Cooktown & Cape York Peninsula - Tropical North Queensland Holiday Destination
Cooktown is the east coast of Australia's northernmost town and is situated on the mouth of the Endeavour River on the Cape York Peninsula. This tiny frontier town shot into history when Captain James Cook beached the Endeavour on its shores in 1770 for repairs - hence the name. It's a wonderful place to visit as it truly is the last town before you hit the wilderness of the Cape York Peninsula. The Cape York Peninsula is a huge area of unspoilt wilderness and is covered in tropical rainforests, eucalyptus savannahs, floodplains and even land that's suitable for cattle grazing. There's a winding river system that cuts through the area and drains out to the Coral Sea and the Gulf of Carpentaria. It's not really possible to visit during the Wet Season however if you go in the Dry there's lots of activities to keep you entertained.
Cooktown & Cape York Peninsula Accommodation
Cooktown has a great range of accommodation options to choose from including camp grounds and caravan parks with great facilities, hotels, motels, lodges nestled in the rainforest and even farm stays where you can live on a working cattle station. Futher north in the Cape York Peninsula you'll find a few roadhouses that have campsites and most national parks offer camp grounds however you must apply for a permit before setting up camp. There's holiday rentals, farmstays, motels and a few beachside campsites. You won't find luxurious accommodation but the beauty of travelling through this area is to get back to nature and enjoy the stunning landscapes.
Things to Do & Places to Visit in Cooktown & Cape York Peninsula
Cooktown only has around 2000 inhabitants in town and for such a small place you'll be amazed at how much there is to see and do. With the Cape York Peninsula just on Cooktown's front step you'll find an incredible world which is great to drive around and discover.
James Cook Museum
James Cook Museum is located in the superbly restored convent of St Mary. This stunning masonry building was built in 1889 which was the time of the Palmer gold mining boom. It's a beautiful place to walk around and see relics of days gone by.
The museum collection includes an Endeavour cannon which was left by Captain Cook when the Endeavour pulled into Cooktown's shores for repairs. You'll also see some of Cook's diary extracts and the original Endeavour anchor which was discovered on a reef.
The collection also includes relics from way back when the town was called Cook's Town, artefacts from the Palmer River Gold Rush and stories from local Aboriginal elders who have called this region home for thousand's of years. It's a cheap day out for the whole family and is open 7 days a week except in the off season which runs from February through to March.
Cooktown is an angler's idea of paradise as you can access all different types of fishing environments which means hundreds of different fish out there for you to catch. There's great river fishing in the Endeavour and Annan River which are both labelled as tropical estuarine systems. You can bring your own boat, hire a tinny, go on a guided tour or just fish off the wharf.
The Annan River runs a little clearer and is only about 5 minutes out of town. You'll be sure to find some big Barramundi, Spanish mackerel, trevally and Big jacks. You can launch off the beach at Archer Point which is a beautiful place to cast in a line with reef, wet tropics and sand flats and you might even get to see a humpback whale.
As Cooktown is the closest town to The Great Barrier Reef you'll be able to head out to the reef for some reef fishing and then a little further out you can pick up a bit of game fishing and chase the elusive 1000 pound Grander black marlin.
The Guurrbi Tours is known to be one of Australia's Ultimate Must-Do Experiences and the tour is lead by Nugal-warra Elder, Willie Gordon.
Willie is the traditional story-keeper of the Nugal-warra clan and leads guests through his ancestral rock art sites in the hills outside Cooktown.
Willie has a bright smile and will win you over with his infectious laugh as he gives you a fantastic insight into the art and how the paintings speak the stories of his people.
Contact Willie on +61 7 4069 6043.
Crocodile & Bird Watching
You can't leave Far North Queensland without having a crocodile encounter and Cooktown is the perfect place to have your croc adventure. The Endeavour River is home to many saltwater crocs and you can see them from tiny hatchlings up to 5 metre long giants. There are many tours that operate up and down the river which are great as you'll have an educational experience as you watch and learn about these amazing species. However, you don't need to be on a tour to catch a glimpse of these creatures as you can easily spot them when you fish the river.
Bird Watching along the Endeavour River is a fantastic spot for bird watchers and photographers. You can spend a few hours floating from the mouth of the river upstream where there are around 30 species of mangroves, palms and rainforest flora. This amazing ecosystem is home to a wide range of birds like the Jabiru, Little Kingfisher, Cormorants, Torres Strait Pigeon, Wompoo Fruit Dove and many more.
Cooktown Botanical Gardens
The historic Botanic Gardens in Cooktown has a number of places to visit including Nature's Powerhouse which is an environment interpretive centre. You can visit the Vera Scarth-Johnson gallery which was inspired by Cooktown's own Vera Scarth-Johnson who lived from 1912 to 1999. The gallery is located amongst the granite boulders in this stunning bush setting and is home to the Vera's collection of botanical illustrations as well as art photography and sculptures. There is also the Charles Tanner Gallery which is home to all the different types of wildlife that has been found in Cape York Peninsula. You stop for a bite to eat at Vera's Cafe which has gorgeous views looking out over the gardens and produces delicious food.
Grassy Hill Lookout Trail
There are a number of walking and biking trails heading out of Cooktown however none are better than the walk from Grassy Hill Lookout which offers 360 degree views of the region. Up here there is a sun dial to commemorate Captain Cook as well as a cannon. You will also be able to see the famous lighthouse that was built in England and shipped to the town in 1885.
This track then takes you down to Cherry Tree Bay. This is the spot where each June the Cooktown Endeavour Festival occurs which is a re-enactment of Cook's landing. It's quite a sight to see especially for history buffs.
Cape York Peninsula
The Old Telegraph Track
For a long time the Old Telegraph Track was the only road running through the Peninsula and and was the Telegraph Line which rang along it was the only way people in the peninsula connected to the outside world. The road is now hugely popular with those on 4WD holidays even though the route is rough and can only be accessed during the dry season. It passes through some beautiful country and you can still see the telegraph original poles which were put into place back in 1885.
Self Driving Routes
As we mentioned earlier Cape York is a wonderful place to plan a self-drive route which will take you along rocky dirt tracks surrounded by beautiful bushland, through running creeks, rainforest, beach and will have you stopping in small country towns. There's a variety of routes to choose from like the Cairns - Laura trip, Laura - Lakefield - Musgrave Station trip, Musgrave Station to Coen. It really depends on how much time you have and what you'd like to see.
Lakefield is home to Queensland's second largest National Park and has a variety of rivers, swamps and wildlife and you can also do a little bit of recreational swimming and camping. Musgrave Station is also a popular place to visit as it is a superbly maintained historic homestead which was once the Telegraph Station.
If you think your 4WD can take a few river crossings then we recommend you take the Lockhart River and Portland Roads Routes.
Visit the Tip of Australia
Stand at the tip of the northernmost point of mainland Australia when you visit the small country town of Bamaga. Take the track from Lockerbie or the Roma Flats walk, through rainforest before you hit the beach where it's just a small walk until you are literally standing on the tip of Australia. Here you can visit the monument which was erected to celebrate where Captain Cook claimed possession of the country in 1770 by raising the English flag. Bamaga caters to tourist and has a general store, pub, bakery and a gorgeous stretch of camp site on the beach.
Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival
Just outside of Laura at the Ang-Gnarra Festival Grounds the Laura Aboriginal Dance Festival is held every second year. It's a wonderful gathering of the communities of Cape York to celebrate Aboriginal Culture by showcasing performances in song and dance. The festival is an important event as it helps preserve the culture of the region and is a wonderful place for families to meet and make new friends and pass on stories. The festival is open to all and gives a wonderful insight into the culture of Cape York.
Iron Range National Park
Iron Range National Park is one of Australia's most remote and protects the largest lowland tropical rainforest in the country. It's located on the northern section of the Peninsula along the coast and can only be accessed in the dry season. The park is the cultural home of the Kuuku Ya'u people and is a very important place with ceremonial sites and story places throughout the park. You can not fish in the rivers and you have to keep and eye out as crocodiles patrol the waters. Also to call Iron Range home is more than 60% of Australia's butterflies which makes for a colourful sight.
If you have taken the time to drive around the Cape York Peninsula than you can not miss visiting Chili Beach which is located in the Iron Range National Park and is popular with campers. It's one of the most spectacular and uninterupted beaches in all of Australia and will prove to be a highlight of your trip. There are a few camp sites along the beach and it offers anglers some of the best beach fishing. At Portland Roads is a seafood cafe serving up delicious fare of the freshest seafood around. Swimmers beware as there are a few crocs who call Chili Beach home!
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Getting to Cooktown & Cape York Peninsula
There are a number of ways to get to Cooktown however the easiest way is to fly in directly from Cairns Airport. Another way is to take either the inland Peninsular Development Road or if you have a 4WD you can drive along the famous Bloomfield Track. There are also tour companies who organise coaches to the town and back. To visit the Cape York Peninsula it's best if you self drive with a 4WD and to remember that settlements are few and far between so you must be prepared for anything. The town of Laura has an airstrip and has a few scheduled services to and from Cairns every week.