Cooktown is one of Australia’s most historically significant townships and the location where Captain James Cook spent almost seven weeks repairing his vessel, the HM Bark Endeavour. Some of the most extraordinary discoveries and interactions with local Aboriginal people occurred here in 1770, but there’s even more to this region than its fascinating history!
Cooktown provides something for everyone. It’s a wonderful untouched paradise where you can immerse yourself into the culture. Fish with locals at Fisherman’s wharf, which was one of the busiest ports in Queensland during the Gold rush. Catch Spanish Mackerel, Barramundi, Queenfish and more, or go fishing with a local expert. “Tinnies” (tin dinghy) can be found for hire at the wharf.
Climb to the top of Grassy Hill for spectacular 360 degree views of mountains, shimmering bays and lively coral reefs. This vantage point is especially stunning during sunrise and sunset.
Other Cooktown Highlights include –
- Riverbend Tours
- Great Northern Tours
- James Cook Museum
- Nature Power House Museum
- Indigenous Art Gallery
- Grassy Hill
- Cooktown Cemetery
- Mrs Watson’s Memorial
- The Milibi Wall (The Story Wall)
- The Cooktown Hotel
- Fishing and boat hire
- Secluded beaches
- Walking Trails
- The Musical Boat
- Mount Cook Hiking Trail
Cooktown Sightseeing Tours – Great Northern Tours
Endeavour Valley, Elim Beach, Isabella Falls, the Coloured Sands. Head out with your local Cooktown guide and enjoy the fantastic scenic tour of contrasting landscapes, beautiful endemic wildflowers and outstanding coastal scenery. Ex Cooktown 5 hours 2-4 passengers. Departs 8:00am $150.00.
The James Cook Museum is operated by the Queensland National Trust and is regarded as the best regional museum outside any capital city in Australia. It’s one of Queensland’s best museums, showcasing the fascinating history of this remarkable town.
The museum’s exhibits are rich and varied. The Endeavour Gallery gives a fascinating insight into the seven weeks Captain James Cook and his crew spent at the site of modern Cooktown, repairing their ship and interacting with the local Aboriginal people, after a catastrophic grounding on the nearby Endeavour Reef. Two highlights of the gallery are an original anchor and cannon from HMB Endeavour, both jettisoned from the ship in 1770 and only retrieved from the reef in the early 1970’s, as well as Chinese, Pastoral, Mining, and Indigenous collections.
The building was originally home to the convent of Saint Mary during the 1880’s gold rush era. Not long after, it was converted into North Queensland’s first high school. During World War II, the building was used as a U.S. command post and the Sisters of Mercy were evacuated, never to return. The building fell into disrepair until 1970, when it was restored to its former glory and reopened by the Queen as the James Cook Museum”. It was refurbished once again in 1999.
The museum is a large, two story building located on Helen Street between Furneaux and Walker Streets. It mustn’t be mistaken for the Cooktown Museum (privately owned) on the corner of Walker and Helen Streets.
The James Cook Museum is open:
October – April: 9am – 4pm Tuesday – Saturday
May – September: 9am – 4pm 7 days a week
Closed: Christmas Day, Boxing Day, Good Friday and Anzac Day
Cooktown’s accredited Visitor Information Centre provides visitors with more understanding of Cooktown and Cape York Peninsula’s unique and fascinating flora and fauna. It’s located within 154 acres reserve of native and exotic plants.
Nature’s Powerhouse is home to a priceless collection of botanical illustrations that depict the flowering plants of the Endeavour River. Painted by Internationally recognised artist Vera Scarth-Johnson, they were donated to the people of Cooktown before her death in 1999.
The Veranda Cafe makes for a delightful rest stop. It provides an opportunity to browse through Nature Lover’s book store, local artworks and souvenirs. The Cafe is open 10am to 4 pm.
Indigenous Art Gallery – Kuku Bulkaway
“Telling our Stories” The artist’s inspiration comes from the land and sea. Many of the paintings come from stories that the artists were taught as children or of local bush food and animals in our region. By painting these pieces, the artists are sharing their stories. All of the artwork is handcrafted and painted by local artists.
142 Charlotte St, Cooktown. Ph:07 4069 6957
Grassy Hill is located at the eastern end of Hope Street. It is known as such because the aboriginal people burnt down the forest to encourage the re-growth of vegetation, which attracted more animals. As a result, the hill was covered in grass when Captain James Cook arrived in 1770. Captain Cook climbed the hill on several occasions to view the surrounding reefs, enabling him to navigate a safe passage out after repairing his ship.
Grassy Hill Lighthouse
Today, the hill is home to the Cooktown Lighthouse and Sun-Dial. The lighthouse was built in England and shipped to Cooktown in 1885. It was automated in 1927. Between 1942 and 1945, it was complemented by a radar station and subsequently dismantled after World War II. It served the shipping community for 100 years until it became obsolete. It has since been restored by the Lions Club. Try to visit the lookout at sunrise or sunset. Getting there is easy – just drive or walk straight up the hill from Hope Street. If you decide to walk rather than drive, bring some water!
Grassy Hill Sun-Dial
Although it gives the appearance of a sun dial, this lovely monument is actually a “Global Positioning Monument” that shows the distances to different cities in their respective directions. These cities include New York, London, and Tokyo. Imagine how far you are away from home!
Captain Cook’s Grassy Hill Monument
This monument commemorates Captain Cook’s landing in Cooktown and walking up Grassy Hill in 1770. In addition, there is a large board, to the side of the peak of the hill, that details of Cook’s trip and his journals. Imagine yourself here over two centuries ago, looking out over the town, with Grassy Hill’s 360 degree view.
The Cooktown cemetery is easily accessible from the south-western edge of town along the McIvor Road. Within it, diverse historical, social, architectural, artistic, religious and cultural practices are reflected. This graveyard is not simply a memorial to the dead, but acts as a testimony to their rich, varied and colourful lives. The oldest identifiable grave is that of Rev Francis Tripp, who died on 20 May 1874 at the age of 46 years. The cemetery at Cooktown is the final resting place for many who inhabited this pioneer town and represent a variety of backgrounds, religions, and ethnicities. The story that unfolds bears witness to the many tragedies, triumphs and mysteries of Cooktown. Numerous significant events and the individuals who contributed to Cooktown’s development are recorded here.
Mrs. Watson’s Memorial
The Cooktown Hotel – Top Pub
One of Cooktown’s iconic buildings acting as an hotel since 1885 and located on Charlotte street, this is a great place to meet the locals. Live music at the weekends, community raffles and events, pub grub and ice-cold drinks (with the only Glycol cooling system in town).
Fishing and Boat Hire – Gone Fishing
One of Cooktown’s simple pleasures can be found in fishing with locals at the Wharf. One of the most unique aspects of fishing in Cooktown is that large fish such as Spanish Mackerel, Barramundi, Queenfish, Trevally and Mangrove jack can be caught from the public wharf. There are also boats for hire as well as marine fuel supplies, bait and ice. Take advantage of the knowledge and experience provided by local reef or river fishing tours.
A short drive or a lovely bush walk through the Botanic Gardens takes you to Finch Bay. This spectacular beach, surrounded by mountains, is the perfect spot for a picnic, fishing or just sun-baking. Cherry Tree Bay is a beautiful secluded beach where, on occasion, turtles and dugongs can be sighted. The beach is accessible by either a 2500m track from the Botanic Gardens, or a trck which starts from halfway up Grassy Hill. Both tracks require reasonable fitness level.
The Musical Ship
The Musical Ship is a free seaside activity that the entire family can enjoy. This percussive, musical instrument playground located inside a ship that’s permanently parked on shore. Hop onboard and make some improvisational music together!
Mount Cook Hiking Trail
Shortly before the trail mounts the long spur to the summit, a short path on the right leads to a lookout with views over Cooktown. From the junction the summit trail zigzags up to a saddle where another short path leads to a lookout with coastal views. (All the lookouts on Mount Cook are on top of large boulders.)
The steepest section is the last few hundred metres to the summit. There is a clearing beneath the tower, but no views. From the clearing two paths head east to boulder lookouts where there are spectacular views from Quarantine Bay to the mountains behind Cedar Bay.
The spectacular vantage point from the top of Mount Cook is a dream eyrie. Directly below, Monkhouse Point divides Quarantine Bay from Walker Bay, which extends beyond the AnnanRiver to Grave Point, Walker Point and Archer Point. Looking seaward it is easy to see Captain Cook’s dilemma – a maze of reefs stretch to the horizon in every direction. About 20 kilometres to the northeast lie Boulder and Egret Reef. Dawson Reef is 5 kilometres to the east and Cowlishaw Reef is 10 kilometres southeast. In the distant east Osterland Reef lies north of Rosser Reef and Cairns Reef. The Hope Islands, visible in the far south-southeast are almost 30 kilometres away.
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