Captain James Cook

So what's so special about Captain James Cook?

There were other explorers
that sailed around the coasts of Australia hundreds of years before him.

Spanish and Portuguese, and particularly Dutch, were interested in Australia from the early 1600s and sailed the coasts including those of Cape York.

Neither was Captain Cook any early world-wide. By the time he explored the coast of north America, Spanish and Portuguese had already colonialised south and central America.

Cook was simply lucky to get what was left, thanks to no interest considering Australia's harsh climate, no riches (obviously before the gold was found) and a long distance from Europe.

But Cook did play a special role for Australia, because he was the first one to claim (the eastern coast of) Australia for England - making Australia a British colony.

   james cook statue 

And he played an even more special role for the Cape York peninsula, because the rest of the coast he pretty much sailed by, visiting and naming a few spots, but in Cape York he got stuck for his longest stay on the Australian continent.

It was also near the tip of Cape York that he made his possession claim.

That's why, you can see a lot of his history up here, including statues, landing points and museum displays.

Captain James Cook History in Cape York

After having picked the spot for the First Fleet in Botany Bay, he sailed up along the east coast of Australia, naming some bays, islands and coastal headlands, but not spending much time on the land.

As he sailed past where Cairns is today, it was Trinity Sunday so he named Trinity Beach, Trinity Inlet and Trinity Bay.
   captain james cook

Like in the rest of the country, there are a few "Big Things" in Cairns, and one of them is the Big Captain Cook as you drive out of the city, northwards, along the Cook Highway.

He kept going north after Cairns, but had an accident - his ship got stuck and damaged on the coral reef.

He had not much choice but to pull in to the nearest spot on the mainland, which happened to be a river - now called Endeavour River, after the name of his ship (and the town that is at the river mouth now, was of course named Cooktown).
   james cook landing

It took them almost two months to fix the ship, meaning
Cook and his crew got to spend a lot of time here while the ship was being fixed.
   james cook landing

They walked up to Grassy Hill for some great views over the ocean and the river (there is now a lookout).
   endeavour river

They got to see their first kangaroo - the first hopping animal spotted by European eyes - later sparking a lot of interesting discussion back in England (there is now a kangaroo statue near the lookout).

   kangaroo statue cooktown

And it was here that the ship's botanists and scientists got their longest time to collect Australian plants to be taken home to England (there is now a section about it in Cooktown Botanic Gardens).
   james cook botanists

There is now the James Cook Museum in town - one of the best museums in the whole country.
   james cook museum

You can also learn about the stay of Cook and his crew at the annual re-enactment at Cooktown Festival.
   cooktown festival re-enactment

Once the ship was fixed, Cook and his crew continued north towards the Tip of Cape York and Torres Strait Islands.
   possession island

On the western side of the Tip, they stopped at Possession Island, and claimed the eastern coast of Australia for England, before returning to England across Indian Ocean. A monument now marks the spot on Possession Island.

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This complete 300 pages travel guide is all you need before and during your trip. Besides the background chapters on the peninsula's history and wildlife; and the comprehensive detail about all the places (down to prices, opening hours and full contact detail), it has invaluable information on at least 10 four wheel drive tracks, at least 30 guaranteed FREE camping spots on the Cape (and at least 150 on your way to the Cape), at least 40 best swimming holes, all mapped; as well as practical things - from fuel, roads, wireless internet and mobile phone reception, how to deal with the national parks booking rules; and Aboriginal land entrance and camping permits and alcohol restrictions - to vehicle preparation and accessories and necessary recovery gear by my vehicle-recovery-guy partner). Not to mention locals' tips on how to spot that croc and palm cockatoo ;-)

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