The site of Australia’s first European settlement, Cooktown’s origins are deeply coloured by its years of geographic isolation, hard living and local charm.

Standing perched on the Endeavour River, there are no prizes for guessing where the town’s name derives from. The imposing stone monolith of Cook’s Pillar (left) marks the spot on the banks of the river where the Endeavour limped ashore to affect repairs in 1770. Covered in history and peppered with stone buildings that have seen a century or two, the town houses an ancient cemetery that tells a tale or three, a museum with original artefacts recovered from Cook’s pioneering vessel, and a terrific pub.

“One of Australia’s frontiers. Get up there and look over the edge.” – Matt Cleary

A port to the Palmer River Gold Rush in the 1800s, Cooktown once had a population as high as 30,000 – in stark contrast to the remaining 1600 who now form the sleepy town’s lifeblood. Only in Cooktown can you stand on Grassy Hill Lookout with 360-degree countryside and beachside views one day, then attend the Endeavour Festival to experience a re-enactment of Cook’s landing the next (do it – it happens every June). European incursions aside, there are also several quality Indigenous excursions within a stone’s throw of Cooktown, with perhaps the best being Guurrbi Tours, hosted by Nugal-warra elder Willie Gordon.

Where? // 327km (4hrs) north of Cairns.

Did you know? // Cooktown is much like Port Douglas used to be before it got famous. It could be accessed only by 4WD up until January 2006, so visit soon before this frontier town becomes distinctly less so.


Enjoy this article?

You can find it in Issue 26 along with
loads of other great stories and tips.