17-18 June: Cooktown serves up a feast of delights

Author: Mrs A

Location: from Mount Carbine to Cooktown, far North Queensland

Sunday: We began the day with a sunrise stroll along the Bustard Downs property, and true to its name there were several bustards about – large birds looking like flying roast turkeys, extremely ungainly!

We returned from our walk to have breakfast and pack up and let Tassie have final run around.Once we hit the road, we headed north through amazing scenery, the roads winding upwards between rolling hills, with several lookouts along the way.It was around 2pm that we rolled into Cooktown, the final frontier settlement before heading up Cape York. This is the top of the road on the east coast for us on this trip.

It just so happened that today was the finale of the Cooktown Discovery Festival, a three day event celebrating the landing of Captain Cook in this area to repair his ship in the Endeavour River (named after Cook’s ship), in June 1770.

We missed the re-enactment in full 1770 dress, but caught the end of the go-cart races, and watched the winner roll down the hill by the pub and crash through the barrier of hay bales. The local police were there with their speed guns to test how quickly the carts travelled – it all felt very quaint, like a 1980s England local village fete, with a lovely community feeling.Unlike in other areas of Australia, there is a real feeling of acceptance, with black (Aboriginal) kids running around with white kids, and the same with adults. We later chatted to a local Aboriginal guy who told us that Cooktown is probably the first place in Australia where there has been real reconciliation and acceptance amongst both parties. It certainly feels a lot closer than we have seen elsewhere.

We went into the Cooktown History Centre run by local volunteers. What an interesting place! It covered the history briefly of the local Aboriginal population (likely in this area for 40,000 years, concrete evidence of up to 15,000 years), through to Captain Cook’s landing with excerpts from diaries written on board the ship, right through to the gold rush in Victorian times, the impact of war, cyclones and up to current day. It even covered the visit of Queen Elizabeth II in 1970, with her royal car delivered by ship two days early.We walked along the Main Street just soaking up the atmosphere, before returning to the rig to drive another 20 minutes up to our campsite.

Several people had recommended we camp at Endeavour River Escape, a bush camping area at the back of a passion fruit farm. As we drove in, we were so impressed. A beautiful wooded area with defined campsites, each with their own fire and bbq, and plenty of space between each one.

Further still, as we were guided in to choose our spot, we noticed another Zone parked up. We decided to set up camp nearby. Eric and Gail, fellow members of the Zone Owners Facebook site and owners of Zone #92 popped over to say hello and exchange a few notes on how our vans are going. Yet more lovely Zoners – it must be a condition of purchase!

Monday: Tassie decided to forgive us for tearing her away from Bustard Downs and had a nice long stroll around the campgrounds here – blissfully free from dogs and with plenty of interesting smells. Once she was tired, Mark and I headed into Cooktown.

Our first stop was to book ourselves on a visit to some local Aboriginal artworks with a local ‘interpreter’ who can explain the stories and history, as well as take us through some of the bush medicine and plants. We handed over $200 to Willie, a local guide and who we look forward to spending some time with tomorrow.

From there, we drove up Grassy Hill, a local lookout with some spectacular views. It was extremely windy at the top, with a 35 knot wind blowing off the sea, and almost knocking us off our feet on occasion.Memories of our fabulous Daintree River cruise encouraged us to book a similar sounding trip for Wednesday afternoon on the Endeavour River. Fingers crossed it delivers.

One thing we have no doubt about is the presence of crocodiles. When we checked into camp yesterday the farm owner, Terry, mentioned they had only lost one visitor to the crocs…we thought he was joking. Managing to get a phone signal, I checked on Google, which confirmed that indeed, about 10 years ago, a 62 year old gentleman was taken by a croc here. They never found his body, just his watch, a sandal and a new video camera. Apparently he had waded into the shallows of the river to pick up a crab pot. Nasty.

This evening we sat around the campfire with Gail and Eric, exchanging travel stories and caravanning tips and hints. It’s always so good to learn from those more experienced than us, and with 7 years of travel around Australia under their belts, this is one couple which have a lot to share. They are old friends of the passion fruit farmers, and staying for free in return for their labour picking fruit from the vines.

Gail gave us a couple of passion fruit to try – they’re huge, and Terry gets $1.50 each fruit down in Sydney – they were certainly delicious. Gail told us of how she risked her life to get us these fruit – coming face to face with three feral boars while she was in the vines. Fortunately she kept her wits about her and escaped unharmed. The fruit tasted all the more sweeter for her efforts!

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