Cooktown revisited

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. 

Sailing into Cooktown
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.

Crowded Cooktown Harbour

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. 

Sunset at Cooktown Harbour

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.


Leaving Cooktown at dawn with one boat ahead of us
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. 


This little fellow came to visit us as we were sailing along – a tern of some kind i think
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.

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Salty tales from Bali Hai

In 2015, after a break from cruising of almost 30 years, my husband and I sailed off into the sunset - this time to the wonderful Islands of Indonesia and beyond. Three years passed and we swapped sails for wheels driving through Scandinavia and Europe in a motor home. Now we are on the brink of another adventure - buying a Lagoon 420 Catamaran in Athens. This is our story.

4 thoughts on “Cooktown revisited”

  1. It all looks beautiful and it must be great to return to all these places you went to thirty years ago on Rondo. It seems like such a long time ago!

    Martin thinks the bird is a crested tern, though he says it’s difficult to be absolutely certain without having anything in the picture to assess its size by. Apparently the usual problem with terns is that you see them flying past at a distance and can’t see the colour of the bill or legs – key identifiers! – but that’s easy in your picture. And you can see its crest, just about, in silhouette. Anyway, he’s the expert so I’ll take his word for it! How lovely to have one on deck.



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