James Cook Museum, Courtesy of Tourism Queensland

Population 1339

Cooktown is the last main town before the wilderness that is Cape York. In 1770, Captain Cook beached the Endeavour here for repairs after running aground on the Great Barrier Reef. Cooktown was founded more than 100 years later after gold was discovered on the Palmer River. It became the gold-rush port with 37 hotels and a transient population of some 18 000, including 6000 Chinese. Nearby are some of the most rugged and remote national parks in Australia. They form part of the Wet Tropics World Heritage Area and are a special experience for today's intrepid explorers.

Visitor Information

Nature's Powerhouse, Cooktown Botanic Gardens, Finch Bay Rd; (07) 4069 6004

Nearby national parks

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In Town

James Cook Museum Housed in the old convent school (1888), this museum documents Aboriginal life prior to European settlement, Cook's voyages and the 1870s gold-rush past. Relics include the anchor from the Endeavour; Helen St.

Botanic Gardens: these are the oldest botanic gardens in Queensland, with native, European and exotic plants. The 'Cooktown Interpretive Centre: Nature's Powerhouse' has botanical and wildlife illustrations, and there are also walking trails to Cherry Tree and Finch bays; Walker St.

Historic cemetery: documents the varied cultural heritage of Cooktown and includes the grave of tutor, early immigrant and heroine Mary Watson; Boundary Rd.

Chinese shrine: to many who died on the goldfields; near cemetery.

Cooktown Wharf: dates back to 1880s and is an excellent spot for fishing.

The Milibi Wall: collage of traditional art by local Aboriginal people; near wharf.

Fishing: spanish mackerel and barramundi at the wharf.

Walking trails: plenty around the town and outlying areas, including the Scenic Rim and Wharf and Foreshore Walk; details from visitor centre.


Lizard Island National Park Comprises 6 islands to the north-east of Cooktown surrounded by the blue waters and coral reefs of the northern Great Barrier Reef. Four of the islands are important seabird nesting sites. Lizard Island is a resort island popular for sailing and fishing. Also on offer is snorkelling in the giant clam gardens of Watsons Bay. Walk to Cooks Look for a spectacular view. There are 11 species of lizard here, and green and loggerhead turtles nest in late spring. Regular flights depart from Cairns; charter flights depart from Cairns and Cooktown; charter or private boat hire is available at Cooktown; (07) 4069 5777 (use same contact number for all national parks below); 92 km NE.

Endeavour River National Park: just north of town is this park of diverse landscapes, including coastal dunes, mangrove forests and catchment areas of the Endeavour River. Most of the park is accessible only by boat (ramps at Cooktown); southern vehicle access is via Starcke St, Marton.

Black Mountain National Park: impressive mountain range of granite boulders and a refuge for varied and threatened wildlife; Cooktown Developmental Rd; (07) 4069 5777; 25 km S.

Helenvale: small town with historic Lions Den Hotel (est. 1875) and rodeo in June; 30 km S.

Rossville: town with markets every 2nd Sat and Wallaby Creek Folk Festival at Home Rule Rainforest Lodge in Sept; 38 km S.

Cedar Bay National Park: this remote coastal park is an attractive mix of rainforest, beaches and fringing reefs, with a variety of wildlife including the rare Bennett's tree kangaroo. Walk on the old donkey track once used by tin miners (remains of tin workings can be seen). Access by boat or by the walking track, which starts at Home Rule Rainforest Lodge, Rossville, 38 km S.

Elim Beach and the Coloured Sands: spectacular beach with white silica sandhills and surrounding heathlands. The Coloured Sands are found 400 m along the beach (Aboriginal land, permit required from Hope Vale Community Centre); 65 km N.

Cape Melville National Park: this rugged park on the Cape York Peninsula has spectacular coastal scenery. Much of the plant life is rare, including the foxtail palm. Visitors must be self-sufficient; 4WD access only in dry weather; southern access via Starcke homestead, western access via Kalpower Crossing in Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park (CYPAL); 140 km NW.

Flinders Group National Park: comprising 7 continental islands in Princess Charlotte Bay. There are 2 self-guide trails taking in bushfoods and Aboriginal rock-art sites on Stanley Island. Access by charter or private boat or sea plane; 195 km NW.

Sportfishing safaris: to nearby waterways; details from visitor centre.

Guurrbi Aboriginal Tours: full- and half-day tours of Aboriginal rock-art sites and informative history of bush tucker and traditional medicine; details from visitor centre.

Bicentennial National Trail: 5000 km trail that runs from Cooktown to Healesville in Victoria, for walkers, bike riders and horseriders. It is possible to do just a section of trail; details from visitor centre.

Travellers note: Before driving to remote areas check road conditions and restrictions with Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service, 5 Webber Espl, Cooktown, (07) 4069 5777.

Fishing spots near town

Munbah 37 km

It’s predawn and Les Gibson walks down to the creek and stops. He is on his way to push some boats out into deeper water as the tide is falling rapidly. Following Les are three journalists. He stops at the creek,... Find out more

Eco-friendly activities around town

Bushwalking around the Daintree and Cape Tribulation 87 km

Join a guided day or night bushwalk in the privately owned Cooper Creek Wilderness, to discover the incredible natural riches of this area. Back Country Bliss Adventures also runs gentle, guided half-day bushwalks to... Find out more

Daintree Discovery Centre 87 km

This multi-award-winning ecotourism centre is a great place to learn about the legendary Daintree rainforest. There are elevated boardwalks, an aerial walkway, a canopy tower and a large interpretive display centre with... Find out more

Campsites around town

Lions Den Hotel 26 km

One of Cape York’s iconic pubs, the Lions Den offers excellent riverside camping on its spacious property with plenty of shade and natural surrounds. Powered campsites have access to an amenities block and... Find out more

Home Rule Rainforest Lodge 31 km

Camp on the riverbank at this site on the Cooktown–Bloomfield Rd in Rossville. From Cape Tribulation, drive 50 km to Bloomfield (across the Bloomfield River) and along the edge of Cedar Bay National Park to reach... Find out more

East Hope Island camping area (boat-based camping) 36 km

This small sandy campground is on the western side of East Hope Island, accessible by private or commercially operated boat. Each of the 3 separate sites holds up to 4 people. There are no walking tracks on the island,... Find out more

Cedar Bay camping area (bush camping) 38 km

This campground is just east of Centre Garden at the southern end of the beach. Access is via the Home Rule or Gap Creek walking tracks, or by boat. Generators are not permitted and gas/fuel stoves are preferred. Bring... Find out more

Lakeland Caravan Park 61 km

Lakeland Caravan Park is at the junction of the Mulligan Hwy and Peninsula Development Rd in the town of Lakeland, between the Laura and Normanby rivers. On site you’ll find a small internet cafe with 3... Find out more

Lake Emma camping area 68 km

Lake Emma is on Battle Camp Rd, approximately 32 km east of the Old Laura Homestead. Complete self-sufficiency for food, water, equipment for treating water, fuel and vehicle spare parts is essential. There is a... Find out more

Horseshoe Lagoon camping area (bush camping) 72 km

To reach this campground for self-sufficient campers, head for Old Laura Homestead then turn onto Battle Camp Rd and travel 29 km east of Old Laura to the turn-off. Check with a ranger for current fishing restrictions... Find out more

Welcome Waterhole camping area (bush camping) 74 km

The Welcome Waterhole is about 7 km from Horseshoe Lagoon and about 6 km north of Battle Camp Rd. The turn-off from Battle Camp Rd is about 30 km east of Old Laura Homestead. Bring all self-sufficient supplies.... Find out more

Noah Beach camping area 76 km

Noah Beach campground is in a secluded spot just 50 m from the beach, about 8 km south of Cape Tribulation village. Throughout the Cape Tribulation section visitors will find facilities such as picnic areas, boardwalks... Find out more

Caravan parks around town

Pinnacle Village Holiday Park 97 km

This absolute beachfront park is 22 km north of Mossman. There are plenty of shady trees and a great expanse of green lawn. It is a good base from which to explore the local region. Bookings are required in peak periods.... Find out more

Hotels, motels & B&Bs around town

The Sovereign Resort Hotel

The Sovereign has been a Cooktown landmark since 1874 – and for some years in the town’s not so long ago wild days, it was referred to as the half sovereign as a result of cyclone damage. These days... Find out more

Mungumby Lodge

This small private wilderness retreat, located 25 minutes south of Cooktown, has ten wooden bungalows with private ensuites and a spacious main house set in tropical gardens on the edge of Mungumby Creek. You can relax,... Find out more

Eco-friendly places to stay around town

Daintree Wilderness Lodge, Alexandra Bay 84 km

Set in fan-palm rainforest, the eight bungalows here, accessed by raised boardwalks to protect the forest floor, are partially solar-powered by 20 solar panels, and a biocycle system breaks down all waste on site. As... Find out more

Daintree Rainforest Retreat, near Cow Bay 86 km

When the owners here decided to reduce their carbon footprint by installing 48 solar panels, the generator’s monthly diesel consumption changed from 1600 litres to 200 litres. By revegetating a rainforest on their... Find out more

Daintree Eco Lodge and Spa 88 km

If you are in need of some pampering, this is the place to go. With strong and proud links to the Aboriginal heritage of the site – a women’s healing place – the Eco Lodge has 15 sumptuous villas set... Find out more

What's on around town

Market: Lions Park; Sat.

Discovery Festival: re-enactment of Cook's landing with Aboriginal performances and various markets as part of the celebrations; during the Queen's Birthday long weekend, June.

Cooktown Races: July.

Art Festival: Aug.

Agricultural Show: Aug.

Wallaby Creek Festival (Rossville): music festival; Sept.

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