We wound our way north of the tableland via Mareeba and Mount Molloy through the Great Dividing Range to arrive at Cooktown. We had a brief but interesting stop at Black Mountain, a place Kris has vague memories of from her last visit here exactly 30 years ago. From a distance this looks like a stockpile of coal, or perhaps black heaped up pebbles, almost completely free of vegetation, but up close it is composed of huge granite boulders, covered in black lichen, very interesting. Legend has it that plenty of people have gone missing over the years in the cracks and crevices between the boulders. Now it is strictly out-of-bounds and you are only allowed to look from a distance.
Now that we’ve realised we can borrow and return items on a tourist card from the Rural libraries of Queensland, our first stop was the Cooktown library for an exchange of kids books. We called our German hosts, Katie and Robert, to find our address for the next four nights. Cooktown is tiny, and they are perfectly placed being at the edge of the botanic gardens and near the beach, yet they are only a few minutes from the main street. Unfortunately our timing was rotten as they were off the next morning before the crack of dawn to drop one lot of friends at the airport and spend the weekend in Cairns with other friends.
This meant two days on our own camped out in their front yard. Saturday 15th August marked day 217, the time is really starting to fly! After a sleep in and slow start, we wandered into town to catch local markets in the park. There wasn’t a lot to see but Sam was excited to find a stall peddling gemstones and fossils (after our recent visits to various gemstone exhibits he’s hooked). He bought a fossilized nautilus shell and some lapis lazuli while I thought I’d spice things up a little and bought a curry for dinner. James awoke his inner musician and played on the ‘musical ship’, a vague tribute to Cook’s Endeavour, with musical notes made by belting different parts of the ship. Sam joined him later for a two key recital of Beethoven’s Ninth.
The view from the town park was beautiful, and it was great to see the sea again. One thing we noticed in Cooktown (which we’d been warned about) was the wind. It seems to roll across the land in waves, or ‘bullets’ in local parlance. It can be quite still, then you hear it coming through the forest, then whoosh, after a few minutes, it is gone again and is quite still – just like sets of waves at the beach. At about 5am, Kris and I woke to heavy rain, our first since Karijini in WA. It lasted just a few minutes. That seems to be how the weather rolls here, very unpredictable, but not unpleasant. After the markets, the boys spent the afternoon playing on the local beach at Finch Bay. A very pretty beach with excellent fine sand for building castles, roads and cities for their monster trucks – another addition to my big-lap-sand-collection exercise. The huge granite boulders reminded us of Albany in WA, only the threat of monster crocs and killer stingers at every water way brings you crashing back to earth!
Next day we paid homage to Cook’s impromptu 1770 stopover with a visit to the Cook Museum. Only an anchor and canon from Endeavour are on display. These were retrieved from the sea floor in 1971, and are from Cook’s attempt to lighten his stricken bark after striking the reef in 1770. The rest of the items relate to the building’s convent history and other sea-faring memorabilia. The boys were chuffed to see an inscription on the wall that Pa had taught them years ago “Captain Cook chased a chook, all around Australia, he lost his pants in the middle of France and found them in Tasmania“. That afternoon, after a visit to take in the beautiful vista from the lighthouse, the boys were drawn back to the beach like moths to a street light.
Next morning, with Robert and Katie back from Cairns, it was like being in a restaurant with too many choices – we were asked to choose between waterfalls, more waterfalls, deserted beaches and a trip up the Endeavour River on Robert’s boat. After some vacillation, we picked the Endeavour River option. Kris quickly whipped up a picnic dinner whilst I packed fishing and camera gear. We went about 15 km up the river, spotting a few salties along the way.
We tried trawling lures and fly casting with my Barra Buster lure – without luck. It also didn’t help that I’d forgotten the bait! Sam wrote in his journal that all we caught were trees! At one point, we moored at the river bank, with Robert taking Sam, James and I, complete with his 338 Magnum hunting rifle, for a walk into the rainforest. Thankfully we spotting nothing larger than a mosquito. It made me appreciate how tough it must have been for early explorers to explore and navigate in the dense corpulent forest. After dinner, we slowly motored back with me perched on the bow with a huge spot light – searching for tell-tale orange glints along the way – croc eyes. Once locked on, we cruised, motor off, to see these magnificent beasts. We spotted one monster that all agreed was 5.5m plus. I wasn’t too worried, even when this large fellow slid silently off the bank and submerged, right under the boat.
All too soon it was time to pack up. I was reminded yet again just how generous complete strangers can be. Robert and Katie were wonderful hosts, inviting us to stay and use their place, even when they had other friends staying, and even when they were away. All Robert asked for in return was a daily coffee from my magic little Bellman CX-25P coffee machine – a good investment that one. Not many places have tempted me away from Newcastle, but Cooktown would be very high on the list of places I could live for a year or two. The other benefit is that now we are off the tablelands, and 700 m lower at sea level, the nights are 10 degrees warmer. Days from 18-28 are much nicer.