In 1873 a group of sturdy tents were built on the shores of the Endeavour River, this seaside tented village became Cooks Town. Cooktown was later named in the honour of Captain James Cook, who in 1770 beached the HM Bark the Endeavour on the Southern banks. He named the Endeavour River where the crew made repairs after running aground on Endeavour reef located on the same latitude as Mungumby Lodge, this is one of many reefs that fringe the Great Barrier Reef coastline.
More than 100 years after Cook’s visit the area remained as it had always been, a peaceful, tranquil spot inhabited only by nomadic Aboriginals. In 1873 all this came to an abrupt end when James Venture Mulligan discovered gold in the Palmer River. It was decided that the site of Cook’s landing on the Endeavour River would be used as a port for the trek to the Goldfields and would become a busy remote Far Northern seaport.
On October 25th, 1873 the steamship Leichhardt arrived with building materials. Officials and prospectors to establish the township of “Cooks Town”. Prospectors poured in from everywhere and the town grew quickly. The town boasted 65 hotels, 20 eating houses, and 32 general stores. By 1885 Cooktown’s population exceeded 35,000 including thousands of Chinese.
Cooktown depended on the mining of gold for its survival, and after the removal of 55 tons of alluvial gold, 8 years later production began to decline. By the turn of the century the population was barely 2,000, but with the growing pearling, tin and cattle industries the town managed to survive with its town status. During the second World War most of the town was evacuated. Cooktown survived once again and today it is a small village that is the Heart of Cape York and slowly increasing interest as a tourist attraction.
The surrounding region south of the village of Cooktown hosts a diverse range of flora & fauna and show cases some of Queensland’s best frontier history. The nature is second to none, the Aboriginal culture of the Quinkan extremely interesting and the regions scenery awesome. The foreshore of Cooktown with its monuments pays tribute to early explorers’ courage and the Cooktown cemetery with history written on the stones and Chinese shrines, with the Miribilli wall telling traditional stories of Aboriginal ancestors. The James Cook Museum (Closed until July 2020), Grassy Hill light house and look out and Cherry Tree bay a must.
The region was developed by volcanic activity and is a large volcanic basin containing very rich volcanic soil. Formerly called “Butchers Hill” in late 1800’s supplying meat to the goldfields. In the mid 1950’s farms changed hands, irrigation lakes were built and the site renamed Lakeland Downs. Located on the Mulligan Highway Lakeland hosts a small school, pub, camp ground, two road houses one with a Coffee roasting house and really nice café. A gateway to the villages of Laura and Cooktown. A number of the farms are large scale employers especially Swiss Farms.
Aboriginal Rock Art
Laura & the Quinkan Country
Quinkan Country extends some 6,000sq Km of the South East Cape York Peninsula. Incorporated in this area is Lakeland National Park and Quinkan reserve, which extends from Laura to the coastline of Princess Charlotte Bay. This rugged terrain contains sandstone escarpments, open eucalyptus woodlands and a network of river systems all easily accessible from Mungumby Lodge.
Sandstone was layered down in Cretaceous era as the bed of a shallow coastal lake, weathering and erosion over 100 million years created today’s Sandstone Plateau and escarpments. These provided rock shelters suitable for Aboriginal people to occupy during the wet season. Aboriginal people were living a traditional hunter-gathering way of life up until the Palmer River gold rush of the 1870s. The oldest known human occupation of rock shelters in the Quinkan area is dated to be 32,000 years ago. The importance of this was recognised in 1959 by Captain Percy Trezise, at the time an airline pilot. author\artist (formerly an acknowledged rock art authority, now deceased) when he read a report of a road gang discovering Aboriginal paintings on a large slab near Laura.
After visiting the site he realised that this must be one of many located in the area and began a program of exploration and recording of the Quinkan art. Following the discovery of the Split Rock gallery in 1959, some 34 sites with 1500 images were recorded by Percy Trezise over the last 30 years on canvas. Theses Canvases are now held in the archives of the Institute of Aboriginal Studies in Canberra and some at the Quinkan Region Cultural Centre. In order to protect the extensive body of rock art in the Laura district Percy Trezise strives to have the area declared a Reserve, this he achieved in 1975, ensuring the preservation of these ancient drawings for the Traditional Owners and future generations.
Pay your walk entry fees at the Quinkan Cultural Centre prior to entering the reserve or visiting the sites. The Aboriginal rock art of this region is the best Aboriginal Rock Art in Queensland. We thoroughly recommend a visit to the Laura area as it provides a fascinating insight into these prehistoric sites and the Aboriginal way of life in this region.
Hope Vale & the Endeavour Valley
North of the village of Cooktown this region is shaped by time and very scenic. The road to Hopevale is slowly improving and access to the coast is strictly by paid permit. Roads here are extremely rough going for any vehicle. Coloured sands and Elim beach are accessible from Hope Vale. This scenic remote coastline is scenic yet void of any facilities, take your mozzie cream and winch as the going gets unreasonably rugged. A delightfully setting at Elim beach where camping is available with limited facilities. The Battle camp road to Laura is scenic in places but also at times unreasonably rough.
The Cape York Peninsula
Cape York Peninsula is a huge area of largely undeveloped land located in Far Tropical North Queensland, Australia. It is a wilderness area of incredible contrasts, dusty tracks, abundant river systems, crystal clear creeks and spectacular waterfalls. There are breathtaking beaches, rich rainforest areas supporting varied fauna and flora, from the wild untamed bush to the friendliness of the people of the Torres Strait, Cape York will surprise and delight any visitor. At this time Cape York is untouched, providing a valuable insight into this unique land mass that is steeped in beauty and history.
The distance from the village of Cooktown to the tip of Australia is about 700 km where the finger of the Cape York Peninsula points to New Guinea, which lies beyond the islands of the Torres Strait. On the Eastern side of the Peninsula from Cairns to Cooktown steep mountains clad in rainforest slope gently down to the ocean, this is where the rainforest meets the reef and the views over the Great Barrier Reef combined with the rich rainforest colours has to be one of the most spectacular sights you could ever see and is one of the most scenic areas in Australia.
Further north the country becomes much drier with sandstone & granite areas and hundreds of kilometres of windswept beaches where time and tide have eroded cliffs into fascinating shapes. A belt of Limestone outcrops, which were once coral reefs, extends from Chillago to the North of the Palmer River. To the west, rivers flow and emerge amongst the mangroves and join the grey waters of the Gulf of Carpentaria. The many National Parks are wide and varied, each having a unique value of its own.
There are only two seasons on Cape York Peninsula the “wet” and the “dry”. The wet is by far the most spectacular, from the end of November thunderstorms herald the beginning of the monsoonal rain. The parched land is replenished and the once dry rivers and creeks again flow. It is from January until April that the roads north of the village of Cooktown will become impassable and the only way to visit the Cape York region is be by aircraft. At the end of the wet season the southeast trade winds return drying the land, The once parched land is now green & lush and the wildflowers flourish. Mungumby Lodge is accessible all year round.
Cooktown village things to visit…..
- The Wharf
- History Centre
- Botanic Gardens
- Waterfront Park
- Grassy Hill
- Finch Bay
- Mt Cook hike
- Quarantine Bay
- Keatings Lagoon Conservation area
- James Cook Museum (limited openning hours)
- The Croc shop
Cooktown regional things to do
- Grassy Hill – lighthouse lookout in Cooktown
- World Heritage Rainforest – Helenvale, Rossville, Shiptons Flat, Cedar Bay.
- Mt Cook – a view of the (GBR) reef from a walking track on the north spur.
- Archer Point – Wilderness Coast area between Cooktown & Black Mountain
- Black Mountain (Kalkajaka) – a 260 million-year-old rock formations
- Bloomfield falls – waterfalls at Wujal Wujal, Bloomfield River.
- Little Annan gorge – gorge system the catchments for the Annan River
- Mungumby Waterfalls (all year) and ancient Rainforest and Lions Den Mine hike.
- Weary Bay – a stunning beach at the entrance to the Bloomfield River