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Photo of a place on Cook trail

The Endeavour River estuary provided a safe anchorage for Captain James Cook in 1770, to repair his ship HMS Endeavour, before his exploration moved north up the east coast of Australia. Cooktown owes its existence to the discovery of gold on the Palmer River more than a century later. Endeavour River was declared a port of entry in 1874, allowing immigrants to sail directly into the port to seek their fortune on the goldfields. In 1874, the town was surveyed; a customs house and bond store built and a canvas township sprang up on the banks of the river. Gold discoveries led to an influx of Chinese to Cooktown and the Palmer River. The population of Chinese rose from 2000 in 1874 to 17000 in mid-1877 – more than 90% of the total population. Many early Cooktown buildings were lost in a major cyclone in 1907 and a fire in 1918. Others were demolished during preparations for a visit by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II to celebrate the Captain Cook bicentenary in 1970. Nevertheless, the township retains many fine buildings; particularly the James Cook Historical Museum in the former St Mary’s Convent. Chinese artefacts are included in the museum displays. The Cooktown cemetery includes a Chinese Shrine. The botanic gardens, which were once partly Chinese market gardens, now include an art gallery and interpretation centre. Today, Cooktown is a tourist town with a range of offerings, from Indigenous heritage to fishing excursions. It is also the base for those wishing to explore Cape York.

There are numerous mining heritage sites in this region. The Palmer Goldfield Regional Park can be accessed by experienced drivers with well-equipped and high-clearance four wheel drive vehicles; however it is closed during the wet season. Check with Queensland Parks and Wildlife Service before attempting to visit.


Listing 15 places within this trail.

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