Replenishment, recovery and repair base
30.08.2012 - 01.09.2012 28 °C
Cooktown is a small town located at the mouth of the Endeavour River, where Lieutenant James Cook beached his crippled ship, the Endeavour, for repairs to its hull in 1770. When the Endeavour struck the reef, 23 hours passed before she was floated off, everyone on board took their turn at manning the pumps, falling down exhausted before another took his place. This was a very desperate time for Endeavour’s men as most of them couldn’t swim and they would surely drown if she sank. They had to keep her afloat and that they did, finally warping her into the harbour 5 days later after fothering the ship by pulling a sail under her bottom so that she wouldn’t sink.
The British crew spent seven weeks on the site of present-day Cooktown, repairing their ship, replenishing food and water supplies, and caring for their sick. The British scientist, Joseph Banks, and Swedish naturalist Daniel Solander, who accompanied Cook on the expedition, collected, preserved and documented over 200 new species of plants along the Endeavor River. After some weeks, Joseph Banks met and spoke with the local people, recording about 50 Guugu Yimithirr words, including the name of the intriguing animal the natives called gangurru (which he transcribed as "Kangaru"). Cook recorded the local name as "Kangooroo". The first recorded sighting of kangaroos by Europeans was on Grassy Hill, which rises 500 meters above Cooktown. Cook climbed this hill to work out a safe passage for the Endeavour to sail through the surrounding reefs and sandbanks, after it was repaired. He commented that with the prevailing south-easterly winds he will not be able to sail back south (as there are numerous sandbanks and reefs towards the east and south) and will have to continue sailing north, close to the coast. This led to him finding the straits around Cape York and then landing at Possession Island.
Cooktown was founded more than 100 years later, originally named Cook's Town, on 25 October 1873 as a supply port for the busy goldfields along the Palmer River. During the Second World War, Cooktown became an important base for the war effort. The civilian population of Cooktown was encouraged to evacuate in the face of the Japanese advances and by 1942 the vast majority had left. Some 20,000 Australian and American troops were stationed in and around the town. The busy airfield played a key role in the crucial Battle of the Coral Sea when Japanese expansion towards the Australian mainland was finally halted.
Present day Cooktown is a quaint little town in beautiful surroundings. Wide streets with impressive handmade stone guttering, historic buildings that were once the hub of commercial activity, and graceful, well-preserved Queenslander architecture give a hint of days gone by. The bitumen paving of the Mulligan Highway, which reached Cooktown in 2006, now provides all-weather access by road.
We also used Cooktown as a replenishment, recovery and repair base after our grueling 2,900 km corrugated gravel roads and rough 4WD tracks trip through Cape York Peninsula for a month. I had to get urgent repairs done to the Land Cruiser (snapped UHF radio antenna and loose spot light) and Quantum (badly cut tyre wall) after the punishment they received on the badly corrugated roads and the Frenchmans Track. The rest of the repairs to the Quantum will have to wait until we reach the manufacturers in Caloundra at the end of October. Although both the Land Cruiser and Quantum are supposed to be dust proof, we had to do some serious cleaning to get all the settled dust out of the two vehicles. The powdery bull dust of Cape York gets into any small hole and crevice. The worst of the rough roads are now behind us but in a way the rough roads are also a blessing as they keep the crowds away and allow those who are suitably equipped to visit many stunning remote places.
We liked Cooktown and the caravan park (Cooktown Holiday Park) is the best carvan park we have stayed at so far, with big shady sites and nice clean amenities. We received visits by bandicoots every evening and they were tame enough to allow me to take some photographs. We liked the Fisherman's Wharf and had lunch and dinner there on the first and last day, watching the local fishermen try their luck and watching a magnificent sunset.
Unfortunately my stay in Cooktown was spoiled by a thief who pickpocketed me in one of the local shops. When I wanted to pay my wallet was gone and after a quick search we found it on the ground. I was relieved and paid by credit card but did not notice that my cash (about $200) was gone and only discovered that later in another shop. I was lucky the thief only took my cash and I wasn't knifed like Lorraine was in Fremantle some years ago. Ironically, we are now both victims of crime in Australia and we both escaped this fate whilst living in South Africa. I guess you become complacent living in a relatively safe country.
It is now 6 months since we arrived in Australia for this Big Lap and there are still 9 months to go. We have already travelled 23,500 km which is 60% of the original planned distance, due to detours and the vast distances in northern and central Australia. We have been to about 45% (77) of the places we plan to visit. From here the travelling should be relatively easier with less rough gravel roads and 4WD tracks as well as shorter distances.
From Cooktown we will travel down to Daintree National Park tomorrow and camp at Noah Beach, Cape Tribulation for seven days.