Cooktown Queensland 17 to 19 May 2007.
6 Jun 2007
Cooktown is situated in the Cape York Peninsula which covers an area larger than most European countries and is one of the world's last wilderness domains. It is an ancient landscape that has been home to Aboriginal people for millennia, when a land bridge connected Australia to Papua New Guinea, and before sea levels rose transforming the massive freshwater Lake Carpentaria into the Gulf of Carpentaria. The road north from here is gravel so this was as high as we would go but talking to travellers who were returning from a trip to the top it is now on our wish list for a future trip.
Cooktown is a beautiful, unspoilt small historic costal town surrounded by stunning countryside. For how long this will remain can only be guessed as development is all ready taking place with new hotels and homes being built. The bitumen road was only completed in 2005 and this will allow more tourists in. The town is the closet to the Great Barrier Reef, which stretches from the tip of Cape York to Rockhampton. The further south the reef is the father away from the coast, being that I am not a good sailor I was hoping to do the trip from here but there were none available.
In 1770 Lt James Cook managed to sail his ship "HM Bark Endeavour" into the mouth of the river, now named after his ship, after running into the Barrier Reef off a cape which he named Cape Tribulation, as this was the start of all his troubles. Whilst the ship was being repaired Cook would climb Grassy Hill each day to plot his course back into the Coral Sea. It must have been quite a shock for him when he first looked out from that view point to see how many sandbanks, islands and coral reefs there were out there to be negotiated. The Aboriginal people who met with Cook and his crew thought they were the ghosts of their departed ancestors, and after a bit of mistrust between both sides, they were helpful to the explorer.
The next group of visitors to the area were not as accommodating to the Aboriginal Tribes. A centaury later gold was discovered in the Palmer River and a new port was created at Cooktown to service the mining camps of Queensland's largest gold rush. These Europeans were much greedier and killed many of the Aborigines to gain the land.
On arriving yesterday we noticed a computer repair shop; we were having difficulty downloading our updated virus protector so thought we would call in for advice. We went in early this morning and spent the whole day getting it sorted. The problem appeared to be the 2006 version of Norton would not allow the 2007 version to run, nor could it be deleted. We were also having problems with the speed our laptop was working at, it could take nearly 5 minutes to get going. So the end result was to clear the hard drive and re-load everything again, good job we had taken Kieron's (our son) advice to back everything up. At the end of the day all was sorted and we now have a fast computer again. We are still trying to find stuff on the external drive, but you will all be pleased to know our photographs are safe. You do not get out of us boring you all when we return home.
Having lost a full day today we needed to book another night so we could do some sightseeing. So on Friday morning we set off walking from the caravan park to the end of the town to climb Grassy Hill, the lookout at the back of the town. The road was very steep and we were grateful to the Cooktown Lions Club for the seats stragically placed on the route, they were well appreciated. Just after a particularly steep part and on a tight bend we saw a small motor home parked. I instantly got my hopes up thinking they might be selling cups of tea only to discover it empty. As were sitting on the seat close by the owners returned from the summit to collect it. They were a couple from Victoria touring around for 6 months. The lady had been so scared coming up this far in the van that she was refusing to go back down in it, due to the steepness. When we left them he was heading down in the van, she was walking, and I hope he waited for her at the bottom.
They had informed us that we were very close to the summit so that spurred us on to the next seat where we got a magnificent view, and after catching our breath made the summit shortly after. It was well worth the effort as the views across the Coral Sea and back into the hinterland was great. For our return journey we had elected to take the bush walk through the rainforest to Cherry Tree Bay, a track we were informed required a reasonable amount of fitness. It was a bit of a scramble but we eventually arrived on a beautiful secluded beach. Standing on this beach I was reminded of the controversial advert that the Australian Tourist Board put out about a year ago of one of their models on a similar beach saying "Where the bloody hell are you?" That's what this beach made you feel.
After a short break to soak in the atmosphere we set off on the 1500 meter track (well Seb Coe often ran this distance under 4 minutes so it cannot be far) via another deserted beach to the Botanic Gardens. It did not say on the notice board we had to climb over the headland to Finch Beach through the rainforest so we were a little slower than Seb Coe. On reaching Finch Beach we were a little disappointed with the crowds, there were 2 ladies and 3 small children all ready there. A short stop and back into the rainforest to the Botanical Gardens and the café where all the calories we had walked off were put straight back on with a big slice of sour sop and avocado cheese cake-delicious.
After this piece of indulgence we walked up to the James Cook Museum, which is housed in the restored convent building. The building was designed by Scottish architect F.D.G.Stanley and constructed in 1889 by the Catholic Church as St Mary's Convent for the Sisters of Mary, an Irish Order. Until the Second World War it was run as a major centre for the education of women in far north Queensland. During the war it was used by the armed services and in 1960 the Catholic Church donated the building to the National Trust. It opened as a museum in 1970 and holds a fascinating collection of Cook memorabilia and documents including the anchor of the HM Bark Endeavour. It also has memorabilia of the convent days, gold rush times as well as an Aboriginal historical display.
By now we were feeling quite weary so we headed back to our van and had a quick rest before Jeff prepared a Chinese meal to which our friend's Gary and Lorna had been invited. After a pleasant evening we slept really well.
Before leaving on Saturday morning we drove passed the wharf to the Powder Magazine. This was a small building used to house the explosives used in the gold mining days. It is interesting to note that no nails were used in its construction in 1874 and is believed to be the oldest brick building in Cape York. Once the gold rush days were over it became obsolete.
Our journey back down the Peninsula & Cooktown Developmental Highway was the same route as we had travelled a couple of days before. There is another route from Cooktown along the coast via the Bloomfield Track but is only for 4 wheel vehicles. We were told even for these vehicles it can be quite testing so we gave it a miss. At Mount Malloy we turned left and headed down from the Tableland Areas to the coast. This was quite a drop on very twisting roads and the driver did not get to see much of the scenery. There was one viewing spot and as we looked out from it we saw the sea to our right, the agricultural area below us and stretching into the distance the Daintree World Heritage Rain forest, our next destination.
We continued on down the road and joined the Captain Cook Highway. This took us through Mossman and on through the cane fields to Wonga Beach. The caravan park had been recommended as being right on the beach and very friendly. We checked in and were told there was a Welsh man on the site; they were flying the Welsh flag at the camp kitchen. We were also told that 'happy hour' had started 15 minutes back so we drove onto our site. Off we went to meet our fellow campers and I took my Scottish Rugby scarf to decorate the camp kitchen.