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The northernmost town on the east coast of Australia, Cooktown is named after the famed explorer James Cook, who beached his ship The Endeavour here in 1770—thereby making it the site of Australia’s first non-indigenous settlement. Be sure to visit the James Cook Museum for further insights into this intrepid explorer and the Cooktown History Center to learn a little more about the town itself.
Grassy Hill offers spectacular views of the surrounding area, the crystal clear ocean and white sandy beaches like the one at Cherry Tree Bay, which you can walk to from the summit of the hill. Cooktown is also Australia’s closest town to the Great Barrier Reef, and the perfect place from which to explore the world’s largest coral reef as well as the rugged beauty of the Lower Cape, noted for its Aboriginal culture. No wonder the area is known for offering some of the best Aboriginal tours in the country.
Where You are Dock
Cruise ships not able to dock on this port. You will be tendered to ashore.
Things to See and Do
It is best to visit the town during the Discovery Festival in June. Cooktown celebrates Captain Cook’s landing by doing a re-enactment of the historical event. If you are more inclined to works of art, you can drop by at the Cooktown School of Art Society. They sell original artworks by local artists in the area.
A tour to Mount Surprise delights visitors because gems such as quartz, aquamarine and topaz are found.
The James Cook Museum is currently housed inside a former convent school run by Irish nuns. Some of the interesting things you’ll find inside the museum include the Endeavour’s (Cook’s ship) cannon and anchor. Relics of the Palmer River gold rush are also displayed.
You can also go fishing at The Wharf. By simply throwing a line in the harbor, you would be able to catch a queen fish, Spanish mackerel or barramundi in a few minutes.
Enjoy watching or participating in the hands-on activities in Cape York’s Turtle Rescue Center. You can do your part in helping conserving the turtles’ species. One helpful activity is counting and measuring turtle eggs.
Finish off your tour in Cooktown by dropping by at the Endeavour Valley Winery. It’s a boutique style family-owned winery that specializes in producing wine from exotic tropical fruits.
Attractions in Cooktown include the Cooktown Museum and the wonderful James Cook Historical Museum. There is also a good display in the window of Jackey Jackey. Another great place to visit is the Mt Cook National Park, and well worth the climb nearby Mt Cook. The walk to the top and back down again takes about 3 hours, although the views are fabulous.
Cooktown is also a starting point to explore the surrounding National Parks, with a variety of different tours offered. Around the town you can cruise along the river. Heading further afield, you can visit the Black Mountain National Park, Coloured Sands and Lakefield National Park.
In response to the gold rush during the 1870s, Cooktown Port in the northernmost part of east coast Australia was established. Prospectors from all around the world flocked in Cooktown right after word of gold deposits in the area spread. The Chinese played a significant role in developing the Australian town. They established market gardens, opened shops and supplied the gold workers with fresh vegetables and rice.
The town got its name from Captain James Cook who led the first European expedition to aboriginal Australia. Cook and his ship accidentally struck the Great Barrier Reef and decided to stay in the riverbanks for almost 2 months where Cooktown now stands.The Cooktown port of call is now considered the “gateway to the wilderness”. Most tourists visit the town for extreme sports adventure like scuba diving and mountain trekking.
Sail to the mouth of the blue-green River Endeavour to follow in the footsteps of the famous Captain Cook. See the gold rush town of Cooktown for yourself, where the Anglican meets the Antipodean in the form of classical colonial architecture, surrounded by the lush green hills and pristine coastland of northern Australia.There are beaches and mountain vistas aplenty to experience during your adventure to Australia’s first European settlement; but look a little deeper and you’ll also find a wealth of gardens, waterfalls and beautiful lagoons that may well tempt you back here again.
Both the town and its surrounds are places of incredible beauty; whether you’re wandering the streets and shores of this charming colonial centre, or venturing into the countryside to see the rich local plants and wildlife which fascinated the botanist Joseph Banks during his explorations in the 18th century.
Mount Cook and Black Mountain National Parks
Originally called Waymbuur by the area’s native people, a chance to climb the forested Mount Cook can give you some incredible views of the Great Barrier Reef beyond, as well as Cooktown itself far below. Alternatively you may wish to head to Black Mountain National Park, crowned by impressive granite peaks, full of spectacular local wildlife and the spiritual home of the Kuku Yalanji people.
James Cook Museum
Take a guided tour of this elegant brick building, once a convent, to learn about the spread of European culture and the development of education throughout Queensland. You’ll also be able to find out about Cook’s voyage and his time spent in the area, as well as having a chance to see a cannon and anchor from his ship, the Endeavour. This peaceful spot also makes a great place to relax and enjoy the views of the river and the northern shore.
Grassy Hill
Fantastic views can also be had from the top of Grassy Hill, where a diminutive lighthouse stands overlooking the sea – saved from decommissioning by the local residents, who bought it from the government long after its last keeper had passed away. Grassy Hill is a very popular tourist attraction in the area, and as Captain Cook found out, the peak allows for incredible panoramic views of the region – from the sea, the bay and the town itself to the far reaches of the River Endeavour and its surrounding flatlands.
Eating Out
Expect to pay a premium over Cairns to eat out in Cooktown. There is a take-away/bakery at the southern end of town, which probably offers the best value, but closes early evening. If you don't take care of dinner early, you could be left with very few budget alternatives.

Jackey Jackey is an historic building that used to be the general store. Now a cafe, serving coffee and cake. Lacking any sort of vibe, but serving a surprisingly good cappuccino considering this is Cooktown.
The pubs and clubs server traditional pub and club fare. Expect to pay around $20+ for mains at these places. Many of the hotels have restaurants, and there is a pizza place as well.
The China Dine Restaurant serves the best hot wings in Cooktown and also accepts take-out orders for travelers who are in a rush. A breakfast feast is offered at the Cooks Landing Kiosk. They also offer catered meals for lunch and dinner, especially for tourists who are on a boating trip.
Fisherman’s Wharf Gilled and Gutted Restaurant are popular for their fresh seafood dishes. The Mad Cow Coffee Lounge provides coffee, tea and drinks coupled with freshly-baked goods.The Sovereign Resort Hotel houses an ala carte restaurant specializing in steaks. Great home cooking using local produce are served at the Mungumby Cooktown Shire Lodge Restaurant.
There are two clubs, and three pubs in Cooktown, all are located along the main strip, and you won't have any problem finding them. The Bowls Club and the RSL Club both have a similar feel, not much to tell them apart really. The Cooktown Hotel, known only as the Top Pub is the most visitor friendly. In days past the pubs had distinct clientele, but these days you should feel comfortable having a beer wherever you choose.
Shopping in Cooktown is limited because of its relative isolation with the rest of the continent. It is best to shop around during festivals where most of the vendors will display their wares; from clothes to local delicacies. The souvenirs, books and maps to be found locally often feature the area’s flora and fauna, in keeping with the town’s origins. There’s also a selection of galleries and a botanical garden, which lie close to paths leading to the nearby beaches on Finch Bay and Cherry Tree Bay – the perfect place for a scenic wander after a leisurely browse and a stop at a local café.

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