportunity arose to go to north Queensland I’d go but otherwise I wouldn’t make the effort.
An opportunity did arise, in fact, after relatives moved to Cooktown in late 2014. An airline company was offering cheap flights from Brisbane to Cairns so that blip on my travel radar suddenly started beaming “visit me”.
I planned to make the trip before the 2016 wet season (January to March) but I’ve since learnt the monsoon rains in summer renew wildlife in spectacular fashion. Waterfalls are also in full flow so awesome photographic opportunities would have been greater than the month I chose, September 2015.
While Cooktown is accessible in a standard vehicle all year round, time was limited for my north Queensland jaunt so I took a 45-minute flight from Cairns with Hinterland Aviation.
Located 328 kilometres north of Cairns, Cooktown is steeped in history dating from ancient Indigenous times, Captain James Cook’s landing on the bank of the Endeavour River in 1770, and the Palmer River Gold Rush of the late 1800s.
This list of 12 things to do at Cooktown is just a snapshot of the vast number of things to do and see in and around the coastal town that boasts a population of about 2500,
1. Stroll through the Cooktown Botanic Gardens featuring native and exotic palms, orchids, fruit trees and more than 90 species of birds. These gardens are among the oldest in Australia.
2. Go crocodile spotting. The best time is during the dry season (July to December) on a low tide when they come out of the water to sun themselves on the river banks. Beware of venturing near water on beaches and river banks where crocs view humans as prey.
3. Swim in the popular fresh-water pool below the Trevathan Falls, accessed from Mount Amos road.
4. Enjoy spectacular views of Cooktown, the Endeavour River and the Great Barrier Reef from the Grassy Hill Lookout and Lighthouse.
5. Hike from the Grassy Hill Road to Cheery Tree Bay, Cooktown’s most secluded beach and fringed by rainforest and large rock formations.
6. See spectacular views over the Hope Islands and Cape Tribulation from near the lighthouse at Archer Point, 15km south of Cooktown, off the Mulligan Highway.
7. Visit the mysterious Black Mountains 25km south of Cooktown on the Mulligan Highway. The mountains of grey granite boulders are culturally significant for the Kuku Yalanji people and tales abound of people, horses and cattle disappearing, never to be seen again.
8. Have a beer in the Lion’s Den Hotel, built in 1875 on the banks of the Little Annan River. Surrounded by mango trees rainforests, the historic hotel built of timber and iron is famous for its quirky interior.
9. See Indigenous Australian art, pottery and jewellery at the Wujal Wujal professional gallery near the Bloomfield River.
10. Enjoy a riverboat cruise on the Endeavour River for scenic tours designed to share maritime stories while croc spotting and bird watching.
11. Visit the James Cook Museum, located in the restored Sisters of Mercy convent school building, where artefacts from Captain James Cook’s ship Endeavour and diary extracts are housed. The museum also holds Indigenous Australian and Chinese displays.
12. Take a walking tour of the town to see the water fountain, Elizabeth Guzsely Gallery, history centres, Milbi (story) Wall, statue of Mick the Miner and the interactive Musical Ship. James Cook tributes include a statue, cannon and monument marking the spot where Cook beached his Endeavour in 1770. Markets are on Saturday mornings near the bowls club.