Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Cooktown and the Surrounding Area

Over the Christmas holidays 2008 Erik, my American friend L, and I drove up to Cooktown, Queensland. Cooktown is 2000 km north of Brisbane and about 300 km north of Cairns. It is closer to the Great Barrier Reef than Cairns, and thus it has the potential to become a large tourist destination. However, currently it is still a remote small town of around 2,000 residents.

Many people fly into Cairns to see the Great Barrier Reef as it is a medium city with a international airport and full services. It is also the most convenient access point to Cooktown for most visitors. To access Cooktown from Cairns you can either rent a car and drive 300 km around the mountains or fly up in a small plane. If you have a good 4WD vehicle in the dry season, you can drive up the Bloomfield Track which follows the coast up from Cape Tribulation to Bloomfield and is a bit shorter.

As it was the beginning of the wet season and our car is our only car, we decided to take the longer route around the mountains. I wasn't expecting too much exciting from this drive, but it was actually quite exciting. First we went over the rainforest mountains and down into a drier cattle country with giant termite mounds. The cattle weren't exactly fenced so we had to be on the constant lookout for cattle in the road which was a new experience for us. In addition to cattle there were a large number of wallabies all along the road, and sadly a number of dead ones on the road. I had never seen so many wild wallabies previously.

Cooktown itself was a small town with a single IGA grocery. We stayed at the The Sovereign Resort which was a nice hotel with a large swimming pool, restaurant, bar, and bottle shop or liquor store. Rooms offered AC, but as with much of Australia the rest of the resort was a tropical open plan.

We soon discovered that many of the town's attractions were closed for the holiday season. The hotel restaurant was closed, though the bar was serving food along with a few restaurants in town. The restaurant looked quite nice so I was disappointed that we did not get to try it out. The Nature's Power House which is a information center connected to the Botanical Gardens was closed which was disappointing since I had heard they have interesting books on the local flora and fauna that I wanted to see.

I had discovered before we arrived that the two reef operators in town were closed as well. I can't tell you too much about them except they operate on a much smaller scale than the reef operators in Port Douglas that I have been on previously. I suspect that this means you leave some of the luxuries behind, but get the opportunity for a more individualized tour. Cooktown Catch a Crab and Ahoy Plane Sailing Sea Planes were recommended to me by the resort and looked like a lot of fun. I hope to get back up to Cooktown to try them out later this year.

However, we still had a great couple of days exploring the region. We took a customized all day tour of the local area by Bart's Bush Adventures. Bart was an enjoyable tour guide with lots of good local knowledge. He showed us rainforest, cattle country, waterfalls, and the amazing coloured sands on Elim Beach which is part of the Hope Vale Aboriginal Lands.

The next day we did an very enjoyable 4 hour walking tour with Willie of Guurrbi Tours to see local cave paintings and to learn some of the storied behind them. Willie was an amazing tour guide who was able to explain some of local aboriginal cultural spirituality as well as discussing modern concerns such as painting preservation for the future. I think Willie's tour was one of the most enjoyable tours I have ever taken.

The next day we headed back south. I would have liked more time to explore the York Peninsula, but without a hard core 4WD or a guide there was not that much more that we could have seen.

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