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Cairns to Cooktown Chinese heritage trail

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Photo of a place on Cairns to Cooktown Chinese heritage trail

The Cairns to Cooktown trail travels by the Cook Highway through to Port Douglas, and the Mulligan Highway to Cooktown. The Cook Highway passes through forest and sandy coves until it reaches the Mowbray River. Travel through the cane fields to Port Douglas Road where the Chinese used to grow rice, maize and bananas.

Depart Port Douglas, calling in at Mossman Gorge. Continue to Cooktown where Captain Cook repaired the HMS Endeavour in 1770.

Cooktown once had a large Chinese population, with a temple located on Adelaide Street. Sections of the Cooktown Botanic Gardens were originally occupied by Chinese market gardeners.

Cooktown was the port for the Palmer River goldfields in the early 1870s. The Hop Kee Company was landing around a thousand Chinese miners a month at this time.

The Chinese community occupied the block bounded by Adelaide, Furneaux, Charlotte and Walker Streets. Their temple faced the sea across Adelaide Street. The temple is no longer there, but temple artefacts are housed at the James Cook Historical Museum.

At the northern end of the Esplanade, pause at Cooktown’s Chinese Monument acknowledging the contribution made by Chinese miners and market gardeners.

The Cooktown Cemetery on Charlotte Street contains numerous Chinese graves and a shrine.

Picturesque Lizard Island, northeast of Cooktown, remembers the Chinese involvement in bêche-de-mer (sea cucumber) harvesting and processing. Stone remnants of these operations are found on the island—a short flight from Cairns.

Captain Robert Watson had worked the bêche-de-mer processing operation on the island in 1879. By 1880, Robert and his wife Mary both lived on the island. Two Chinese men, Ah Sam and Ah Leong, were employed to assist in the Watson’s house and garden. The Mary Watson Monument in Cooktown is a memorial to Mary and her tragic story.


Listing 4 places within this trail.

Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY 4.0)
Last reviewed
1 July 2022
Last updated
28 February 2023