For anyone making the trek to The Top, this is where it all begins. Situated at the end of the bitumen road at the spot where british navigaor James Cook repaired the damaged Endeavour in 1770, Cooktown boasts a unique character, based on its years of geographic isolation and hard life. The town is surrounded by the unspoilt natural beauty of the area, and first time visitors really feel like they've stumbled back in time and come across a local secret.
Where is it?: Cooktown is 326 km (by the inland road) and 235 km (by the coast road) from Cairns; 2,034 km north of Brisbane.
There are a number of interesting buildings in and around Cooktown. These include James Cook Historical Museum building (1886); Westpac Bank (former Queensland National Bank building, 1889); six memorials to James Cook; Mrs. Watson's Monument; Mary Watson's Cottage ruins, Powder Magazine; an iron cannon (positioned in 1889 to prevent an unlikely attack from the Russians); Old Cooktown Hospital; Jacky Jacky Building; Cooktown Cemetery; Chinese Shrine; Cooktown Sea Museum; Captain Cook Memorial Lighthouse (1971)
Cooktown has numerous beaches. Finch Bay and Cherry Tree Bay are fringed with two of Cooktown's most beautiful beaches. You can drive to Finch Bay or you van walk there from the Botanical Gardens. Cherry Tree Bay is also accessible from the Gardens or Grassy Hill Road. Walker Bay, favoured by river mouth anglers and kite surfers, is located at the mouth of the Annan River. Access is by 4WD vehicles only.
Quarantine Bay (5km from Cooktown) is a pebbly beach, with the rainforest covered slopes of Mt Cook as its backdrop. Archer Point (20 km from Cooktown) has a beach which, at low tide, allows visitors to walk out to the reff and snorkel off the point, but keep a look out for crocodiles and stingers.
Cooktown is the northern terminus of the Australian Bicentennial National Trail, which, at 5,330 km, is the longest trail of its type in the world. The southern end of the trail is at Healesville, Victoria, a town 52 km north-east of Melbourne.
Lookouts: Grassy Hill Lookout has 360 degree views of the countryside and beaches. Watching the sun set from the lookout is a special experience.
Events: Cooktown Discovery Festival (every June)
The most northerly major town in Australia, Cooktown is the stepping off point for 4-wheel drivers heading north through Cape York Peninsula. The coastal track in these parts, which is a quagmire in the wet season and full of bulldust and giant potholes in the dry, is one of the worst roads in Australia and explains why most of the vehicles here are 4-wheel drives. Cooktown lays claim to being the site of Australia's first European settlement, even though it was only a temporary one.
Origin of name: recalls the area's first European visitor, Lieut. James Cook, who stayed here for two months during his 1770 exploration of the South Pacific.
Brief history: On 17th June 1770, after accidentally striking the Great Barrier Reef, Lieut. James Cook and Endeavour limped up the coast from Cape Tribulation, coming to rest at the Endeavour River after a week. Cook stayed until 4th August, the longest stay in a single Australian location by Cook, repairing the vessel. It was here that the kangaroo was discovered and first described. The natives called it 'kanguru'.
The next Europeans to visit the area were the coastal explorers Phillip Parker King and Allan Cunningham who explored the area in 1819 and climbed and named Mount Cook but it wasn't until gold was discovered on the Palmer River that the government saw it necessary to establish a settlement here. Freidrich Wilhelm Ludwig Leichhardt arrived at Endeavour River with supplies and 96 people and overnight the settlement of Cook's Town, as it was originally known, came into being. By 1875, the wealth of the gold extracted from the region and the huge number of miners it attracted is reflected in the fact that the town had an incredible 65 hotels, a school, a fire brigade and two churches. The main street was nearly 3 km long.
The town fell into decline as the gold ran out, but received a minor boost with the discovery of tin. Cooktown was almost wiped out by a cyclone in 1907 and it didn't recover to its former size or place of importance until after World War II when the town experienced a tourist boom that continues today.
Endeavour Falls Tourist Park: (32km north west) Endeavour Falls Tourist Park is set in one of the most beautiful locations in the Endeavour Valley. The park has over 850 palm trees with huge staghorns, and thousands Cooktown Orchids flowering in season (February - March). Walking tracks lead to waterfalls.The rugged Mount Cook (231 metres) forms a backdrop to the town and is now part of the Mount Cook National Park. Rainforest and tropical woodland with a heath understorey cover the mountain's upper slopes and sheltered gullies while grasslands grow on the southern slopes. A 3 km circuit leads to a vantage point with views over the Great Barrier Reef to the east, and the Endeavour Valley to the west (allow 4 hours).
Rinyirru (Lakefield) National Park: Queensland s second largest park features spectacular wetlands and extensive river systems. Hann and Kalpowar crossings are two of the many significant Aboriginal cultural heritage sites featuring Quinkan figures to be found in this landscape. Within the Park is Laura Homestead, associated with the establishment of the cattle industry on Cape York Peninsula and the Palmer River Goldfields.
Mangkalba (Cedar Bay), Ngalba Bulal National Park: The remote and beautiful coastal Ngalba Bulal National Park (40 km south) features rugged tropical rainforest hinterland and sea-sculpted headlands, fringed with expansive sandy beaches. Sandy beaches and fringing reefs are backed by dense tropical rainforest in this remote national park. The park lies between Cape Tribulation and Cooktown and is accessible only by boat or on foot via two walking tracks.
Cape Melville National Park: (225 km north, 4wd only) This remote park is characterised by the massive, tumbled granite boulders of the Melville Range, the sandstone escarpments of the Altanmoui Range and inland dunefields. The park features a diversity of plant communities including rainforest, mangroves, heathlands, woodlands and grasslands.
Lizard Island: The most northerly of the Great Barrier Reef resort islands, the island boasts 24 beaches, all ideal for swimming or snorkelling. The Cod Hole is one Australia's best dive sites; deep sea game fishing is another popular activity. Lizard Island was declared a National Park in 1937. The waters surrounding the island were declared a Marine Park in 1974.
Black Mountain: 30km south of Cooktown,Black Mountain is steeped in Aboriginal myths and legends, and are a special place for the Kuku Yalanji peoples. Information boards give more detailed information about the area. There is a lookout and viewing platform near the peak.