Located 330km north of Cairns, just getting to Cooktown is an adventure all on its own. A breathtakingly beautiful and still relatively unspoilt region of the Cape York Peninsula, the remoteness of Cooktown is at once part of its attraction, as is its long and fascinating history from its early Aboriginal inhabitants to the arrival of Captain Cook on the Endeavour River in 1770. Home to a raw beauty that makes it one of the last true wilderness frontiers in Australia, there are limited options for getting to Cooktown, with the most common method being to drive.
There are two main routes for getting to Cooktown from Cairns including a 331km inland route which takes 4 hours to complete as well as a 234km coastal route which, despite being shorter in length, takes up to 6 hours to complete but rewards you with some amazing scenery. For the inland route, begin by taking the Kennedy Highway out of Cairns, passing through the scenic town of Kuranda before continuing on to Mareeba. From here, take the Mulligan Highway north, allowing time to stop at the many scenic lookouts along the way for stunning views of the lush valleys and sparse hillsides.
Getting to Cooktown via the coastal route is shorter in length but longer in time and rewards you with some amazing scenery, however it does require a 4WD vehicle to complete so it’s important to keep this in mind. Take the Captain Cook Highway out of Cairns passing through Port Douglas, Mossman and Cape Tribulation enjoying the stunning views of the coast. Catch the Daintree ferry then begin along the famous Bloomfield Track, following this amazing journey as it hugs its way along the spectacular Daintree Coast and through the Wujal Wujal Aboriginal community. From here you’ll pass through the villages of Ayton, Rossville and Helenvale before arriving in Cooktown.
From about Emmagen Creek north of Cape Tribulation, a 4WD is required for getting to Cooktown the rest of the way as there are a number of potentially deep creek crossings as well as some particularly steep descents on the Cowie and Donovan Ranges. This coastal route is frequently closed during wet season, so regardless of which route you plan to take it’s recommended that you check road conditions before departing. It’s also important to remember that while travelling in Cape York you are on Indigenous owned and occupied land so respect for them, their culture and traditions should be shown.