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Cooktown

Cooktown – the gateway to the wilderness – was founded in 1873 as the port for the Palmer River Goldfields. This was more than a century after Captain James Cook spent 48 days in 1770 on the banks of the Endeavour River repairing his ship. Every June the town celebrates Cooktown’s status as Australia’s first, if brief, European settlement at a Discovery Festival which includes a colourful re-enactment of Cook’s landing. A highlight of a visit to Cooktown is an extended tour of the James Cook Museum – built in 1888 as a convent school run by Irish nuns. The Museum documents Cook’s voyages, Aboriginal and natural history, the gold rush days and their Chinese legacy. Walking tracks in the area allow for visitors to explore areas of beach, bush and mountains. Closer to town is Grassy Hill where one can share the same view as Captain Cook.

Distance from Brisbane (State Capital): 2,047 kilometres on North Coastal Road or 2,137 kilometres via Peninsula Road.

Go to the top!

One of the world’s last wilderness frontiers, the Cape York Peninsula is a unique area of incredible contrasts.
Measuring some 11 million hectares in size, it extends 1000 kilometres north of Cairns to Cape York, the tip of the peninsula, which extends out beyond the islands of Torres Strait.
The Cape begins at Cooktown and from here a wild, unexplored habitat awaits – dusty tracks, abundant river systems, crystal clear creeks, spectacular waterfalls and prolific wildlife.
The further north you venture, the more diversity you’ll discover – windswept beaches where time and tide have eroded cliffs into fascinating shapes and mountains clad in rainforest, gently sloping down to the sea.
Beyond Cooktown, most residents live in Aboriginal and cattle station communities and in small mining towns dotted among enormous national parks.
Cape York Peninsula is home to the Injinoo Aboriginal people, who know the land intimately, allowing their survival in this harsh land. Visit the Pajinka Wilderness Lodge at Pajinka, owned and operated entirely by the Injinoo people who offer lodging, field trips and tours to visitors.
There are only two seasons on Cape York Peninsula the ‘wet’ and the ‘dry’. The wet from mid November to April is by far the most spectacular but access is only by aircraft. At the end of the big wet, south-east trade winds return to dry the land, leaving it green and lush and covered with wild flowers.

Activites and Experiences at Cooktown

  • Off Road Driving Check all road and weather conditions before entering the area. Detailed maps will indicate suitable vehicle and road conditions. RACQ, local authorities and vehicle hire outlets can advise on current conditions for travelling. Also check that your insurance covers wilderness and remote areas north of Cairns. The ‘Bloomfield track’ north of Cape Tribulation is suitable for four wheel drive vehicles only. Lakeland Downs to the southwest, Lakefield and Cape Melville National Parks to the North, Black Mountain and Daintree National Parks to the South will all allow you access to the many swimming holes, beaches, lush rainforest and spectacular lookouts.
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Several well-known Aboriginal cultural experiences can be enjoyed in the region where you can appreciate the richness of Aboriginal history and living culture. The Torres Strait Festival held annually on Thursday Island and the Laura Dance and Cultural Festival held biannually in June represent 25 Aboriginal communities from all over the north. Split Rock and Quinkin Aboriginal rock art paintings are some of the oldest and best preserved art forms of their kind and have been added to the World Heritage List. Local experienced guides can also arrange for tours to learn about the region from an aboriginal cultural perspective.
  • Birdwatching The tropical coastal, mountain and rainforest areas offer an excellent range of birds in a relatively small geographical area. Hundreds of species live in the Cooktown region. Every walk and drive is an opportunity to see local bird life. Visit the local estuary inlets or Mulbabidgee/Keatings Lagoon. There is a birdhide located along the walking trail. Take your camera and you might catch a shot of the Radjah Shelduck, Magpie geese, Jabiru or the seasonal Torres Strait Imperial Pigeon as well as parrots and cockatoos.
  • Bushwalking Cooktowns diverse flora and fauna can be found within easy walking distance of the town centre. Ranging from the mangrove lined banks of the Endeavour River to the tropical rainforest of Mount Cook National Park, through the Botanic Gardens and onto Finch Bay and Cherry Tree Bay, along the sand dunes and beaches. Trails cater to all fitness levels. All the national parks in the surrounding areas also have great bushwalking tracks. For more information contact the local visitors centre and the National Parks and Wildlife centre.
  • Camping There are a number of camping and caravan parks with comfortable amenities are located in and around town. Some permits may be required for camping in national parks. Contact the Parks and Wildlife centre or the local visitors centre for more information.
  • Cruising Full day or extended charters for Reef, river and fishing can be arranged in the local area. Contact the local visitors centre for more information.
  • Scuba-Diving Scuba Diving and snorkelling are popular activities that locals and visitors participate in throughout the year. Organised trips can be arranged where qualified instructors are ready to teach you the basics on your journey out to the reef should you require assistance. You can then safely snorkel or try an introductory dive. Even for inexperienced swimmers, most tour operators provide full instruction, supervision and floatation devices. Diving trips range from full day tours to extended five day trips.
  • Driving Check all road and weather conditions before entering the area. Detailed maps will indicate suitable vehicle and road conditions. RACQ, local authorities and vehicle hire outlets can advise on current conditions for travelling. Also check that your insurance covers wilderness and remote areas north of Cairns. The ‘Bloomfield track’ north of Cape Tribulation is suitable for four wheel drive vehicles only. Lakeland Downs to the southwest, Lakefield and Cape Melville National Parks to the North, Black Mountain and Daintree National Parks to the South will all allow you access to the many swimming holes, beaches, lush rainforest and spectacular lookouts.
  • Farm/Station activity Children and adults will delight in staying a few days on a farm with the opportunity to experience a stay with a difference. From birdwatching and animal feeding to bushwalking and fishing – everyone will have fun. Looking for nocturnal animals during a night spotlighting expedition is always exciting. Farmstay in the Cooktown area will also allow you be centrally based with the advantage of being close to town.
  • Fishing – Beach There are five local beaches and lots of other spots both north and south of Cooktown where local fish can be caught with the right bait. Mangrove Jack, Barramundi, Queenfish, Trevally are just some of the fish that can be caught locally and tournaments held regularly. Check with local authorities regarding seasonal size limits as well as the species that are protected.
  • Fishing – Estuary Mangrove Jack, Barramundi, Queenfish, Trevally are just some of the fish that can be caught locally. Tours can also be arranged. The lack of farming and the plentiful mangroves around the Endeavour River are tow factors which have combined to make Cooktown a place where you are almost guaranteed catching a fish.
  • Fishing – Game Sportfishing safaris can be arranged where all gear is supplied from one day up to several days. Black Marlin is always a popular challenge with fishing tournaments held regularly.
  • Fishing – Deep Sea Sportfishing safaris can be arranged where all gear is supplied from one day up to several days. Black Marlin is always a popular challenge with fishing tournaments held regularly.
  • Golfing
  • Horseriding
  • Scenic Flight Flight tours can be arranged in marine air seaplanes to view the spectacular Cooktown region as well the Great Barrier Reef flights.
  • Sightseeing Learn all about the towns history by taking walking the scenic trail around town and visiting all the famous local town buildings, mangrove wetlands cemetery, beach and Grassy Hill. The Power house Interpretive Centre, museum and art centre are interesting places to answer many of your questions. The Botanical Gardens is also where the local visitors centre can be found. Restaurants and cafes in the town centre are just the spot to refresh you energies on the way.
  • Snorkelling There are five beaches in the Cooktown area and tours can be arranged.
  • Swimming Swimming is popular throughout the year. There are five swimming beaches and the local pool to choose from. Some sightings of crocodiles have been noted during the summer months in creeks, waterholes, rivers and beaches.
  • Marine Animal swimming Tours can be arranged to view marine animals such as sea turtles in their natural habitat in and around Lizard Island.
  • Bush Tucker
  • Marine Animal watching Tours can be arranged to view marine animals such as sea turtles in their natural habitat in and around Lizard Island.
  • Walking Cooktowns diverse flora and fauna can be found within easy walking distance of the town centre. Ranging from the mangrove lined banks of the Endeavour River to the tropical rainforest of Mount Cook National Park, through the Botanic Gardens and onto Finch Bay and Cherry Tree Bay, along the sand dunes and beaches. Trails cater to all fitness levels.
  • Water-based Cooktown is the located right on the coast. As such swimming, fishing, snorkelling and diving are popular sports participated in all year round. Reef tours can also be arranged where qualified instructors are ready to teach you the basics on your journey out to the reef should you require assistance. You can then safely snorkel or try an introductory dive. Even for inexperienced swimmers, most tour operators provide full instruction, supervision and floatation devices. Diving trips range from full day tours to extended five day trips.
  • Accommodation Camping, pub, motel, farmstay, Bed and Breakfast, 4 and 5 star resort and rainforest retreats.
  • Airport 10 kilometres south of town centre
  • Ambulance Helen Street Cooktown. Coastguard and State emergency services are also available. For all emergencies call ‘000’.
  • Automatic Teller Machine Charlotte Street Cooktown
  • Banking Facilities Charlotte Street Cooktown
  • Beach Swimming is popular throughout the year. There are five swimming beaches and the local pool to choose from. Some sightings of crocodiles have been noted during the summer months in creeks, waterholes, rivers and beaches.
  • Boat Ramp
  • Bottled Gas
  • Chemist
  • Licensed Club Bowls club, Golf club
  • Coach Stop Coaches travel regularly through Cooktown and surrounding areas to Cairns, Cape York and beyond to ensure that visitors without a vehicle don’t miss out on all the wonderful things to see and do in the area. Tours are also available to connect you with many of the attractions. For information check with the local visitors centre.
  • Currency Exchange
  • Dentist Helen Street Cooktown
  • Electronic Funds Transfer at Point Of Sale At most businesses, tourist and accommodation locations
  • Fuel
  • Golf
  • Hospital Helen Street Cooktown. For all emergencies call ‘000’.
  • Public Bar
  • Jetty
  • Mechanical Services
  • Medical Facilities Helen Street Cooktown. For all emergencies call ‘000’.
  • National Park Black Mountain just south, Lakeland Downs to the southwest, Lakefield and Cape Melville National Parks to the North, Black Mountain and Daintree National Parks to the South will all allow you access to the many swimming holes, beaches, lush rainforest and spectacular lookouts. The ‘Bloomfield track’ north of Cape Tribulation is suitable for four wheel drive vehicles only. Camping permits and information can be obtained from National Parks and Wildlife and the local visitors centre.
  • Newsagent
  • Police Located in Charlotte Street. Coastguard and State emergency services are also available. For all emergencies call ‘000’.
  • Post Office
  • Public Telephone
  • Restaurant
  • Supermarket
  • Swimming Pool
  • Takeaway Food
  • Visitor Centres Located at the Botanical Gardens
  • Places of Worship
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Several well-known Aboriginal cultural experiences can be enjoyed in the region where you can appreciate the richness of Aboriginal history and living culture. The Torres Strait Festival held annually on Thursday Island and the Laura Dance and Cultural Festival held biannually in June represent 25 Aboriginal communities from all over the north. Split Rock and Quinkin Aboriginal rock art paintings are some of the oldest and best preserved are forms of their kind and have been added to the World Heritage List. Local experienced guides can also arrange for tours to learn about the region from an aboriginal cultural perspective.
  • Beach Swimming is popular throughout the year. There are five swimming beaches and the local pool to choose from. Some sightings of crocodiles have been noted during the summer months in creeks, waterholes, rivers and beaches.
  • Caravan and Camping There are a number of camping and caravan parks with comfortable amenities are located in and around town. Some permits may be required for camping in national parks. Contact the Parks and Wildlife centre or the local visitors centre for more information.
  • Cruise Full day or extended charters for Reef, river and fishing can be arranged in the local area. Contact the local visitors centre for more information.
  • Cultural Cooktown is steeped in historical and artistic culture. Visit the art centre and museum to learn how many cultural influences have shaped Cooktown. Every June the town celebrates with a re-enactment of European settlement, Aboriginal and Chinese cultural and natural historical developments. The Torres Strait Festival held annually on Thursday Island up north and the Laura Dance and Cultural Festival held biannually in June where 25 Aboriginal communities gather from all over the north. Split Rock and Quinkin Aboriginal rock art paintings are some of the oldest and best preserved are forms of their kind and have been added to the World Heritage List. Local experienced guides can also arrange for tours to learn about the region from an aboriginal cultural perspective.
  • Diving Scuba Diving and snorkelling are popular activities that locals and visitors participate in throughout the year. Organised trips can be arranged where qualified instructors are ready to teach you the basics on your journey out to the reef should you require assistance. You can then safely snorkel or try an introductory dive. Even for inexperienced swimmers, most tour operators provide full instruction, supervision and floatation devices. Diving trips range from full day tours to extended five day trips.
  • Farm/Station Children and adults will delight in staying a few days on a farm with the opportunity to experience a stay with a difference. From Birdwatching and animal feeding to bushwalking and fishing – everyone will have fun. Looking for nocturnal animals during a night spotlighting expedition is always exciting. Farmstay in the Cooktown area will also allow you be centrally based with the advantage of being close to town.
  • Fishing Mangrove Jack, Barramundi, Queenfish, Trevally are just some of the fish that can be caught locally. The lack of farming and the plentiful mangroves around the Endeavour River are two factors which have combined to make Cooktown a place where you are almost guaranteed catching a fish. Game and deep sea sports fishing safaris can also be arranged where all gear is supplied from a single day up to several days. Black Marlin is always a popular challenge with fishing tournaments held regularly.
  • Flora and Fauna Cooktown is the northern gateway to the Cedar Bay and Daintree National Parks, which are part of the listed Wet Tropics World Heritage Area. The Great Barrier Reef exists side by side with the rainforest containing a record of the evolutionary process over 415 million years. About 3,000 plant species are found in the area as well as rare animals found nowhere else in the world. For lots more information, visit the interpretive centre and the visitors centre at the Botanical Gardens in Cooktown.
  • Gambling
  • Golf
  • Historic/Heritage Cooktown is steeped in history and has a wonderful heritage. Visit the art centre, museum and other local historical buildings to learn how many cultural influences have shaped Cooktown. Every June the town celebrates with a re-enactment of European settlement, Aboriginal and Chinese cultural and natural historical developments.
  • Mountain There are many mountains in the Cooktown region worth visiting. The Black Mountain National Park has wonderful bushwalking trails and campsites. Mt Black, Mt Molloy and Mt Carbine are a little further a field but certainly worth a trip. For more information contact the visitors centre at the Botanical Gardens and the National Parks and Wildlife Centre.
  • National Park Black Mountain just south, Lakeland Downs to the southwest, Lakefield and Cape Melville National Parks to the North, Black Mountain and Daintree National Parks to the South will all allow you access to the many swimming holes, beaches, lush rainforest and spectacular lookouts. The ‘Bloomfield track’ north of Cape Tribulation is suitable for four wheel drive vehicles only. Camping permits and information can be obtained from National Parks and Wildlife and the local visitors centre.
  • Off road Check all road and weather conditions before entering the area. Detailed maps will indicate suitable vehicle and road conditions. RACQ, local authorities and vehicle hire outlets can advise on current conditions for travelling. Also check that your insurance covers wilderness and remote areas north of Cairns. The ‘Bloomfield track’ north of Cape Tribulation is suitable for four wheel drive vehicles only. Lakeland Downs to the southwest, Lakefield and Cape Melville National Parks to the North, Black Mountain and Daintree National Parks to the South will all allow you access to the many swimming holes, beaches, lush rainforest and spectacular lookouts. If you don’t have your own four wheel drive consider hiring one. Tours are also available.
  • Outback Cooktown is the Gateway to the Cape York Peninsular which takes in a large part of the northern Australian Outback region. Travelling 650 kilometres north to Weipa and 850 kilometres to Bamaga at the tip of the Cape, you will travel through some pretty rugged terrain and spectacular national parks. It is recommended that you travel with a guided tour or a four wheel drive with plenty of water and food supplies. Check all road and weather conditions before entering the area. Detailed maps will indicate suitable vehicle and road conditions. RACQ, local authorities and vehicle hire outlets can advise on current conditions for travelling. Also check that your insurance covers wilderness and remote areas. Driving south west travellers will experience wonderful towns like Normaton, Karumba and Bourketown. Further on and you are on your way to the Northern Territory and Darwin.
  • Pub Stay
  • Rainforest Wet tropical conditions in the Cooktown region contain some of the most beautiful ancient rainforests. Large pockets of rainforest are amazingly diverse with hundreds of plant and animal species unique to this area. Surrounding national parks and rainforests were placed on the World Heritage listings in 1988. Conserving their outstanding natural and cultural values for the benefit of local, national and international communities is of the greatest importance. The local Botanical Gardens Power House centre is a wonderful source of information providing displays, theatres, videos and written materials.
  • Reef The Great Barrier Reef off the coast of Cooktown contain some of the most beautiful coral reefs and wildlife unique to this area. Conserving its outstanding natural and cultural values for the benefit of local, national and international communities is of the greatest importance. The local Botanical Gardens Power House centre is a wonderful source of information providing displays, theatres, videos and written materials.
  • Relaxation
  • Soft Adventure Take a scenic flight and get the big picture of the Cooktown region from the mountains to the reef.
  • Water based Cooktown is the located right on the coast. As such swimming, fishing, snorkelling and diving are popular sports participated in all year round. Reef tours can also be arranged where qualified instructors are ready to teach you the basics on your journey out to the reef should you require assistance. You can then safely snorkel or try an introductory dive. Even for inexperienced swimmers, most tour operators provide full instruction, supervision and floatation devices. Diving trips range from full day tours to extended five day trips.
  • Wilderness Accredited tour operators can arrange for half day to four day trips into remote Savannah, rainforest and wilderness areas. You will be taken to some secret spots that only your guide can show you. They will provide information about the animals, plants and the wider ecosystems of each area visited. Once you have been on a tour you may like to venture out on your own.
  • Wildflower For all you latest information contact the Botanical Gardens in Cooktown.
  • World Heritage Cooktown was World Heritage listed in 1988 and is part of a wonderful reef and rainforest environment. Conserving its outstanding natural and cultural values for the benefit of local, national and international communities is of the greatest importance. The local environmental centre is a wonderful source of information providing displays, theatres, videos and written materials.
  • RTN, QH and National Distributors (TQ)
  • Backpacking/Unstructured
  • Budget
  • Self-Drive
  • Senior

Nearest Airport: Cairns

Accommodation In Cooktown

Discover some of the accommodation in and around Cooktown

Tours In Cooktown

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