Things to do and places to visit in Cooktown

Things to do in Cooktown

You might be surprised to learn that there are heaps of things to do in Cooktown with the kids.  While fishing is the main reason many visit this beautiful coastal town, there’s certainly much more to Cooktown than fishing (or hog hunting). The esplanade and water park will keeps kids entertained for hours, as will exploring nearby beaches, the light house, museum and waterfalls.

Here are some of the things our family did – there’s more to do here than just this.  We had no 4WD and didn’t venture out of Cooktown.  

Cooktown Water Park

Water park in Cooktown

The Cooktown water park and Esplanade is fantastic for kids’ of all ages.  The park is open from 10am to 5pm daily.  While there is plenty of shade there for viewing, there is no actual shade over the water park itself, so it can get very hot.  We suggest going at around 4pm when it has cooled down.  Hint: if the water is not running on all of the small buckets, press the button on the upright pedestal. 

There are also bike and scooter tracks all around here, with a windy track leading up to a viewing platform that gives a great birds eye view of the park. The platform is above above the toilets and change rooms.

grassy hill - lookout and lighthouse

Grassy hill lookout Cooktown

Drive, or walk like Captain Cook did many years ago up to Grassy Hill lookout for spectacular 360 degree views of Cooktown, the Endeavour River and the Great Barrier Reef.

It was here that Captain Cook realised what a predicament he was in, and his story is captured on many information boards, both here and around Cooktown.

Sunrise and sunset are popular times to visit Grassy Hill, and there are a few tables to sit at and enjoy a picnic. If you want to use the binoculars up here, you’ll need to bring coins with you.  There are no toilets here.

Cooktown Botanic Gardens and Finch BAY

Finch Bay in Cooktown

The Cooktown Botanic gardens are just on the edge of town, a couple of blocks behind the museum. There is a café and toilets here.

From the gardens you can walk an easy 800 metres to beautiful Finch Bay, or you can drive.  We drove as it was extremely hot, but we have heard that the walk is lovely, over bridges and creeks and emerging out onto the beach between two giant boulders.  It’s very easy walk for kids, we were told, however don’t attempt the other walk to Cherry Tree Bay with the kids!  

As for swimming at Finch Bay – we wouldn’t advise it due to crocodiles and stingers, plus it’s not patrolled, but people do swim here apparently.  We did wade over the shallow water to the sandbar for some awesome photos opportunities.


Check out the new Playground

Cooktown has a brand new fenced and undercover playground. 
Sure to keep the kids entertained for a while!

Swings at the Cooktown playground
Cooktown Playground

Expore History all around

Cooktown – if you love history then there’s no shortage of it here. 

 Down the main street and along the Riverway and Esplanade you will find statues, monuments, impressive historic buildings, colourful story tiles and history everywhere!  There’s even an historic cemetery!

Musical Ship Cooktown

Be sure to check out the musical ship – an interactive musical playground. Fun for all ages!

Find all of the Captain Cook statues around Cooktown – Hint: there are around six of them

Cooktown Museum

The Cooktown Museum is well worth checking out too.  They actually have one of the recovered original anchors off the Endeavour!  That’s James Cooks anchor!  It’s huge and very impressive.  Kids will enjoy the treasure hunt and exploring all there is to see.  Adults and older kids will enjoy amazing and informative story of Captain Cook’s arrival in Cooktown, from almost a shipwreck on the Endeavour Reef to his interactions with the local Guugu Yimithiir people who encountered him and his crew.

Check out our dedicated post on the Cooktown Museum.

Groper Feeding AND fISHING

Crowd watching the groper Feeding in Cooktown

Our family is not that into fishing (I know – what’s wrong with us), but for those who love fishing then Cooktown has many different options.  If you have a boat then the boat ramp is located by the marina and the esplanade.  No boat – no problem – there are many dedicated land based fishing spots all along the Esplanade, ideal and safe for kids.

For something different check out the Groper Feeding at the Cooktown Marina.  Free for kids, but a small $5 fee for adults, with proceeds going to Grouper Condervation.  Times were around 5pm but best to check out their Facebook page for days and times. 

Magnificent Sunsets

sunset in cooktown

There’s no better way to relax at the end of the day in Cooktown, by enjoying a nice refreshment while watching the sunset.  The sunsets here are pretty amazing!

We stayed at the Seaview Motel – overlooking the water, so we got these excellent views from our motel room an doutside by the pool. This motel was also very close to the waterpark and marina –  only a five minute walk to the main street too!

Eating out in Cooktown

There’s actually quite a good choice when it comes to eating out in Cooktown.  We were pleasantly  surprised by the choice.

There is also a really good supermarket there with reasonable prices, and yes there are bottle stores here too.  

We just have to mention the RSL Cooktown where we enjoyed a delicious main meal with a great atmosphere on our first night.  

And you must check out the Riverside Cafe hidden away near the Marina.  This place is amazing!  The owners, French and Russian are so lovely – best of all they make all their own pastries and cakes  here.  This is an awesome Cooktown surprise overlooking the Endeaveour river – with amazing view as you enjoy breakfast or a coffee. They don’t seem to have a website but you can check them out on Trip Advisor here.

We also heard good things about the River of gold motel Restaurant and the cafe at the botanical Gardens, which was unfortunately closed when we got there.


Getting to Cooktown

Cooktown is an easy four hour drive from Cairns.  The road is completely sealed now which makes getting to Cooktown a breeze.  Be aware though that in many parts of the journey there is no mobile internet, so if you’re relying on the iPad to keep the kids entertained ensure you have downloaded all the Netflix and games you need.

There are also very few places to stop at for toilet breaks or food along the way, so be prepared.

We stopped at The Mighty Palmer River Roadhouse, approx. 2.5 hours from Cairns and can recommend their burgers and kids meals.  There is also the Lakeland roadhouse another 30 minutes up the road. You can also get fuel here too.

As well as good food there is a book exchange, with donations going to the local school and a table tennis table.

palmer river roadhouse
Inside palmer river roadhouse

There are a couple of good lookouts on the road to Cooktown offering wonderful views.  Our favorite was the Black Mountain Lookout just before Cooktown.

black mountain lookout Cooktown