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Published: October 4th 2012
This is the culprit responsible for this beautiful town, all because he could not navigate through a reef! (he says tongue in cheek!).
I have been waiting to get here for a number of years and now that we are here I wonder why it has taken so long given all the trips we have made over the years into Far North Queensland (FNQ). As we drove down the hill into the town, we know that this is a will be one of those special places for us, it just has that ‘something’, you can tell!
Cooktown, what is in a name you ask? Well, in 1770 Captain James Cook and his ship the ‘Endeavour’ tangled with the Great Barrier Reef and seriously damaged the hull. If he had done it this century we would have thrown him in jail with a big fine for destroying one of the world’s natural wonders! Anyway he did pretty well to avoid sinking, but had to off-load 50 tonnes of stores in order to free his ship from the reef and then to find safe waters, very quickly! He sailed into the nearest river he could find and it was here he breached his 368 ton ship. Cook stayed here for 49 days repairing the vessel, his longest stay for
The main street. The Endeavour River is to the left so this side of the street has great views over the river.
the entire voyage and wouldn’t you know it, he named the river The Endeavour River, the only river in Australia he named.
In 1872 the discovery of gold on the Palmer River led to the establishment of a port on the Endeavour River. As the first miners left for the gold fields from this ‘landing spot’ they left behind, on the banks of the Endeavour, the first tents and pre-fabricated buildings in 1873 that would mark the start of a new settlement. By Feb 1874 Cook’s Town as was called then was booming with hundreds of wood and iron buildings on both sides of a 2 mile stretch along Charlotte St. These buildings included Stores, licensed pubs and banks and amidst these you could also find brothels, shanties and gambling dens. By the end of 1875 there were an estimated 15,000 miners on the Palmer Gold Fields, of which an estimated 10,000 were Chinese! With thousands of ‘hopeful’ Miners making their way through the Port and town, and a floating resident population of between 3-4000 people, the only ones that struck it rich were the pubs, carriers and the shipping companies, (the only way in or out was by
The 'street-scape' is fantastic, a living museum.
ship). It is said, (or I read in the James Cook Museum), that the Port saw so many vessels that only Brisbane had more traffic.
Today Cooktown has around 1200 residents and now that the inland road is sealed is becoming a busy tourist destination on Cape York due to its magical setting on the banks of the river, its beautiful old heritage buildings and street scape and history. The town is neat and well serviced and a lot of effort has gone into presenting the history of the area with self-guided walks and a magnificent museum and Botanic Gardens. Cooktown, to me, is ‘The Capital of Cape York’ and services the needs of many communities further up the Cape. Along with the historical Palmer Gold Fields, once Australia’s richest alluvial gold field, Cooktown, to us, after visiting here for a week, is a place of significant national heritage and interest, we loved it!
A good starting point is a walking tour down Charlotte St where we saw lots of great old buildings including the old bank building built in 1891 for the Queensland National Bank, the Post Office (1887), The Daintree Divisional Board Council Hall, now the
The 'old bank' building.
RSL (1885), Jackey Jackey Store Building, now a café (1886), The Sovereign Hotel, now The Sovereign Resort (1874) and Seagren’s Store, now Seagren’s Inn (1880). There are many more beautiful old buildings in the street as well as in other parts of the town, such as the old Hospital (1879), and the Powder Magazine (1874), but I guess you now get the idea and we hope the attached few photos will do the rest.
The other thing we really enjoyed was the extremely well done historical walk along ‘The River of Life’ path which meanders through the park and along Charlotte Street to Fisherman’s Wharf and tells the stories behind the historic sights you pass along the way. A couple of points of interest on this walk that may interest you, our reader, are the following. The James Cook Statue where his landing took place where he beached the Endeavour and the James Cook monument commemorating the landing. The Queen’s Steps made for HM Queen Elizabeth II for her visit to Cooktown in 1970 to open the James Cook Museum. And then there is the cannon! The cannon was brought to Cooktown at the Council’s request after sending a
The first building on the corner is now the Sovereign Resort, fantastic spot, was formerly the Sovereign Hotel, built in 1874.
‘wire’ to the then Premier of Queensland asking for ‘a supply of arms, ammunition, and competent officers to take charge against a threat of Russian Invasion’. The Queensland Government sent a cannon, cast in Scotland in 1803, 3 cannonballs, 2 rifles and 1 officer!!! They obviously thought it would only be a small invasion and that the officer was so competent he could fire 2 rifles at once as well as firing off 3 cannonballs!!! This cannon is still fired each year on the Queen’s birthday weekend in June, (they must recycle the cannonballs!). There is a lot to see and do and read on this walkway, and it is well worth the effort, (hardly an ‘effort’ really, it is most enjoyable experience).
There are lots of ‘must do and see’s in and around Cooktown, but the next few should be on everyone’s list. Grassy Hill and the lighthouse provide a fantastic view of Cooktown, the Endeavour River and Coral Sea. Captain James climbed the hill a number of times to check out the surrounding reefs presumably to ensure he was able to navigate a safe passage out of the river mouth when they left. The lighthouse was built
The Jackey Jackey Cafe, formerly the Jackey Jackey Store built in 1886.
in England and shipped to Cooktown in 1885. The James Cook Museum is an icon in the town and probably should be in Queensland! Housed in the amazingly beautiful restored Sisters of Mercy Convent Building, originally built in 1889, it is considered one of the most significant National Trust museums open to the public. As you would expect there is a lot of info on Cook and his adventures in the area and many displays of original memorabilia related to his stay here, including a cannon & the original anchor from the Endeavour! Other sections in the museum are dedicated to the Palmer River goldfields, the Chinese ‘invasion’ and their influence on the region and the Indigenous tribes of Cape York. The last one we will mention is the Gallop Botanical Reserve and Cooktown Botanic Gardens, one of Australia’s oldest botanic gardens. The historic Solander Garden has living specimens of plants collected in 1770 by Dr Joseph Banks and Daniel Solander while HMS Endeavour was careened and undergoing repairs.
From Cooktown there are any numbers of trips worth doing and I will mention a couple. One we did was to Black Mountain National Park and the Lion’s Den Hotel
Seagren's Inn, built in 1880 as a store and next to it the Ferrari Estates building built in 1886 for the Bank of Nth Queensland.
at the northern end of the Bloomfield Track, (yes we will be doing this track!). The Black Mountains are literally mountains made of piles of rocks with little or no vegetation on their slopes and are steeped in myth and legends for the Yuku Yalanji people. The Lion’s Den Hotel built in 1875 is an iconic pub of FNQ full of memorabilia and good times for all those that get here. The walls are adorned with signatures and messages which stem from an early tradition when some miners began leaving their pay packets at the ‘public house’ writing how much money they had spent, or how much money they had left, up on the wall. We saw here two amazing plants we had not seen before, a Cannon Ball tree and a Jade Vine, just amazing and rare plants.
We also did a trip up to Hope Vale, an Aboriginal Community and nearby Elim Beach. Hope Vale has an amazingly active and successful Arts and Culture Centre where you can view and purchase local art and artefacts and this was on our list to visit and we were not disappointed as we saw some amazing stuff, again, the bank
The Cooktown Hotel or the 'Top Pub'.
balance did not allow us to bring home some of the amazing art we saw. Elim Beach, home to the famous Coloured Sands is an easy 4WD trip from Hope Vale passing through white silica sand hills and heath lands. When you get here there is a great camping ground, for a minimal charge, right on the beach and you could easily spend a few days here crabbing and exploring the beaches, but beware of the crocs!
Whilst we were in Cooktown, Trish who had been having trouble with one of her eyes, went to a Doctor who said we should proceed back to Cairns to see a specialist as soon as possible, so our travel plans to ‘do the Cape’ have been delayed until we have been back down south to check out what is going on. Hopefully we will get back up here after our trip down to Cairns, but if not we will definitely come back here. So, instead of heading north up the Cape to the top of Australia, we are off to Cairns for a ‘side trip’, you never know what is around the corner do you! Stay tuned….but hey, we loved Cooktown!
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