The Ultimate Far North Road Trip to Cooktown


Cooktown, a tiny town located on the mouth of the Endeavour River, Cape York Peninsula in Far North Queenslands (FNQ) is a thriving historical town. With its past rich history that is waiting to be explored.

Cooktown in Brief

Cooktown, a coastal town and locality in the shire of Cook, Queensland, Australia is at the mouth of the Endeavour River, on Cape York Peninsula in FNQ. Historically, this town is justifiably famous as the site of the first white ‘settlement’ in Australia, having struck the Great Barrier Reef off the coast north of Cape Tribulation. It has struggled up the coast and beached the H.M. Barque Endeavour on the shores of the Endeavour River, infested with crocodiles. This is where James Cook beached his ship, the Endeavour, for repairs in 1770.

Since, the inland road has been sealed to Cooktown, it is easy to get to and has increased the number of travellers to this town. Today, it has become a popular northern point for those not wanting to make the long, arduous and difficult journey to the top of Cape York. Cooktown is a charming little town which wears its history – lots of statues of Captain Cook and a number of impressive buildings constructed during the gold mining boom at Palmer River in the 1880s – with ease. In recent times, it has been driven by tourism and particularly, fishing. Many grey-nomads make their journey here annually during winter months and the whole town becomes a sea of caravans and motorhomes.

About the trip

A great outdoor road trips are part of Australian culture. From camping, fishing to great adventure 4WD road trips and Australia got it all. I love road adventure trips, since I moved to Australia 30 years ago and I never stopped exploring. There is so much to see in this great big country and the best way to do this, is by road. To make some memorable holidays for an lone free independent traveller like myself, I decided to take on this road trip from Cairns to Cootown. This will be remembered forever in my ultimate road trip. My three day weekend trip began by taking the inland road to Cooktown before taking the infamous coastal dirt track back to Cairns through Bloomfield track and Daintree-Cape Tribulation. The road and scenery between inland and coastal road is compeletely different.

Why Go?

I had visited Cooktown a number of times over 16 years ago when the road was an unsealed very rough rock track. Since then, I heard so much about the changes that has taken place in this tiny charming town. This has always fascinated me to venture back to explore and see the changes that have taken place in the intervening years. Knowning, Cooktown is a small charming historical town, unspoilt by the urgency of modern life and its close proximity to nearby reefs, deserted beaches and river systems make it an ideal fishing destination. Though, it is best known for its endemic wildlife, culture, history and bird watching, the region is an enchating place to call home. Having few days blocked off my calendar, it was time to take a self-drive road trip adventure of a lifetime from Cairns to Cooktown, once again and to tick off the travel open road trip list. This road trip is a journey I won’t forget.

The road trip

Without any delay in taking this road trip, I took the comfortable inland road to Cooktown from Cairns and back via coastal road, a driving adventure that I won’t forget. The drive only take four hours to reach Cooktown, is a world of nature, history and fascination outback characters. Though it is an easy drive, there was plenty of time for me to break up the 327 kilometre journey and took me five hours to reach the township of Cooktown. Along the way, I had to tick off seeing some of the big things and stop in at some of the prettiest lookouts and road-houses. Here, I get to see more of our stunning outback country scenery and maintain my sanity, entertaining myself. The beauty of travelling alone is, I can stop as many times as I want and I can even spend an extra night in some of these great locations.


With the size of Cooktown township, I only required a solid couple of days to explore this town. Started my trip off early on Friday mid-morning, as it takes decent four hours along the inland road from Cairns to Cooktown. Departing Cairns, on my adventurous Cairns to Cooktown self-drive road trip, I headed due north and taking in magnificent views of the Coral Sea along the Great Barrier Reef Drive towards Mossman. Just before the township of Mossman, turning left off the Captain Cook Highway, I headed up the windy Mt Molloy Range, merging onto Mulligan Highway that lead to Cooktown. Travelling along this inland road, the lush green tropical vegetation of Cairns and tropical rainforest of Mt Molloy range was soon replaced by fields of vast dry savannah grassland dotted with giant termite mounds. By then, I was ready for my Queensland outback adventure.

It is no doubt that it was tempting to veer off the Great Barrier Reef Drive or Mossman-Mt Molloy road in search of an ocean swim or birdwatching in the rainforest but being smarter with the use of my time, I swing through Port Douglas, Mossman, Julatten, Mt Molloy townships and bypass the beach before reaching Mt Carbine roadhouse, 30 kilometres away from Mt Molloy for refuel and a mid-morning cool drink. Mount Carbine is a tiny rural town, with only a population of 101 people.

After briefly stopping at Mt Carbine, I continued my three hour drive to Palmer River roadhouse with stops along the way for stunning scenic views of the outback savannah land. The road along this highway is a dry savannah landscape and is fairly flat all the way to Cooktown which made it comfortable and easy to drive as well for caravans and 2WDs. Before reaching Palmer River Roadhouse, I veered off the highway to Bob’s Lookout for scenery and photo opportunties. This is the only 6-7 kilometre of steep incline along the highway, which wasn’t a strain to my car as I packed my car wihout a lot of weight.

I stopped briefly at the Palmer River Roadhouse, an oasis for gold-seekers in the area before driving on to my lunch spot by a shady tree, next to the bathrooms in Lakeland, which is the gateway to the tip of Australia – Cape York. The two hour drive from Lakeland to Cooktown, like most of the scenery along the highway had not much spectacular views to see, except arid land, cattle, wallabies, birds and some funny road signs before stopping at the side of the road to take a view of mysterious eerie Black Mountain and to gawk at the giant piles of black grante boulders or imposing mountain made up of large black rocks. From Black Mountain, it was an easy 25 kilometre of drive into Cooktown before dark, in time to settle and evening out.


Arriving in this humble and quiet town of Cooktown, I was amazed to discover that not a lot has changed. There was nothing much to look at after arriving late in the afternoon but there was the water-front, jetty, beach and the lookout – Grassyhill. Cooktown is a very small town and is not that big and almost everything can be reached on foot. This town many not be the capital of sun, sea and surf destination and has stiff competition for that title but it is really worth a visit. The natural beauty makes up for that. It is beautiful and is a paradise haven for adventurers, caravaners and fishermen.

Though, settling in at the motel that overlooks across the Endveavour River, camping has always been my style but on this trip, staying in the motel was my best option as I only had couple of nights there. There are number of accommodations around the town and there is no doubt, this town have plenty of places to suit your style and budget. Just before heading off to a local restaurant for a sunset dinner, I headed up to Grassy-Hill for the sunset view, a must view to see when in town. Yes, a visit to Cooktown would not be complete without taking in the panoramic views from the Grassy Hill Lookout. The view and the sunset didn’t disappoint me. An obligatory stroll to the jetty after dinner marked the first of my visit to Cooktown’s evening fishing spot before heading back to the motel and calling it a night.


The following day, waking up to the early morning sea-breeze, I headed straight to Grassy-Hill to view the sunrise from the top, more photo opportunities. The glittering spray of arrays spreading across the calm sea and over the Cooktown township was quiet spectacular on its own right. Just how marvelous to see it all, made a perfect start to my day. After brilliant start to the morning, I had breakfast at the local cafe before exploring this quiet town. I had to cover as much ground as possible which was essential to make the most of my weekend.

One of the best ways to start the day in exploring Cooktown was taking a walk around the town and along the town’s waterfront. Had the opportunity to stop and admire Captain James Cook’s monument on the bank of the Endeavour River, just where his crew repaired the Endeavour and many other interesting plagues. Seeing its beautiful harbour and the historical significance as the first Europeans settled in Australia, the town’s buildings reflect the sentiment of an earlier time. To learn and understand the history of this tiny town, I began with a visit to James Cook Museum, Cooktown History Centre, Botanical Garden and Nature’s Power-House. The museum is set in a stunning 19th century convent with lots of history between Captain James Cook and the indigenous people. It also showcases fascinating heritage of Cooktown, While the History Centre has great amount of rich information that is set out in chronological order which is absolutely amazing. As I walked through, I could see the transition from Cook’s visit to present day. It was worth it. The Botanical Garden takes you through spectacular rainforest trees and variety of unique plants, pods and more while Nature’s Power-House has a large interpretive centre, a natural history display, gift store, cafe as well as information centre.

Next, I was to embark on one of the most thrilling ways to see Cooktown’s natural wonderland – beach and waterfalls. A walk along to Finch Bay. This bay is a beautiful and secluded beach located just metres away from the Botanical Gardens but I chose to drive there and took a stroll along the beach which breaks out to the spectacular coastal scenery across the bay. Hardly anyone around made it like my own private beach and made sure to stay well clear of the water as it is a crocodile country. Next, was the Isabella Falls, a stunning location with easy access. It is a beautiful waterfall, virtually on the side of the road and not too far out of town before heading for a drive to Archer Point’s Lighthouse. For a thrilling adventure, Trevethan Falls was a perfect place to explore. A 4WD and fitness is the key to locating this waterfall. To reach the falls, it was not easy, little hard to find, was steep, difficult to access and was not a simple walk to the falls from the car park. However, once, I reached the location, the view and the total environment, it was definitely well worth the effort. It is truely a spectacular waterfalls and a refreshing swimming hole. A great place to swim and cool off from walking and making my way around the area. The natural beauty of this very special part of Australia and experiencing it on a weekend adventure road trip made me realise how lucky I was to be able to soak up the tropical paradise as Mother Nature intended.

A feeling of relief and satisfaction, before too long, I was back to the motel for a easy relaxing swim in the pool and a quick change of clothes for an afternoon walk along the waterfront to the jetty. A perfect day and a perfect meal was capped off by the restaurant with a perfect sunset night.


Knowing that the weekend was nearing its end and that my hours in this small country town were now limited, it was time to get up and be on the road once again. Leaving early, I had the option for an early morning visit to few places before getting back onto the dirt track. The coastal road back from Cooktown, which includes the Bloomfield Track, Cape Tribulation and Daintree took me through the world of nature, history and fascinating outback characters. It is a natural paradise and is ranked as one of Australia’s top adventure road trips. Giving myself plenty of time, my five hour drive along the coast road was more scenic as I travel through beautiful rainforest scenery with few challenges along the way. Most section of the road was unsealed and there were quiet a few creek crossings which can make the road impassable in the wet season and few sections of the road were steep, so good working brakes was a must in taking this road.

Leaving Cooktown and heading south, it wasn’t long before, I had my first stop at Lion’s Den, where there is a ‘must-visit’ pub, a typical old Aussie bush pub. It was a quirky place but this was the perfect place to see the ‘real’ Australia and a chance to meet the real locals of the outback. One simply cannot drive past this one and a stop here was an absolute must as I had to admire the collection of memorabilia. Leaving Lions Den behind, I was now ready to tackle the iconic 4WD Bloomfield Track. A drive along the unsealed road and through a little town of Ayton where the road snales along beside the Bloomfield River and eventually arriving in Wujal Wujal, a small indigenous community where I stopped to have a look in the art centre and used the bathroom before taking a look at Bloomfield Falls. This fall is quiet impressive and was only a short walk from the carpark but few some rock-hopping to do.

Continuing south, through dirt and rough Bloomfield Track, I eventually reached Cape-Tribulation. At this point, the road becomes sealed again. Cape Tribulation is a very popular destinations for visitors from Cairns, all travellers and many coach tours making their daily day-trips for rainforest, reef and sea experience. Before heading straight down to Cairns, my last adventure was a walk along Marrdja Boardwalk set up in this awesome Daintree rainforest. By then, the views switched between rainforest and beach, making my way through the ancient Daintree Rainforest until I reached the Daintree Ferry that took me across to the mainland. Once crossing the ferry, it was the gateway to Cairns, driving through Mossman, past Port Douglas and onto one of the most breathtaking coastal roads in Australia. Taking in the magnificent views of the Coral Sea as I head all the way into Cairns.

As I approached Cairns, I could not help thinking, how this ultimate adventure road trip from Cairns to Cooktown was well worth it. Up through inland road and heading home via coastal route, both with completely different scenery was an Australian experience, I will likely remember for years to come.

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Categories: ROAD TRIP

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