Visit a Birth place of Modern Australia

Historical Cooktown

Visit a birthlpace of Modern Australia, Uncover Cooktowns fascinating History, Experience Indigenous Culture and Art.


Captain Cook and his crew on the Endeavour spent more time in what is now Cooktown than in any other place in Australia making Cooktown arguably the birthplace of modern Australia. Cook’s stay was not voluntary however; while navigating through the tricky reef ridden waters off North Queensland his ship, the Endeavour, ran aground on what is now known as Endeavour Reef – on a moonlit night at 11pm on 11 June 1770. Although the ship was seriously damaged Cook and his crew of 87 men managed to float her off at the second following tide and limp into what is now known as Cooktown where his voyage was delayed almost seven weeks while repairs were carried out on the beach.


Though often neglected in ‘popular’ accounts of Australian history, the story of Cook on the Endeavour River, or Waalumbaal Birri, has greater significance than Botany Bay for a number of reasons. The safe haven Cooktown offered ensured the Endeavour was fully repaired and fit to make a safe return to England.  The 48 days it took for repairs and to await safe passage provided an opportunity for Cook and his men to have a series of significant cultural exchanges with the Indigenous populations of the region, the Guugu Yimithirr, including what is recognised as the first act of reconciliation between Europeans and Aboriginal people after an initial disagreement about turtles. This engagement is in stark contrast to what happened at Botany Bay, where the local Indigenous people avoided contact with Cook and his crew.

Joseph Banks and fellow botanist Daniel Solander used this time to collect more than 200 plant species and illustrate 190 of them - their first major collections of Australian flora. It was the longest time ashore on Cook’s first Pacific voyage and the largest collection. They also discovered many new species of insects, fish, bugs and butterflies - they saw, for the first time in this country, a crocodile, dingo, flying fox, and many species of lizards, snakes, fish and insects. And they also translated 50 words from the the Guugu Yimidhirr language including introducing the word Kangaroo into the English language derived from the indigenous word ‘gangurru’ for the local variety of grey kangaroo.


There are many ways to relive this historical occasion including:

  • Visit ‘Reconciliation Rocks’ where, after an initial altercation, Cook and his men and group of Guugu Yimithirr reconciled their differences and restored the peace and friendship that was the defining nature of the European’s seven weeks stay in Endeavour River



Experience Indigenous Culture and Art

Cooktown lies in Guugu Yimithirr country, a tribal nation which stretched from the Annan River, south of Cooktown, to Princess Charlotte Bay in the north.

In the local Guugu Yimithirr language the name for the region is Gangaar which means "Place of the Rock Crystals." Gun-gaar was very important to Aboriginal people as it was used to cut chest skin during initiation ceremonies.

While the gold rush brought riches for some it brought disruption and misery to many of the local people. In 1886, Lutheran missionaries came to Cooktown to establish a secure place for the Aboriginal people who were living in abominable conditions on the edge of the town. Missions were established at Elim on the beach (later they moved inland to Hopevale and Wujal Wujal, near the mouth of the Bloomfield River,_Queensland,_Queensland


  • Visit Cooktown Aboriginal Cultural Tours in Charlotte Street which offer great and informative cultural tours and houses Aboriginal art and artefacts

  • David Mead of Great Northern Tours runs a great half day tour ‘Living Waters’ that includes a highlight of a visit to the Yuku Baja Muliku Indigenous Ranger Base and Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation centre.


  • Drive down the (sealed) Bloomfield Track to the Wujal Wujal community where you can visit the Bana Yirriji Art and Cultural Centre located on the banks of the Bloomfield River just below the Wujal Wujal Waterfall. The artists represent three traditional clan groups, the Yalanji, Nyungkul and Jalunji people. The languages, Kuku Yalanji and Kuku Nyungkul remain strong and are still spoken today.


  • Go walkabout with Maaramaka Walkabout Tours through their traditional country and learn what Nature's Storehouse has to offer. For more information contact Gerald & Irene Hammet: (07) 40 609 389 McIvor Road, Hope Vale

  • Drive out to HopeVale to see today’s community and on to the stunning beach at Elim, home to the famous Coloured Sands (Silica) and a popular recreational spot for Hope Vale people



The discovery of gold at the Palmer river in 1873 sparked a huge gold rush, drawing prospectors from Australia and around the world, particularly the Chinese.  With no access by land Cooktown was soon established as a port to access the new goldfields.


The Palmer goldfields grew quickly and the recorded output of gold from 1873 to 1890 was over more than 15,500 kg. Cooktown was soon thriving, as prospectors arrived from around the world.

During the goldrush, a Chinese community many thousands strong grew up in the goldfields and in the town itself. The Chinese played an important role in the early days of Cooktown. “They came originally as prospectors, but many established market gardens, supplying the town and the goldfields with fruit, vegetables and rice, while others opened shops. Our park is built on the site of a Chinese market garden and shops including a gambling shop and an opium den!




Uncover Cooktown’s fascinating Gold Rush history

Phone 07 4069 6400
Cooktown Orchid Travellers Park
Cnr Charlotte & Walker St Cooktown