Up early for the drive to Cooktown. The country up here is a strange mix between desert and rainforest, and the start of our trip was quite foggy. First stop was Mount Carbine for fuel where I took some awesome photos of Pale-headed Rosella and then realised my memory card was still in the computer, d’oh!
Bob’s Lookout was the next stop for a few photos (memory card in the camera this time). The road winds up through the hills and the lookout has views across to the next range and in between is totally flat and covered in desert trees and grass. The colours are spectacular, all red dirt, blue sky, green trees and yellow grass.
Next we stopped at Palmer River Roadhouse for a quick look, Palmer River was the site of Queensland’s biggest gold rush when alluvial gold was discovered in the 1870’s. Along the drive we hoped to spot some Brolgas and Mum spotted some at a random roadside lagoon so I wheeled the car around and headed back for a look. Sure enough there was a pair with a juvenile and once we stopped we saw that there was a bigger lagoon behind the first one so I pulled the scope out for a look. The lagoon was covered in lily pads making it perfect habitat for Comb-crested Jacana, which we spotted, and we also saw Squatter Pigeon, Magpie Geese and a Jabiru.
Further up the road we came to Black Mountain National Park, which was one of the finds of the trip. We’d never heard of Black Mountain, which is a mountain made of black granite boulders. It’s very striking against the blue sky, red dirt and bright green trees of the surrounding country.
At lunchtime we rolled into Cooktown and headed for the Botanic Gardens. The gardens are some of the oldest in Australia and still have the original flowerbeds from 1890. It was too hot to spend too much time in the gardens though, so we headed back into town and checked out the waterfront, where we saw the James Cook Monument and James Cook Statue. They really love Captain Cook up here, the town is named after him you know.
We got some fish and chips from Gill’d and Gutt’d and ate them looking out over the Endeavour River. There are signs by the water that warn of recent crocodile sightings and advise you not to get into the water, exciting! Once we’d eaten, we checked into The Seaview Motel, which is across the road from the river and has a great view.
Then we headed to the James Cook Museum which originally was the St Mary’s Convent, built in 1889. The building was due to be demolished in 1969, but was saved by the people of Cooktown and the National Trust. It was restored and opened as a museum in 1970, by Queen Elizabeth II herself. The museum is a great mix of information about the building’s history, life at the convent, the Palmer River Gold Rush, Cooktown’s history and Captain Cook's time in the area (the Endeavor was beached here in 1770 for six weeks while she was repaired after a run in with the reef). The coolest artefacts in the museum are a cannon and the original anchor from the Endeavour.
We checked out a souvenir shop in town and then headed up the very steep, very windy road to the lighthouse on Grassy Hill, and enjoyed the 360-degree views of the Coral Sea, Endeavour River, Mt Cook and Cooktown from the lookout. The lookout is built on the site where Captain Cook and Joseph Banks stood in 1770 to survey the area and plot their route through the reefs back to open water. Admiring the view we could certainly imagine worse places to be stranded for six weeks.
We headed back down the hill and drove out to the Gunpowder Magazine which is where they stored explosives during the gold rush. It is the oldest brick building in Cape York, built in 1874. Did I mention we’re on Cape York? It’s that pointy bit up the top of Aus, yay! Next we drove across town to The Old Hospital, which is a beautiful timber building built in 1879.
Now that we’d completely worn Mum out, we dropped her off at the motel and headed just out of town to Keating’s Lagoon.
I was hoping for Pied Heron and Green Pygmy-goose but dipped out on both, though we did manage to see some Helmeted Friarbirds, another lifer.
We made it back to the motel just in time to watch the sun set over the river and then we walked down to the bowling club for dinner. I had wild local Barramundi with creamy garlic prawns and it was really good. Then we headed back to the motel to get some shut-eye for the drive back to Cairns tomorrow. As I type this Mum and Lil Sis are asleep, totally exhausted, I guess that means we’re holidaying right…