Cooktown is a small coastal historical town situated approximately 4 hours drive from Cairns. If the weather conditions are right and you have a 4WD, do yourself a favour and take the scenic coastal road via the Bloomfield Track. After departing the Daintree Ferry you’ll drive through 32km of unsealed road and cross small creeks. You won’t want to do this track in the wet season though as the track can be very slippery and there are quite a few steep inclines and descents not to mention the creek crossings.
Alternatively you can take the inland road through Mt Carbine and the Palmer River. The scenery is vastly different, travelling through unfenced grazing lands and sometimes stock even wander onto the road, so make sure you travel to the road conditions. Do yourself a favour and stop in at the Palmer River Roadhouse for one of their tasty burgers.
Now you are here, let’s see what there is to do in and around Cooktown. Here’s our “5 things to do”.
1. Grassy Hill Lookout.
Take a drive up to Grassy Hill and get your bearings on this scenic little town. With a 360 degree view from the lookout, sunrise and sunset is a must! Captain James Cook and his crew climbed the hill back in 1770 to see how he could navigate a safe passage. In 1988 after threat of the Government decommissioning the light house, the local towns people got together to protest and bought the light house for $100.
2. Arts and Craft Trails
This was a great discovery as I’m a keen photographer and budding artist so when I found the arts and crafts trails brochure that was the next “thing to do” on my list.
The Vera Scarth-Johnson gallery at the Nature’s Powerhouse Visitor Information Centre was one of my personal favourites. Vera was a noted botanist and botanical illustrator who painted in watercolour and gouache and donated her collection of artworks of flowering plants unique to the Cooktown region to the people.
There are several other galleries including, Cooktown Creative Arts Centre, Cooktown Community Events Centre and the Elizabeth Guzsely Gallery, all are worthy of a visit to see what the local artisans are creating.
Meander along the foreshore to discover the local public artworks. The River of Life Walkway stretches 500m along the foreshore and features hand-painted and carved ceramic tiles depicting Cooktown’s cultural and diverse history. You’ll even stumble across the 8.5m Musical ship, jump in and see if you can play a tune!
Along the walkway you will pass the Old Town Well, the Cook Monument and Canon, James Cook Statue, the Queen’s steps and the statue of Mick the Miner.
Further along the walk you will come across the 12m curved Milbi Wall interpretive sculpture with nearly 500 hand-painted and carved tiles. The wall of reconciliation is built on the very spot where Captain James Cook and his crew first set foot on land.
Local Markets are held every Saturday on the waterfront from 8am – 12 noon and feature fresh locally grown produce and artworks by local artisans – meet the locals and discover their stories and hidden talents.
I can’t go past mentioning the Black Cockatoo Gallery and Tea House located on the road to Bloomfield. This gallery and it’s Artist was that “wow factor” surprise package where you least expected it. Personally meeting Ross Franzi and hearing about his journey was the highlight of our trip. Inspirational. Committed. Passionate. Environmentalist. What more can I say?
3. Sunset River Cruise
Riverbend Tours run a sunset river cruise along the Endeavour River and this has to be the best “value for money” tour that we have ever done!
Nic will take you out to the harbour to view the new waterfront development and then head upstream through some of the smaller creeks before pulling up just in time to see the sun setting. There are plenty of stories to be told and Nic delights in sharing them with you. You will also be treated to a delicious complimentary gourmet cheese platter and I can vouch for the cheese as they come from the famous Gallo’s Dairy on the Atherton tablelands.
I love that the cruise is BYO so don’t forget to take along that special bottle of wine or your favourite beverage while cruising along the river for just over 2 hours.
4. Chasing Waterfalls
There are many waterfalls to explore in and around Cooktown and we only had time to visit 3 of them. Head north west for approx. 32km and you will come across the Endeavour Falls Tourist Park. You’ll need to pop into the shop for directions on how to get to the Endeavour Falls. Don’t forget to ask if you can feed the fish in the tank, watch him closely though… you’ll know what I mean if you do!
The Park is immaculately clean and picturesque – note to self: one for the big lap trip. Stroll down through the avenue of palm trees and down a short track (no more than 500m from the shop) and you’ll come across the falls. We were disappointed as there wasn’t a lot of water running over them and unfortunately you can’t swim at this location due to crocs.
Travel a further 15km and you’ll come across Isabella Falls. After you have crossed the causeway you can park either side and then take a short walk down the embankment to the falls. Swimming is safe here, so jump in and take a dip in the very cool water! I would love to see these in the wet season.
Heading South from Cooktown (a good hours drive) and just past Wujal Wujal you will find the Bloomfield Falls – they are definitely worth the drive! It’s a short walk into the Falls along a rocky pathway. You will hear the roar of the falls before you see them, no swimming here though – crocs! You might even spot one sunning itself on the rocks in the creek.
On the way back we thought we would take a detour down the Mt Amos road and head for the Trevethan Falls. Be wary as it’s unsealed road and there is little signage to tell you where to go and how far it is. The Cooktown map and all the printed material we had did not give any idea of the distance to travel and you definitely need a 4WD. We ventured in for over half an hour and when the track got too hairy & wet for us novice 4WDrivers we decided to turn around in a very small clearing and head back. There was also a bushfire in the area that day, so we were being very cautious as well for our own safety. I’ve seen photos on Instagram and the falls look spectacular so I was really disappointed that we were unable to make it.
5. James Cook Museum
If you are interested in history and architecture then make sure you put the James Cook Museum on your “things to do” in Cooktown list. The museum is housed in an amazing 19th century former convent. In the late 1960’s the building was restored and returned to its former glory.
The highlights of the museum are the original anchor and canon retrieved from the reef in the early 1970’s and don’t forget to read the diary entries on the wall. Strolling through the old convent side of the building you will get a good idea of what life was like for past students. I don’t think I would have liked to have been a student climbing the spiral staircase… There is also tales from the Palmer Gold Rush era and an area devoted to the Chinese heritage of the region. If you do visit the Museum, make sure you read the last line on this wall, it will take you back to your childhood days and the funny verses we used to recite!
Captain Cook chased a chook….