The Bulletin

Step Back in Time to Cooktown

  • Written by Liz Inglis

Leave the trials and tribulations of the modern world behind with a drive through the world's oldest rainforest to historic Cooktown in Cape York Peninsula. This year marks the 250th anniversary of explorer James Cook becoming stranded in Cooktown for seven weeks after the HM Bark Endeavour was damaged on the Great Barrier Reef.

Cook's stranding was an adventure in an exotic landscape where he documented Australia's first act of reconciliation between his crew and the Guugu Yimithirr people. Botanist Joseph Banks collected plant species which can still be seen today at the Cooktown Botanic Gardens and Nature's Powerhouse.

Travel to Cooktown from the Cairns Airport where you can hire a 4WD to traverse the legendary Bloomfield Track through the Daintree rainforest. The world's oldest rainforest is the same that Cook saw when he sailed along the coast and named Cape Tribulation, the place where two World Heritage areas – the Great Barrier Reef and the Wet Tropics rainforest – meet. 

This scenic four-hour drive takes in spectacular creek crossings with the chance to see a cassowary in the wild before you stop for a break at the legendary Lions Den Hotel for a taste of Australiana beneath the shade of century-old mango trees.

Arriving in Cooktown is like stepping back in time. The 1800s architecture is still evident with the Old Westpac Bank Building one of several Heritage-listed sites still standing as strong as they did when Cooktown's population was 45,000 with 65 registered hotels. Today there are less than 3000 residents and the Top Pub is the place to share a beer with a local character. 

There are plenty of must-do attractions in this beautiful Cape York town. The James Cook Museum displays Cook's connections with the region and an extensive collection of Guugu Yimithirr artefacts. End the day watching the sun go down at Grassy Hill where Cook looked for a way through the Reef.

Fishing is the favourite activity in Cooktown whether it's targeting barramundi, coral trout, mackerel or the magnificent black marlin that arrive from September to December. There are also tours of the river to see giant crocodiles and varied birdlife. 

Visit the nearby Aboriginal community of Hope Vale to see the Arts and Cultural Centre or book a tour to the Nugal-warra rock art sites with an elder who can share the stories of his ancestors.

Wrap up your stay with a visit to the Cooktown Cemetery and the Cooktown History Centre for an insight into the rich and varied cultures, including Indigenous, European and Chinese, that have added to the community's fascinating history. 

Cooktown's accommodation includes well-established camping and caravan parks as well as a selection of motels. If you want to spend more time in Cooktown you can fly from Cairns with Hinterland Aviation or Skytrans, a 45-minute scenic flight over the Great Barrier Reef. For more information:


Take a tour


Culture Connect Tours

Join Indigenous Traditional Owners as they reconnect with their land and ancestors on an exclusive rock art walk.


Riverbend Tours Cooktown

Explore the Endeavour River on a relaxing sunset cruise before spotlighting wildlife in the mangroves after dark.


Cooktown Cultural Aboriginal Tours

Join Traditional Owner Willie Gordon and learn of the stories and sacred sites of his ancestors at rock art sites high in the hills near Cooktown.


Cooktown Barra Charters

If you would like the opportunity to catch a giant 1m barramundi or pit your skills against a feisty Spanish mackerel, then Cooktown is the place of fishing dreams.


Gone Fishing Cooktown

As well as taking you to the best fishing spots, Gone Fishing Cooktown has a wildlife tour of the Endeavour River in search of large saltwater crocodiles.


Kuku Bulkaway Gallery

Buy direct from a local Indigenous artist at Kuku Bulkaway Gallery which is owned and operated by the Yuku Baja Muliku people.

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