Cooktown

We had a day in Cooktown when we were living in Innisfail. That was for the centenary of the arrival of the Augustinians in Cooktown in 1884. We flew from Cairns with a parish group, visited the cemetery where some Augustinians were buried, ate lunch, visited a museum, and flew back to Cairns. We hoped to see a little more this time.

There was no rush this morning but we were on the road by 8:00 am and heading south from Mossman and then west on the road toward Mareeba. The road up the range was steep and winding with dense rainforest on both sides. There were a couple of awkwardly placed lookouts on the right side along the way but neither was easily accessible across the highway so we passed them by.

Once over the top of the range the countryside was more open drier forest and farmland. We were surprised to see a couple of trucks hauling trailer loads of sugar cane billets back toward Mossman. We had not thought of cane being grown beyond the coastal plain but we passed a couple of cane farms near Julatten.

At the T-junction we turned right to take the Mulligan Highway north toward Cooktown. The road was in good condition with some long straight stretches and some winding hilly sections. The countryside was more mountainous than we had expected and there were several stretches with numerous large anthills. The smaller ones were sharply conical but larger ones often looked like a collection of lumps of material. Perhaps the shaping is a result of rain softening the soil and allowing it to flow into strange shapes. 

The vegetation was varied but there were many areas where white trunked ghost gums dominated. Majella was fascinated by a shrub that she glimpsed occasionally with round green fruit about the size of a ping pong ball. Most often those plants had few leaves but occasionally there seemed to be yellow flowers. We never managed to spot one near a place where we could stop for her to get a photo.

I drove as far as Palmer River roadhouse, about 2 hours from Mossman. We paused there to make and drink coffee with some of the fruit cake Majella had brought. I went inside in search of chocolate (on instruction) but the best I could find was a bag of Chicos.

Majella drove on from there. We stopped once at the lookout and information spot atop Byerstown Range. There was information about the Cape region and sweeping views over the surrounding area.

Angela had recommended the Lions Den pub where she and Liam ate on their recent trip to Cooktown. It is on a side road about 30 km short of Cooktown but well advertised with signs 30 km south of that. We arrived there around 11:30 am. That was too early for the full lunch menu but they had pizza available so we ordered that. It was tasty and well covered in toppings but too much for us so we sequestered the remaining pieces in napkins for later.

I had been checking maps as Majella drove and had seen that Black Mountain National Park ran alongside the road just beyond the turn off to Lions Den. As we turned in we saw a mountainside strewn with black boulders and surmised that was Black Mountain. As we rejoined the main road after leaving Lions Den we watched for a park entry and soon spotted the turnoff to a lookout which is the only access to the park. The restriction is in deference to the significance of the site to traditional owners and the dangerous landscape. The mountain is a grey granite dome the surface of which has been weathered and cracked into boulders that are blackened by lichen. The boulders are prone to occasional movement and breakage and there are numerous cavities. We were able to look and photograph from the lookout before driving on.

Annan River National Park was signed on the road but there was no obvious access from the highway. It does extend toward the mouth of the river and there may be access elsewhere but we did not pursue that. As we drove into town Majella saw a sign to Endeavour Falls and thought that might be another national park. It wasn’t but it sounded interesting so we drove the 30 km up the Endeavour Valley to the tourist park where we were able to walk to what we found was a low basalt shelf on the north arm of the Endeavour River with a small flow of water. On the way to and from we drove along the edge of the Endeavour River National park but it was another with no obvious access point.

Back in town we checked the location of our campground and then drove on to the information centre at the Botanic Gardens. I arranged coffee while Majella sought information about what to do in Cooktown. She was warned off Mount Cook National park because the path is steep and rough but got advice about museums in town and was advised that Grassy Hill was a good place to view the sunset.

We visited the historical society museum in the main street arriving just 30 minutes before it closed at 3:00 pm. We managed to see a range of exhibits about the early history of Cooktown and the hinterland but there was much more detail we could have viewed if we had more time. 

After the museum we walked around the town a little and then walked along the river toward the mouth, passing the sites where Cook repaired the Endeavour and the wharf area where those who came for the Palmer River gold rush arrived. The riverside park has facilities for exercise and fun including spaces for fishing and a waterpark that was being enjoyed as we passed.

Grassy Hill looked steep so we thought we should check it in daylight before attempting it at sunset. Signage at the foot forbade caravans and vehicles over 7 m. We hesitated since I recalled our van was 7.1 m. We need not have worried since several of the parking spaces up the hill are reserved for buses which must surely be longer than our van. The views were spectacular and we resolved to return for sunset a little before 6:00 pm.
By then it was close to 4:30 pm and time to secure our campsite. The park was close to full but I had booked and we were soon in our site where we relaxed until it was time to reheat our leftover lunch pizza in the microwave while we had power and head up to Grassy Hill to enjoy it with the sunset.

We arrived at Grassy Hill as the sun was sinking through some low cloud with a golden glow in the sky and crepuscular rays. We watched for a while as we ate our pizza and then waited with camera for the 20 minutes or so until full sunset. There was plenty of golden glow but Majella missed the bright pinks that we sometimes get in Toowoomba. Once the sun had gone we drove back down to our camp site to settle for the night.