After the Endeavour nearly sank at Cape Tribulation in 1770, Captain Cook landed at a natural harbour to the north, where he spent two months repairing the vessel, observing the "Genius, Temper, Disposition and Number of the Natives" and – legend has it – naming the kangaroo after an Aboriginal word for "I don't know". Tempers wore thin on occasion, as when the crew refused to share a catch of turtles with local Aborigines and Cook commented: "They seem'd to set no value upon any thing we gave them."
The site lay dormant until gold was discovered southwest on the Palmer River in 1873, and within months a harbour was being surveyed at the mouth of the Endeavour River for a tented camp known as COOKTOWN. A wild success while gold lasted, the settlement once boasted a main street alive with hotels and a busy port doing brisk trade with Asia through thousands of Chinese prospectors and merchants. But the reserves were soon exhausted and by 1910 Cooktown was on the decline. Today, the town makes a pleasant, tranquil place for a wander or a couple of days' stay.
Country Road Coachlines buses (Tel:07/4045 2794 for times and prices) run three times a week between Cairns and Cooktown, either along the coastal road via Cape Tribulation and the Bloomfield Track, or the inland road via Mount Molloy and Lakeland.