Nearly 30 years ago we spent a delightful week sheltering from the weather in Cooktown after our return on our yacht Rondo from Papua New Guinea.
For some of that time we were unable to leave our boat as we hadn’t yet cleared customs but luckily for us, the customs boat was sent to Cooktown on the lookout for drug traffickers and while there were able to “clear” us to go ashore.
We loved that sleepy little place, the most northerly settlement of any size – apart from some remote Aboriginal communities – on Australia’s Eastern seaboard.
Captain Cook and his crew limped into Cooktown in 1770 on their ship Endeavour after it had been badly damaged when swept on to a coral reef, south of Cooktown.
Of course the place has changed a lot since then but it isn’t hard to imagine how it looked in Cook’s day.
Not much had changed in the almost thirty years since our last visit, however. A fish and chip shop at the wharf, a few coffee shops and a couple of restaurants, one hotel built using an existing building but other than that and few more cars and people, it looked almost exactly the same.
Still the one wide main street, along the shores of the river entrance. Still the long stand of mangroves stretching inland as far as the eye can see. Still the same notices telling the public to Beware of Crocodiles! Still the big old mango trees full of fruit bats. Still the graceful, solid buildings dating from gold rush days and still the fascinating local museum in a rickety old Queenslander building.
Cooktown in its heyday was a bustling, thriving town, full of pubs (scores of them at the height of the gold rush) and brothels. Many thousands of hopeful prospectors and others of European and Chinese origin, flocked to the town in the mid nineteenth century, hoping to make their fortune by striking gold or at the vey least, make a good living from providing services to the diggers.
The people who live there now are there for the fishing, the quiet life and the sense of community. They are an extremely friendly bunch and there are still many old timers who rarely leave to go to “the big smoke” i.e. Cairns.
When we went to the post office to collect a couple of items that had been sent fro Brisbane they knew all about us and who we were, where we were from, where were going etc etc.
One thing that really has changed is the number of yachts anchored in the little harbour there. It was so crowded that we ended up anchoring in very shallow water which landed us with Bali Hai leaning on the muddy bottom on our first morning.
We ended up having to move near to the harbour entrance to find some deep water where we could swing round without hitting anyone. Some of the bigger boats gave up trying to anchor in the end and tied up to the wharf instead.