Explore Cooktown's many attractions
GRASSY HILL LOOKOOUT
From Grassy Hill take in the panoramic views of Cooktown, the Endeavour River and hinterland and the Coastline and Coral Sea. Check out Grassy Hill Light, the working lighthouse built in 1886. You can walk up Grassy Hill in the same way as James Cook and his men walked up in 1770 to look for a safe exit through the reef ("I saw with great concern innumerable sand banks and shoals lying all along the coast in every direction"). The walk takes about 30 minutes from the town centre but is steep. Or you can drive up to the top where there is plenty of parking. Great views are had all day but sunsets and sunrises are particularly special
An innovative modern building in the Botanic Gardens; it was built to house the Vera Scarf Johnson collection of fabulous botanical illustration of local flora that were left by the Artist to Cooktown. It often puts on other art exhibitions and has a good selection of books relating to Cooktown and its history. It is also the Visitor Information Centre and boasts a lovely cafe surrounded by the Botanical Gardens.
THE MILBI WALL
The unique Milbi (Story) Wall was built at the invitation of the Cook Shire Council to the local Aboriginal peoples to tell the story of Cook’s stay from their perspective. The ceramic tiles telling the stories were developed by a local group of Aboriginal artists and story tellers with the help of a well known potter. It is built in three sections; the first tells the Creation Story and how the Endeavour River and Cooktown were made; the second section commemorates the historic meetings between the local peoples and Cook and his crew and their experiences through subsequent early settlement and the gold rush; the third section illustrates the historic 1967 referendum when the right to equality for the Aboriginal peoples was finally recognised.
Cooktown Markets are held every Saturday from 7.30 to 11.30am in the Lions Park just past the Bowling Club. There you can find good fruit, veg and home produce together with excellent cakes and preserves and plants for the garden. A couple of Asian takeaway stalls ensure you wont go hungry and you can get a fish feed for dinner from the Nicko the fishmonger’s van.
The scenic Keatings Lagoon conservation park protects the freshwater wetlands adjacent to the Annan River. It is on the right five kms heading south out of Cooktown, well signed with a car park. Many different water birds head to this waterlily filled lagoon, particularly in the dry season making it a destination for bird lovers. Take the beautiful gentle walk through the paperbarks around the lagoon - see Map
Cooktown Botanic Gardens is situated within the Gallop Botanic Reserve of 62 hectares at the (east) end of Walker Street. It was established during Cooktown's gold rush boom years, mid 1880s to early 1900s but fell into disuse before being restored from 1984. A good selection of plant species in a beautiful setting including examples of some of the many living specimens collected by Banks & Solander while the Endeavour was being repaired as well as traditional bush tucker. Strolling through the Gardens and enjoying their tranquillity is one of our favourite ends to the day. Check out the detailed Map for more information
No visit to Cooktown is complete without checking out the wharf. Wonderful views particularly at sunup and sundown and always something going on. A working commercial wharf where the fishing boats come in to unload and reprovision; you can often see the live coral trout being unloaded to head for Hong Kong restaurants. And it's the favourite fishing spot in town too.
Picturesque Finch Bay is Cooktown's main beach. Follow Walker Street east past the Botanic Gardens into Finch Bay Road where there is parking by the path leading to this spectacular beach. With Mt Cook behind there are great views out to the Coral Sea and Cape Bedford to the north. A favourite spot for dog walking but be careful of crocs in the creek behind the beach.
In the season Tom feeds the giant groupers who readily come to Cooks Landing wharf for a feed. Usually around 5-6pm and depending on tides, it’s a great spectacle as these giant creatures feed from his hand on fish carcasses.
In Adelaide Street near the end of Furneaux Street is the site of ‘Reconciliation Rocks’, the famous first act of reconciliation between Europeans and Aboriginal Australians. This followed what appeared to be the only dispute that arose during what was otherwise an open and friendly series of exchanges between Cook and his crew and the local Guugu Yimithirr people. The dispute arose when Cook’s crew caught a number of turtles. Turtle meat was greatly prized and it was customary to share this with the Elders first. Ignorant of the local etiquette Cook’s crew took umbrage when the Guugu Yimithirr tried to remove some turtles from the ship and a scuffle broke out; fires were lit, spears thrown and shots fired, fortunately with no serious injury. Shortly after the two sides met up and re-established amicable relations at this site
JAMES COOK MUSEUM
This fantastic museum run by the National Trust occupies the beautiful old Convent building in Helen Street. Experience the rich history of this remarkable town from Cook's seven week visit through its heyday as a port servicing the Palmer River Goldfields to the 20th century. The Museum also tells the stories of the local Guugu Yimithirr peoples who have lived here for many thousands of years. See Website for more
THE HISTORY CENTRE
The History Centre is housed in the old Telegraph Office in Charlotte Street, Cooktown’s oldest building. It has a great array of old photos, stories and displays that provide a unique insight into Cooktown’s fascinating history. The exhibition is set out in a timeline which tells Cook town’s story from 1770 to current times and is a great supplement to the James Cook Museum. See Website from more.
Cooktown Cemetery on the McIvor Road heading west out of town is well worth a visit. It illustrates the diversity of peoples that have contributed to this historic town and it's also a reminder of the transience of life and the regular tragedies of earlier times. Famous graves include the Jardines, Mary Watson, the 'Normanby Woman'. The Chinese Shrine with its inscription 'Respect the Dead as if they are present' is a reminder of how many Chinese passed through and lived and died in Cooktown and on the Palmer River during the Gold Rush Years. We enjoy the (well-marked) walk through the mangroves from the bottom of Hogg Street. see Wikipedia for more.
Follow Sheridan Esplanade along the foreshore of the Endeavour River towards its joining with the Coral Sea. Stop to play a tune on the Musical Ship. Continue meandering north across the Memorial Park and past the James Cook Memorial. Follow the River of Life Walkway that features hand painted ceramic tiles depicting the diversity of Cooktown and its history to the Cairn marking the spot where Cook beached the Endeavour for repairs and the Milbi Wall. Check out the three parts of this unique wall with its tiles designed by local Aboriginal artists to tell their history and the story of Cook’s stay from the Aboriginal perspective. Walk past the boat ramp, the statue commemorating the miners in the Palmer River Goldrush know as ‘Mick the Miner’ and the Queen’s Steps made for HM Queen Elizabeth II when she visited Cook town to open the James Cook Museum in 1970. Pass Cook’s Landing Kiosk and the Riverside Café (perhaps stopping for a coffee or refreshment) to Cooktown Wharf. See who is catching any fish before heading out along the new Waterfront Park that provides beautiful views across the bay and out to sea.