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Cooktown, QLD

Town built on site where Cook spent 48 days repairing the H.M. Barque Endeavour

Cooktown is justifiably famous as the site of the first white 'settlement' in Australia when Captain James Cook, having struck the Great Barrier Reef off the coast north of Cape Tribulation, struggled up the coast and beached the H.M. Barque Endeavour on the shores of the Endeavour River. Cook and his crew were to stay on the river's edge from 17 June to 4 August, 1770. Today, with a sealed road from Port Douglas and Cairns, it has become a popular northern point for those not wanting to make the long, arduous and difficult journey to the top of Cape York. It is a charming town which wears its history - lots of statues of Captain Cook and a number of impressive buildings constructed during the gold mining boom at Palmer River in the 1880s - with ease. In recent times it has been driven by tourism and, particularly, fishing.


Cooktown is located 328 km (by the inland road) and 244 km (by the coast road and the Bloomfield Track) from Cairns. It is 1,987 km north of Brisbane.


Origin of Name

Cooktown was the site where Captain James Cook (after whom the town is named) beached, and repaired, the H.M. Barque Endeavour on the shores of the Endeavour River after it had struck the Great Barrier Reef near Cape Tribulation. Cook and his crew stayed from 17 June to 4 August, 1770. The settlement was originally known as Cook's Town but on 1 June, 1874 it was officially renamed Cooktown.


Things to See and Do

Down Charlotte Street
The best way to start appreciating the richness of Cooktown is to take a long and leisurely walk down the main street (Charlotte Street). On one side are impressive historic buildings - a reminder of the wealth that once flowed through the town - and on the other side is parkland with a variety of memorials as well as unique attractions like the Singing Ship and the unusual sculpture celebrating the contribution of the Chinese to the community.

Cook Memorials
There are no fewer than six Cook monuments in the town. There is a cairn at the place where he beached the Endeavour, another smaller monument a few metres away, a Bicentennial statue of the Captain in a nearby park, and a huge civic monument on Charlotte Street which was designed by George St Paul Connolly in the office of the Queensland Colonial Architect and built in 1887.

Cook Remembers the Endeavour River
Cook had successfully sailed through the Great Barrier Reef until 10 June, 1770. His diary entries for the night of Sunday 10 June and the morning of Monday 11 June 1770 record the events: "The shore between Cape Grafton and the above northern point forms a large but not very deep bay, which I named Trinity Bay, after the day on which it was discover'd; the north point Cape Tribulation because here began all our troubles.
"Before 10 o'Clock (p.m.) we had 20 and 21 fathoms and continued in that depth until a few minutes before 11, when we had 17, and before the man at the lead could heave another cast the ship struck and stuck fast."
Cook's vessel, the H.M. Barque Endeavour, ran onto a section of the Great Barrier Reef now known as Endeavour Reef. It managed to continue up the coast to the Endeavour River near present-day Cooktown. Cook and his crew stayed on the river's edge from 17 June to 4 August, 1770. 
Cook's Journal records: "18 June 1770. I climbed one of the highest hills among those that overlooked the harbour, which afforded by no means a comfortable prospect; the lowland near the river is wholly overrun with mangroves, among which the saltwater flows every tide; and the high land appeared everywhere stony and barren. In the mean time, Mr Banks had also taken a walk up the country and met with the frames of several old Indian houses, and places where they had dressed shellfish.
Then on "30 June 1770. And went myself upon a hill which lies over the south point, to take a view of the sea. At this time it was low water and I saw, with great concern, innumerable sand banks and shoals lying all along the coast in every direction. The innermost lay about three or four miles from the shore, the outermost extended as far as I could see with my glass, and many of them did but just rise above water. There was some appearance of a passage to the northward and I had no hope of getting clear but in that direction; for as the wind blows constantly from S.E., it would be difficult, if not impossible, to return back to the southward."
It was the first "settlement" of Europeans on the east coast of the continent and it makes Cooktown a hugely important historic site.

Cook Monument and Cannon
Not surprisingly the most impressive monument in town is the huge work designed by George St Paul Connolly in the office of the Queensland Colonial Architect and built in 1887. The cannon next to it was brought to Cooktown in 1885 to repulse a possible Russian invasion. So pervasive was the belief that the invasion was imminent that the Cooktown Council sent a wire to the Queensland Premier "requesting he supply arms, ammunition and a competent officer to take charge against a threat of Russian invasion." The cannon, which had been cast in Scotland in 1803, was duly sent along with 3 cannonballs, 2 rifles and an officer. It is still fired once a year during the Cooktown Discovery Festival.

Musical Ship
Located in the park beside the waterfront, the Musical Ship is fitted with marimbas, thongaphones, tok-toks, chimes and doof (bass drum) and is a very entertaining interactive sculpture. It is a unique 8.5 metre sculptural installation made from recycled poly-pipe, stainless steel, aluminium, and Ironwood with sea creature inserts designed and painted by local Aboriginal artists – Helen Gordon, Conrad Michael and Joseph McIvor. It was "launched" in 2007 as part of the Queensland Music Festival, and designed and built by Steve Langton with his team at Hubbub Music. Commissioned by Queensland Music Festival’s Artistic Director, Paul Grabowsky, the project was supported by Cook Shire Council.

Edmund Kennedy Memorial and Others
Next to the Cook statue in the park is a tribute to Edmund Kennedy [see Cardwell - https://www.aussietowns.com.au/town/cardwell-qld - for details of his death), honouring his journey from Rockingham Bay to Escape River. The memorial was unveiled in 1948 exactly 100 years after Kennedy's death.
There's also a monument to Dan Seymour who established the National Riding Track from Melbourne to Cooktown in 1977. The trail was mapped between 1974 and the 1980s.
There's a cannon which was brought to the town to prevent an unlikely attack from the Russians. "The cannon was cast in 1803 in Carron, Scotland. During the height of the 'Russian invasion' scare of 1885, the Cooktown Municipal Council telegraphed to the Premier of Queensland, requesting him to supply arms, ammunition and an officer to take charge of the Cooktown volunteer defence force. This cannon was sent, along with 3 cannonballs, 2 rifles and 1 officer. Initially the cannon was located on the foreshore near the Powder Magazine on Webber Esplanade, overlooking the entrance to Cooktown Harbour on the Endeavour River estuary. It is fired once a year as part of the annual Cook's landing re-enactment celebrations."

Mary Watson's Monument
In 1880 Captain Robert Watson, a beche-de-mer (sea cucumber) fisherman, arrived on Lizard Island with his wife, two Chinese servants and baby daughter. He built a cottage just along from the present site of the Lizard Island resort. The ruins are still visible. 
In September 1880, during one of Captain Watson's absences from the island, Guugu Yimmidir Aborigines from the mainland attacked the cottage and killed one of the Chinese servants, Ah Leung. Mrs. Watson, accompanied by her child and the other Chinese servant (Ah Sam), leapt into a water tank (it can be seen in the Townsville Museum - it is a large rectangular tub) which was used for boiling beche-de-mer. The vessel floated away from the island but they could not steer it to the coast. All three died of thirst. When their bodies were eventually found they were buried in Cooktown cemetery. On Charlotte Street is a memorial to Mary Beatrice Watson. It is a fine example of Victorian Gothic design, was funded by public subscription and erected in 1886. It was designed and built by Ernest Greenway. For more detailed information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600421.

River of Life Walkway
Along the footpath on the waterfront side of Charlotte Street there are a large number of tiles stretching for 500 metres. The winding pathway features hand-painted and carved ceramic tiles with a mixture of both minimal and very detailed designs. Some, like the man who saved his dog from a crocodile, are amusing. Others are stories about the town. Seven local artists, helped by Townsville potter Shelley Burt, created the artworks. Their artistic brief was to depict the diversity of Cooktown’s present-day identity, contrasted against that of its cultural history. 

The Westpac Building
Located at 120 Charlotte Street, the Westpac Bank, with its superb cedar joinery and heavy masonry columns, was completed in 1891. At the time it was the Queensland National Bank and was designed by FDG Stanley, who designed a number of bank buildings in the 1880s and 1890s. The premises were purchased by the Bank of New South Wales (the precursor to Westpac) in 1934 and restoration work has been undertaken since then. The Queensland Heritage Register notes that the building is: "a two-storeyed brick building with a corrugated iron roof and timber verandahs to three sides. It has a rendered street facade, with a substantial colonnade to the ground floor, a more delicately detailed upper storey, and a central entrance portico. The building has an L-shaped plan. The street-facing wing has the bank on the ground floor, with a public banking area to the north-west, and the managers residence above, with bedrooms and lounge overlooking the street. An adjoining wing extending to the rear contains staff quarters and a single storeyed kitchen. The ground floor colonnade comprises round rendered concrete columns with an entablature with rectangular motifs, and a rendered concrete balustrade with shaped balusters. The first floor has cast iron columns with floriated capitals, a wrought iron balustrade, and a timber frieze. The entrance portico has paired columns to the ground floor flanking an arch with a keystone. An arched pediment spans the width of the entry, and is surmounted by a projecting bay with arched timber work and a triangular timber pediment. The eaves have shaped timber brackets, and a rendered masonry chimney rises above the roofline. Windows and doors to the ground floor street facade are arched, linked with string courses, and decorated with keystones. The upper level openings are rectangular." For more detailed information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600419.

Cooktown Post and Telegraph Office
Located at 121 Charlotte Street, and previously the Cooktown Shire Council and now the Cooktown History Centre, the building now offers an award winning interpretative display which allows visitors to appreciate the rich history of Cooktown and the surrounding area. The building is listed on the Queensland Heritage Register which notes that it: "was constructed in 1876-77 as Cooktown's first purpose-built Post and Telegraph Office. Its function changed to that of municipal council offices in 1893, and it has retained this function for over a century." It notes that the "post and telegraph offices were designed in the office of the colonial architect, FDG Stanley. As colonial architect, Stanley also designed the Cooktown Powder Magazine [1874] and the first wing of the Cooktown Hospital [1879], and in private practice prepared plans for St Mary's Convent at Cooktown [1888-89] and the former Cooktown Queensland National Bank [1890-92]. For more detailed information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=601535.

The Boathouse
Located on Charlotte Street between the Post Office and the History Centre, The Boathouse is the official home of the Cooktown Re-enactment Association. It contains murals depicting the story of Captain Cook's historic forty eight days at the Endeavour River; his eight meetings with the Guugu Yimithirr Bama people; scenes sourced from the journals of Cook, Joseph Banks and Sydney Parkinson; images of Cook and a “Little Old” Guugu Yimithirr man reconciling after a dispute over Cook’s refusal to share turtles; images of the H.M. Barque Endeavour stuck fast upon the Great Barrier Reef; a map of the Guuu Yimithirr lands around the Endeavour River; and other animals seen here for the first time were the crocodile, dingo, possum, flying fox, quoll and many species of animals, fish, birds, shells and insects never before seen by Europeans.

Bank of North Queensland
Located at 126 Charlotte Street, the Bank of North Queensland (sometimes known as the Ferrari Estates Building) was constructed in 1890-1891. The Queensland Heritage Register notes: "The building remains a rare example of its type: a substantial, two-storeyed late 19th century North Queensland bank building containing banking chamber and manager's residence, constructed of rendered brick, with front and side verandahs to the upper level, illustrating the adaptive use of design in a remote tropical locale." 
They place it in the larger economic context of "When the Cooktown branch was established in 1888, alluvial goldmining on the Palmer River gold fields was still paying high dividends, the Annam tin fields had just been opened, and the local bêche-de-mer industry was booming. Cooktown, which serviced a district population of approximately 30,000, was thriving, and both the Bank of New South Wales and the Queensland National Bank had opened branches there already. Such was local business confidence in the future of far North Queensland, that within two years the Bank of North Queensland had commissioned Townsville architects Eyre & Munro to design substantial new premises for the Cooktown branch." For more detailed information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600422.

Cooktown Cemetery
The cemetery at the western end of Charlotte Street has a large map indicating the location of tombstones and other sites of interest. These include the sepulchres of William Hovell, the hapless Mrs. Watson, the mysterious Normanby woman (a white woman who was found living with Aborigines in unexplained circumstances), the victims of at least two shipwrecks, and a special section for non-believers and Aborigines. In total there were 1,830 burials between 1877 and 1920
There is also a Chinese Shrine. Over 20,000 Chinese passed through the town on their way to the goldfields and, at one time, Cooktown had a separate Chinatown with a permanent population of nearly 3000 people. The Queensland Heritage Register records: "The cemetery bears testimony to the diverse nationalities who came to Cooktown and the Palmer goldfields in the late 19th century, and includes the graves of French, Chinese, English, Swedish, Germans and South Sea Islanders. Of particular prominence are the Chinese - mostly gardeners, miners, labourers and storekeepers - who account for approximately one-sixth (about 300) of the burials in the period 1877-1920. It is understood that most Chinese initially interred here were later exhumed and returned to China. The contribution of the Chinese to the development of Cooktown and the Palmer River goldfields in the late 19th century cannot be underestimated. As late as 1901, when the population of the Palmer River goldfield was just 600 persons, 377 of them were Chinese, and Chinese accounted for approximately 7.5% of the population of the Cook and Palmer census districts. In 1887 the local Chinese community erected a Shrine in the cemetery to honour their dead." Check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=601147 for more detailed information.

The 'Off To Seek His Fortune' Statue and Landing Place
To the east of the town, on the foreshore, is a statue of an old gold prospector with a pan under one arm and a pick in his hand. The plaque reads: "At this spot on 24th October 1873, the vessel "Leichhardt" discharged its cargo of government officials, miners, horses and supplies for the trek to the Palmer River. This was the start of the famous "Palmer River Goldrush", and the birth of the port of Cooktown. Miners from all around the world, numbering in the tens of thousands, quickly followed. The flow of people, supplies and gold through the port established Cooktown as one of Queensland's most prosperous town and the state's second busiest port. ... This statue represents a typical miner on his way to the goldfields in the 1870s, and was commissioned by the Cooktown and District Historical Society to mark the 125th Anniversary of the establishment of Cooktown. 31 October, 1998."
Nearby is a sign explaining that it was near this spot on 18 June, 1770 that Cook, 86 men, livestock of sheep, pigs, dogs, ducks, hens and a goat reached the safety of the riverbank. There are quotes from the various journals for 18 June:
Cook - "At 1 p.m. the ship floated and we warped her into the harbour and moored her alongside of a steep beach on the south side."
Banks - "so near the shore that by a stage from her to it all her cargo might be got out and in again in a very short time."
Parkinson - "We set up tents ashore, unloaded her, carried all the cargo and provisions into them, and there lodged and accommodated our sick."

Chinese Migrants
At the end of Charlotte Street, near the waterfront, is an interesting sculpture of three Chinese figures. As the signage explains "Chinese migrants had an important, but underrated, role in developing Australia's north. This sculpture celebrates their contributions. The seated new arrival contemplates his new country before the trek to the goldfield. The two standing figures represent those who later prospered and contributed to Australian business, services and commerce." The sculpture is by Hans Pehl an Atherton Tablelands  artist blacksmith.

Cooktown Powder Magazine
Further east along the foreshore, and designed by Francis Drummond Greville Stanley and built in 1875-1876, the Cooktown Powder Magazine is one of the earliest known surviving Government powder magazines in Queensland. The reason it was built was that under the Navigation Act of 1876, the master of any ship entering a Queensland port with gunpowder to be unloaded, had to ensure that it was placed in a government magazine. The magazine was built to deal with gunpowder that would be used at the Palmer River goldmines. The Department of Public Works called tenders for a powder magazine at Cooktown in July, 1875. The contract, which was for a brick store 26 feet by 15 feet, roofed with galvanised iron and surrounded at a distance of 25ft by a 7ft high timber fence, was won in September 1875 by HJ Meldrum, with a price of £590. For safety reasons, the structure was to be located at the rocks by the sea at the northern edge of Grassy Hill, a considerable distance from the pilot station. It is now owned by the National Trust. For more information check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600425.

James Cook Historical Museum - St Mary's Convent and School
Located on the corner of Helen and Furneaux Street, the James Cook Historical Museum was originally St Mary's Convent which was built in 1888-1889. A magnificent two-storey structure it was constructed in the belief that the town would become an important port. The elaborate cast-iron columns and balustrades reflect a sense of certainty. The Queensland Heritage Register sees the building's significance as "its rarity value: few late 19th century buildings of this substance and decorative detail were erected in centres as remote as Cooktown, accessible only by sea in the 1880s" and "The former convent and school is an excellent, highly intact example of a substantial, 1880s boom era brick institutional building with decorative detailing, designed to accommodate the tropical Cooktown climate and to cater for both convent and school purposes." For more information about the building check out https://environment.ehp.qld.gov.au/heritage-register/detail/?id=600423.
The museum recommends that each visitor spend at least an hour looking at the exhibits, which include a Chinese joss house (originally brought from Canton), a shell collection, interesting material on Cooktown's early history, and artefacts from the Endeavour, including one of the cannons jettisoned from the vessel when it ran aground on Endeavour Reef, and one of the ship's anchors which was also recovered from the reef. The National Trust website notes: "The Endeavour Gallery not only explores the fight for survival Cook and his men faced on the reef, it also documents the many discoveries made by the ship’s scientific team during their enforced stay at the Endeavour River. Integral to Australian history and cultural identity is the interaction between Cook and the local Guugu Yimithiir people – the most extensive he experienced in Australia – and this story is told from both perspectives. Other museum galleries explore the changing face of Cooktown. The galleries on the ground floor – former classrooms and the school hall – house objects from pupils and Sisters who called the convent home, tales from the Palmer gold rush and a display dedicated to the rich Chinese heritage of the region. The Nuns’ cells and dormitories on the upper floor are home to exhibits detailing the strong maritime history of Cooktown and the personal stories and objects from local families who, although they endured hardship, loneliness and isolation, nevertheless carved out a life in this remote and often unforgiving location. The Indigenous Gallery provides an unmissable insight into the culture and history of the Guugu Yimithiir people." The museum is open from 9.00 am - 4.00 pm each day (it is closed Monday between October and April), tel: (07) 4069 5386. Check out https://www.nationaltrust.org.au/places/james-cook-museum/ for more details.

Nature's Powerhouse
Located on Walker Street opposite the Botanic Gardens, Nature's Powerhouse houses the Vera Scarth-Johnson botanical illustrations and a natural history display. It is part of the Cook Shire Visitor Information Centre and is open from 9.30 am - 4.00 pm seven days. Tel: (07) 4069 6004.

Grassy Hill and the Lighthouse
A steep winding road leads to Grassy Hill which provides panoramic views of the coast, the Endeavour River and Cooktown. At the top of the hill is a monument to Cook as well as the lighthouse. A nearby placard reprints a section from the Cooktown Courier of 5 August 1885 which notes: "We understand that our lighthouse is on board the New Guinea which left Batavia on 27 July for Queensland ports. We have here another proof of the government's desire to deal fairly with us. Before long the bright rays of our lighthouse will be gleaming over the waste of waters, carrying comfort and an assurance of safety to mariners who have to thread the intricate navigation of our coast...no better monument could be erected to the memory of Captain Cook. It is the one he himself would have chosen, as it will recall the gallant navigator and explorer every time its bright tower of white light is seen."
The Australian e-Heritage portal points out that the lighthouse "was erected in 1886 at a cost of £842/8/7 for the building and £156 for the lighting apparatus - a 4th Order Fixed Dioptric Light 180 made by Chance Bros & Co., Lighthouse Works, near Birmingham. GP Heath supervised the placing of the apparatus in the completed tower in mid-September 1886. It was a manned light, lit by kerosene." For detailed information about the lighthouse, check out http://eheritage.metadata.net/record/QLD-601241.


Other Attractions in the Area

The Bloomfield Track from Cooktown to Daintree
From Cooktown to Cape Tribulation the road, which was built by the local council (ably encouraged by Premier Joh Bjelke-Petersen) in 1983 despite passionate protests from environmentalists, is challenging and, in the minds of many, a road that should never have been constructed. It is an ugly dirt-red gash across the face of the rainforest which is characterised by unbelievable gradients, narrowness, bulldust, cavernous potholes in the dry season and quagmires of mud in the wet. It is for 4WD vehicles only. 
Of course the road travels through incredibly beautiful country. If you are determined to make the journey make sure you visit the Wujal Wujal Falls (a thirty minute walk from the track); pause and inspect the Wujal Wujal Arts & Cultural Centre which is open from 10.00 am - 4.00 pm and has interesting examples of local Aboriginal art; and marvel at the strange Black Mountain, a mountain of black granite boulders which looks as though it has been placed beside the road by some giant. It is known as Kalkajaka (‘place of the spear’) and is an important meeting place for the Eastern Guugu-Yimithirr Bama Aborigines. Visitors are advised not to venture onto the boulder field.
The real challenges of the route are:
(a) the Bloomfield River is tidal and cannot be crossed in safety at high tide or when there has been rain. Every driver needs to determine, with care, when low tide is occurring and aim to get to the river as close to that time as possible.
(b) the road becomes impossible during the wet season because the bulldust turns to mud and there are washouts and collapses.
The road has, sadly, developed into a challenge for 4WD drivers. There is even a downloadable brochure - http://tourism.racq.com.au/__data/assets/pdf_file/0003/56721/Cape-Tribulation-to-Cooktown.pdf - titled Bring Back the Queensland Road Trip. There is also a lot of good advice at http://douglas.qld.gov.au/road-conditions/bloomfield-road-cape-tribulation-to-cooktown/ which is the local shire's website. It is possible to check the track condition before departing. Tel: Douglas Shire Council (07) 4099 9444.

Bloomfield Lodge
Located south of Cooktown in the heart of the Daintree Rainforest at the mouth of the Bloomfield river is Bloomfield Lodge. It is not cheap. However the setting is glorious and if you want to experience what it is like to live in a rainforest on the edge of the Coral Sea, and eat and be treated to five star service, then Bloomfield is about as good as it gets.
Bloomfleld Lodge is located on the coast some 120 kilometres south of Cooktown and deep in the Daintree Rainforest. The only access is by water and, if you are alert, you can see the local crocodiles lazing in the mud on the banks of the Bloomfield River as the boat takes visitors from the local airstrip across the estuary to the Bloomfield jetty. 
The tides are so large, and the mouth of the Bloomfield River so shallow, that the boat carrying visitors nudges towards the lodge until it runs aground some distance from the shore at which point a tractor is backed into the water and hooked onto the boat. 
A short walk up the hill and you are in a rainforest paradise. There’s a freshwater pool with deck chairs; a huge, open-air al fresco dining area; and on narrow bush tracks and across a swinging bridge are cabins with overhead fans, elegant mosquito nets and wooden-shuttered windows that gaze out through the canopy across the appropriately named Weary Bay.
Restricted to only 36 visitors, Bloomfield Lodge is a unique destination where the emphasis is on relaxation and rainforest experiences. It is possible to hire a boat and go out to the Great Barrier Reef for either snorkelling or big game fishing but the emphasis is on the lodge’s two main, and free, activities. There is a guided rainforest walk lasting two to two-and-a-half hour which does nothing more than make its way up the narrow valley behind the lodge, reach the top of the hill and then descend down the other side. Led by a well-informed guide it includes sightings of rare orchids, exotic lichens and the possibility of seeing the magnificent Ulysses butterfly.
The Bloomfield River cruise, also lasting two to two-and-a-half hours, heads up the Bloomfield River to the causeway at the local Aboriginal community of Wujal Wujal. Most trips include sightings of saltwater crocodiles which glide through the river’s muddy waters searching for places on the banks where they can laze and bask in the sun. 

Black Mountains (Kalkajaka) National Park
Located 25 km to the south of Cooktown on the Mulligan Highway these strange mountains feature huge granite boulders (some the size of a suburban house) blackened by surface lichen. The geology of the mountains is explained on the National Parks website: "Around 260 million years ago, a mass of molten rock (magma) slowly solidified deep below the earth's surface, forming a body of hard granite rock. As softer land surfaces above eroded away, the sparsely fractured top of this granite was gradually exposed. Weathering and chemical decomposition removed loose material along weak fractures extending downward through the rock. More resistant rock remained as large rectangular blocks, their corners becoming progressively rounded into boulders. The solid granite core of the mountain now lies beneath the jumbled cover of boulders. The granite rock is actually a light grey colour and composed of mineral such as feldspar, mica and hornblende. Black Mountain's distinctive dark appearance is due to a film of microscopic blue-green algae growing on the exposed surfaces. Grey patches and boulder fractures indicate ongoing rock disintegration—a process accelerated dramatically when cold rain hits rock, sometimes with explosive results."
The National Park is home to a diverse range of fauna and flora. Of particular interest are the Black Mountain skink (it is distinctive because it has a duckbill-like snout and it changes from black to green when it moves from shade to sunlight); the Black Mountain boulderfrog (a frog the size of a walnut which makes a sharp tapping noise) and the Black Mountain gecko.
The rocky outcrop is of special significance to the local Guugu Yimithirr who recount a story of a feud between two brothers for the love of a girl. 
For more information check out https://www.npsr.qld.gov.au/parks/black-mountain/culture.html.



* Prior to the arrival of Europeans the area around Cooktown was home to the Guugu-Yimithirr Bama Aborigines.

* Captain James Cook, having struck the Great Barrier Reef north of Cape Tribulation, struggled up the coast and beached the H.M. Barque Endeavour on the shores of the Endeavour River where he stayed from 17 June to 4 August, 1770. 

* The coastal explorers Phillip Parker King and Allan Cunningham reached the area in 1819 and climbed and named Mount Cook.

* In 1872 the Queensland Government sent William and Frank Hann to the area to search for gold. They found traces in the Palmer River.

* In 1873 James Mulligan found substantial gold deposits in the Palmer River. Cooktown became the administrative centre for the Palmer River goldfields.

* By 1874 a goldrush started and Cooktown, just a collection of tents at Endeavour Inlet, became a landing place for prospectors.

* The government, deciding the area needed a port, sent George Dalrymple to find a suitable location. However events overtook both Dalrymple and the government when the Leichhardt arrived at Endeavour River with supplies and 96 people. 

* On 1 June, 1874 Cook's Town was officially renamed Cooktown.

* By 1875, there were an incredible 65 hotels, a school, a fire brigade and two churches. The main street meandered for nearly 3 km.

* A school was opened in 1875.

* Telegraph connection with Brisbane was established in 1876.

* By 1878 Dr John Cani had been appointed Vicar-Apostolic of North Queensland and was stationed in Cooktown.

* The town's Botanic Gardens were established in 1878.

* By the 1880s one third of the town's population were Chinese.

* In 1882 Mary Watson died while escaping from an attack on Lizard Island.

* By 1885 there was 50 km of railway track from Cooktown to Normanby.

* In 1886 the Sisters of Mercy Convent, now the James Cook Historical Museum, was completed.

* In 1886 a lighthouse was built on Grassy Hill.

* The Bank of New South Wales building  was completed 1889.

* By 1894 the town had an 80-bed hospital.

* In 1907 a cyclone nearly destroyed the town. 

* The town had a brief economic recovery during World War II.

* In 1970 the Sisters of Mercy convent was opened as the James Cook Historical Museum.

* The North Queensland tourist boom in the 1980s saw renewed interest in the historic town.

* In 2012 Cyclone Ita hit Cooktown destroying about 50 buildings.


Visitor Information

Cook Shire Visitor Information Centre, Walker Street, (07) 4069 6004. Open 9.30 am - 4.00 pm seven days.


Useful Websites

There is a useful official website with good advice about accommodation and eating in the town. Check out http://www.tourismcapeyork.com/explore/cooktown.

Got something to add?

Have we missed something or got a top tip for this town? Have your say below.

8 suggestions
  • The total absence of any reference to the atrocities inflicted on the Guugu-Yimithirr people suggests that us white Australians have not learnt anything from our past mistakes. It is time we accepted the truth of what happened and be open about it.

    Colin Ingram
  • What is the name of the wind that howls through Cooktown when the season is right. It sounds like a train passing by.

    June Hopner
  • I’m trying to find out when the Bloomfield Track actually became a road that could be used to drive between Cairns and Cooktown.

  • You missed the little kangaroo statue on grassy Hill.

    Lesley McBurney
  • My comment on the statement below.

    The total absence of any reference to the atrocities inflicted on the Guugu-Yimithirr people suggests that us white Australians have not learnt anything from our past mistakes. It is time we accepted the truth of what happened and be open about it.

    In reference to the above statement written by Colin. Most Aboriginal male’s carried spears and shields well before white man was known to the Aboriginal people. While spears were used for hunting and killing animals. Shields were used for defence and deflecting spears thrown at them by other Aborigines enemies tribes. Yes Aborigines had been fighting and killing each other for thousands of years before white man set foot on Australian soil.
    Just like all races of people around the world, there are killers fighting to take control of the weak. This has been happening all over the world for thousands of years. So don’t just blame white man for the atrocities they carried out. Blame the nature of bad men in every race of people.

  • Are there any boat tours from cooktown, if so when do they go?

    Joan Casey