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Ten fascinating things to do in Cooktown
Ten fascinating things to do in Cooktown

10 things to do in Cooktown, what to see — travel guide

Today Cooktown is a memorial to Cook’s voyages around Australia documenting the coastline, a witness to the story of gold mining in Queensland, a dreamline of Aboriginal culture and a burgeoning tourist industry. Mass tourism has yet to arrive in town. This makes the place a destination in itself, with its quirky character intact. You can stroll the Esplanade in search of Cook’s statue, check out an interesting souvenir shop named Croc, spend time browsing in Nature’s Powerhouse and linger in one of Australia’s best regional museums, the James Cook Museum without large crowds. For photo moments you can’t look past the grassy lookout, Cooks cairn and imagine yourself beached on an estuary in the 1770’s. Cooktown is beguiing, charming and a favourite place in Australian hearts.

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PARKS & GARDENS: William Daku Park

Absorb the waterfront atmosphere William Daku Park. Children splashing in the water park with residents relaxed on the shaded fishing platforms. There are cafes to supply freshly squeezed juice and everyone carries the requisite water bottle. Relax in the tropical warmth of Cooktown and the locals will inevitably ask where you are from. Continue down the Esplanade to find murals depicting Aboriginal history, Cook’s statue (of course) and the Queen’s steps. .

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CULTURE & HERITAGE: Main Street Promenade

Main Street promenade is where you find and read the story of Mick the Miner Statue, in memory of the Palmer River Gold rush. Next on the list is the Queens Steps made for Queen Elizabeth II on the occasion of her visit (1970) to open the James Cook Museum. Queen Elizabeth needed a set of custom made concrete steps to open the newly renovated James Cook Museum. It is a bit odd really, now a set of steps to nowhere, relocated to the harbour. Have a sit down on Elizabeth’s steps to take in the harbour activity.

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SHOP: Souvenirs

Souvenir shopping on Charlotte Street is a must, especially in the everything for everyone Croc Shop, from a spade (very useful to get your vehicle out of a sandy hole) to T shirts and a tourist didgeridoo made by local craftspeople. The general merchandise store epitomises the steller character of Cooktown. Fridge magnets of croc, a crocodile foot (genuine not plastic) bottle opener or perhaps croc teeth for a necklace. The store has it all.

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CUTLURE & HERITAGE: The Lookout

Panoramic views are obligatory and Cooktown does not disappoint with sweeping vistas of harbour, town and the surrounding National Parks. Drive or walk up a grassy hill, observe the lighthouse and stand where Captain Cook did. See if you can spot the Cairn – where Lt. James Cook beached HM Bark Endeavour in 1770, on the foreshore. Imagine you are Cook and very keen to check out the horizon and safe harbour exit. It is a moment where you reflect about the 1770’s, being from a world away and figuring out how to refloat your ship. The reefs you can see in the distance are now known as Endeavour Reef. Naturally. The superb views from Grassy Hill embrace the Endeavour River and estuary and the Coral Sea. The hill is steep, but accessible by road (not suitable for coaches or caravans). Energetic walkers remember to carry water as there is no shade.

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ACTIVE: Fisherman’s Wharf

Check out Fisherman’s Wharf, a quiet backwater for fishing charters, a small fishing industry and a great place to throw a line for locals and visitors alike. During the gold rush the port was the busiest in Queensland.The fishing in Cooktown is a favourite with the Cooktown River and offshore reefs yielding species like barramundi and coral trout. Vessels from around the globe arrive each year to chase the elusive black marlin. ‘Doing a wharfie’ (driving along the wharf) is a favourite Cooktown tradition. This is also the starting point of the River of Life Walkway which meanders through parkland to the Post Office, telling the stories behind the historic sights you pass along the way.

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ENTERTAINMENT: Captain Cook Reenactment Festival

Plan a holiday in June and Cook Festival on steroids, complete with a fully costumed re-enactment of the landing of Captain James Cook and his first meeting with the Guugu Yimithirr people. You might be part of firing town’s canon and will enjoy the Fireworks display. The canon (1881) and given to protect Cooktown from the scare of a Russian invasion. Forward bookings for accommodation is recommended as it is a signature event for the town.

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CULTURE & HERITAGE: James Cook Museum

James Cook Museum started life as a convent school in 1889. Now it is a stunning museum showcasing the story of the building, describing the life of traditional owners, and is home to the Anchor and Cannon from the HM Bark Endeavour. The excellent Chinese and Indigenous collections are worth visiting alone. James Cook Museum is a superb museum with its lattice timber framed interior cooled by the tropical breezes that flow through the building. An excellent gift shop focused on the history of the area.

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PARKS & GARDENS: Nature’s Powerhouse

Nature’s Powerhouse at the Botanical Gardens the Information Centre is a treasure trove of Information, all things botanical on the Cooktown and surrounding areas. The Powerhouse is home to the Vera Scarth-Johnson and Banks Florilegium art collections. The bookstore is a temptation with hard to find books such as Vera Scath-Johnson’s illustrations of local flowering plants. There are local artisan gifts and wellness products made by locals using ingredients sourced from the rainforest. A great gift inspiration store. For book lovers and garden fans it is difficult to leave without something tucked under your arm. The Centre’s spectacular timber and steel structure is home to a veranda café specialising in local produce. For more information check here Visitor Information Centres – Travel Information.

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SHOP: Art Lovers, Aboriginal collections

The ultimate souvenir, pop into Cooktown Cultural and Aboriginal Tours, Kuku Bulkaway Gallery and CR Arts Tracks on Charlotte Street. The galleries are owned and operated by the Traditional Owners with artworks inspired by the Cooktown location reflecting the connections to the land and the bounty of the sea. It’s not surprising to find a well known artist at work at CR Arts Tracks from their back studio, where you can see inspiration being interpreted in front of you.

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PARKS & GARDENS: Black National Park

A trip out of town to check out the extraordinary phenomena of mounds of black rock looking like coal mine deposits. It is dried lava (250 million years old) reminding you of the ancient land mass that is Australia. The area is deeply spiritual for the traditional owners, the myths and legends associated with the land around here. Black Mountain is home to four separate religious sites for the Kuku Yalanji people.

Travel Pack Information

GETTING THERE

There are two driving routes, the inland 330km Mulligan Highway from Cairns or the iconic Bloomfield Track through the Daintree Forest.  Cooktown has a regional airport for domestic flights.

GUIDED TOURS

  • Aboriginal cultural tour of vicinityFor a town rich with Indigenous history, you’ll want to join a guided tour from Cooktown to see it in action. Two operators run from Cooktown – Culture Connect With Culture Connect Tours, you’ll be taken to a private property, Normanby Station, where you’ll meet Traditional Owners of the Balnggarrawarra people.

STAY

Premium

  • Sovereign Resort Cooktown is heritage accommodation, restored and with its grandstand views of town and country it is hard to beat.  Comfortable and make sure you dine on the upper outdoors veranda with its splendid views of the town.
  • Cooktown Holiday Park is comfortable with extensive parkland to enjoy the surroundings. Cooktown Holiday Park is just a short stroll into town and is set amongst eight acres of tropical award winning gardens and beautiful surroundings, comfortable fully self-contained one and two bedroom cabins, motel style units, budget cabins, and roomy caravan and camping sites that can accommodate large motorhomes and recreational vehicles. Free Wi-Fi is available throughout the Park.

The journey is worth it.

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