View Full Version : Spectacular and suprising Cooktown - North Queensland

25-09-2006, 09:17 AM
What an epic weekend….I was only away for 3 days but it felt like a month.

Ever been on a ride where you thought it would all be pretty predictable, you expected nothing special to happen, but you just go with the flow and end up having one of the most surprising and spectacular adventures you have been on in years? Well that happened to me on the weekend. This story is going to take some explaining, so please bear with me as I will probably end up needing 3 or 4 posts this week to get all the photos together, and explain what happened as the photos just don’t do it justice.

I’ll start with Friday, day 1…..

A fully loaded BMW and a clear sunny day, a nice start to a ride.

On Monday I got a call from a mate of mine who told me he was heading up to Cooktown on Thursday, and would I like to go. I said no worries sounds good, but I had a busy week and couldn’t leave until Friday morning, so I would meet him up there. Well my week was just totally mental, I was still packing stuff late on Thursday night, and when Friday morning rolled around I was just totally exhausted. Still Melissa and I jumped on the bikes and headed off.

Cooktown is about 650km north along the coast from my place. The road has been recently all tarred, so we opted to head up that way just so we could get there in reasonable time frame. There is an adventure way, but that takes a couple of days, and that was time we just didn’t have. The first few hours of the trip were occupied with cruising up the Bruce Highway, and across the Atherton Tablelands to Mareeba (I have mentioned that section of the ride in my previous “North Queensland Birthday Bash” ride report”). Heading north of Mareeba the vegetation changes dramatically from the highland rainforest and green rolling hills, to hot and dry Cape York Savannah country. I must admit when I got to Mareeba I was thinking “why am I doing this I don’t really feel like it”, but as soon as I got into the savannah proper I felt instantly rejuvenated.

The savannah from “Bob’s lookout”. On the other side of those mountains is where the Daintree Rainforest starts, but over on this side it’s pretty dry.




And I can report that this new road to Cooktown is a motorcyclists dream. Sweeping undulating curves, with a number of insanely twisty mountain passes thrown in for good measure. And the road is brand new so the surface is like a racetrack. If anyone is in north Queensland, they would be mad to miss this place as you could get there on any bike, anytime.


Looking north towards Lakeland Downs at the top of the Byerstown Range, prior to beginning to drop down to the lowlands.



I’m forever looking for that arty photo angle. The shot of the front of the bike would be good if the bloody fence weren’t in the road!



We quickly stopped for fuel at Lakeland Downs, by this stage it was getting pretty late and a lot of kangaroos and cattle were coming onto the road, and we still had at least an hour to go.

Hey Mel it’s not a push bike!!!

Off we blasted again, quickly stoping at Black Mountain, about 30km out of Cooktown. Black Mountain is basically a big pile of black rocks, and man it is bizarre. Apparently countless people have disappeared there over the years trying to explore it, so I wisely opted to stay in the viewing area. By stage it was getting pretty late, you can see the bike is in shade, and only the top of the mountain is illuminated.





We pressed on again, and the natural beauty of this area is phenomenal. It is still very much a wilderness area, and too vast and profound to do any justice to in a photograph. We arrived in Cooktown pretty much at sunset, and rode down to the beach where Lt James Cook beached the Endeavour to fix hole in the hull in 1770.


We planned on just going to a camping area in town to pop up the tent for a few days and catch up with the others on Saturday. But I had a message on my phone from Marius saying not to camp, to phone him as soon as I arrived. I gave him a call and he said “You have to come up to Barry’s place, you won’t believe it” So we headed up towards Grassy Hill, the big headland at the east of town. We rode up a very steep and windy gravel track, and then turned off onto another over more difficult and narrow track that followed the top of a very steep ridge heading along a spur towards the ocean.


By this stage it was almost dark and I was starting to wonder if was even in the right place, and how I could get out of this place. But as we rode around a corner we spied signs of a settlement.


As we rode down my mate Marius came bounding out nowhere with a huge smile on his face. “This place is awesome man, we have a great spot for you to camp, you won’t believe this place tomorrow wait until it is light!!.” He was just beaming so I figured there might be something a little bit special afoot. He also introduced us to Barry, his friend who owned the property, who I had an instant affiliation with, and will talk about soon. Marius led us back up a steep hill, we unloaded our bikes and walked pretty much over the edge of the cliff to our camp.


Arriving at the camp it was pretty much dark. I knew we were near the ocean. The camp was a basic but delightful little humpy from what I could see, with a little kitchen and outdoor shower, but I couldn’t see too much. In the dark we set up the tent on the flattest bit of ground we could find. We stumbled through the dark towards the sound of people drinking, and ended up at Barry’s house on the northern side of a ridge (which I explain more of later), overlooking the mouth of the Endeavour River. We caught up with the other riders, and got to know Barry a bit better. After a delicious BBQ meal on the landing, we were so exhausted we trotted back through the bush to our camp and went to sleep. We knew tomorrow was going to be a big day as we discovered Cooktown, and more about this mysterious place were staying that no-one seemed to want to tell me anything about until tomorrow. I drifted off to sleep with a million thoughts about what was going on in my head, but I was so exhausted I slept straight through. Which was lucky as I was going to need my rest for what awaited us on Saturday………

To be continued…………..

25-09-2006, 01:45 PM
After a great night’s sleep I cracked open my eyeballs, and this is the exact view that greeted me. I knew I was close to the sea but I didn’t except this!


It was time to step out of the tent, have a look around, make a quick cup of tea in the little kitchen made out of a cut down water tank, and have a quick shower. The water was cold but the view from under the nozzle more than compensated for it!





Shortly after jumping out of the shower I heard an air raid siren go off. I took this to be the signal to go down to Barry’s house for breakfast. So we trotted down there, and man it certainly was spectacular. The house is a simple but very stylish stone pitched single room house, with a north facing verandah with 180 panoramic view of the Endeavour River that has to be seen to be believed.




Check out the dunny and shower facing out into the rainforest!


To give you a quick overview of Barry. He is a mad keen motorbike enthusiast who has lived up here on the hill for many years. He’s one of those guys that I just instantly clicked with, he is a very friendly, welcoming and incredibly generous man. Basically he believes that his property is to be enjoyed, and he freely welcomes visitors, and especially motorcyclists from all over the world. After spending time with the man I greatly admire his self-sufficient, simple lifestyle, and his genuine nature. What a guy! I could spend five pages going on about how highly I think of him, but I think you get the picture. I regret I didn’t get my photo with him, but maybe next time….

………anyway, following breakfast it was decided by all gathered that we should head to the nearby secluded beach. Barry informed us that the track was kind of steep and hard to follow, but his dog PK would be happy to show us the way. Sure enough, Barry asked PK to take us, and he led us down the hill, waiting at every corner until we were on the right track. We found an isolated but very beautiful beach where we chucked some coconuts around for the dog, who then led us back up to the main settlement on the ridge. What a cool dog!





Once we lobbed up back at the top of the ridge after a steep climb, Marius and the other decided they were going to head back to Townsville and do the trip over two days. Melissa and I decided that we would stay another day, after a bit of persuasion from Barry, and explore the property and the village of Cooktown. Turns out that was the right decision to make!

Marius leaving for Port Douglas.

As the others left Barry asked us if we would like to stay in the signal station. We said yep, packed up out camp on the north side of the ridge and headed over to the building on the southern side.

The signal station is an amazing, amazing place – a genuine piece of living history. Built I think in 1901, it was the first of it’s kind in Cooktown, and is built in the concrete military installation style of the day. It is still maintained in the original condition, but is tastefully decorated with other historical arefacts that Barry has collected over the years. Often people who collect a lot of stuff have properties that look like a tip, but not Barry! Everything had a place and walking around the station was like walking through a museum! The photo’s don’t do it justice but it was amazing beyond description.



Check out the outdoor dunny and shower for the barracks!

And this is the view from toilet cam! What a spot to grow a brown tail!

The garage and entrance way…


Barry’s Dakar parked in the garage. The bike is basically looking through this window out to the ocean.

The kitchen

Some decoration and guest rooms – like I said, it’s like a museum.






Even the old bunker behind the station had been converted into a very cool shed. Notice how the whole shed and building was hewn into the side of the hill…



This pretty much sums it up…

Our bedroom.

The view from the bedroom window!

I tell you walking around these barracks was a total blow out. We spent until lunch time just wandering around, looking at all the art, enjoying the view. The station faces south east, where the prevailing winds come from, so the house is always very breezy and cool. There are no fans or air cons, and the whole place runs on 12V solar power. We could have sat around there all day, but it was eventually decided that we probably should walk down into town and see the sights. We threw on our shoes, grabbed some water and headed out the door to head into town……….

To be continued (AGAIN). Sorry dudes but this is straining my brain today!!

Stay tuned……..

25-09-2006, 03:09 PM
We walked out of the back door of the station and were greeted by Barry. He gave us some advice about the spots to visit for a couple of Cooktown first timers. He also insisted that walking was going to be too much of a mission, so he insisted we take his car!! What a guy! So we jumped in his fantastic machine and headed off. First stop, the top of the track out of his property, on Grassy Hill.

Top machine…

View of Cooktown

View of Endeavour River

Steep hill we travelled up the night before


Cooktown is a place with a rich and diverse European, Chinese and Aboriginal history, and it’s impossible to take it all in in one day. The place has a real untamed frontier town feel about it, that has been lost from a lot of places up here as property developers buy up and sell the land to trendy city folk who slowly remove all the heritage buildings and put up boutiques selling cruise wear and themed restaurants (sounds a bit bitter doesn’t it!). We grabbed a bit to eat and headed to the info centre at the botanic gardens. The info centre is crap, don’t bother! But it was worth it to see this thing of what estuarine crocodiles eat – in addition to animals they apparently also eat fat chicks with skinny kids!!

I found it funny anyway….

Once we left there we headed to the museum, with the help of our tourist guide, which was located in an old convent overlooking the river.



The museum was awesome to say the least. Absolutely, fascinating and well done. Among the treasures included the original anchor from the Endeavour, which he jettisoned at sea so he could float the ship off the reef. The anchor was surprisingly huge.

A lot of the stuff was under glass at the museum so my photos didn’t come out too good. There were many weird 1800’s things, like pills to cure “over-fatness”, and this moustache cup. The moustache cup makes sense, a cup with a little guard so manly men with manly moustaches could drink a proper manly English drink like tea and not get un-manly drips in their mo. What makes no sense is the colour scheme they chose, which I would best describe as un-manly in the extreme!!


From there we headed over to the cemetery for a look, which has a lot of old graves that told the story of the lives and tragedies of the town in the pioneer days. A very fascinating place and well worth a visit. I didn’t take any snaps there as I consider it bad ju-ju to take photos in a cemetery. It struck me as profoundly sad, especially since I attended a funeral for a friend on Wednesday, that the day these people were buried would have been the most terrible day of someone’s life, but now the graves lay untended, unloved and sometimes it was impossible to determine who lay there. It was sobering stuff. Time to change the topic.

So front here we headed back into town to grab some basic supplies and headed up the hill to Grassy Hill. At the summit here is where Captain Cook stood, lookout to sea in a south east direction, and said words to the effect of “F*ck this f*cking place there are f*cking reefs everywhere!”

Here is a shot of the very view he would have seen on that day. Note the signal tower on the spur, that is where the signal station and Barry’s place is.

Here’s a shot of the track into Barry’s. Turns out it is on the site where Cook and Banks first spotted and described the kangaroo!! A mind-boggling amount of our early European history here. Imaging driving home from work along this track everyday and seeing this view!



Once back at the station it was bloody freezing! Down in town it was hot, but here on the eastern side of the hill the wind was howling and the sun was setting. Melissa began to whip up a delicious country style stew while I had some more serious business to attend to…..


Then it was time to sit out the front of the station with PK, eat some cheese and crackers, have some drinks and just soak it all in!




What a day! What an amazing day! I never expected anything like this on this trip, but it turned out to be amazing, thanks largely to the hospitality of Barry. It’s funny how life can throw these chance encounters at you, you just have to run with it and some amazing stuff can happen to you. We headed off to bed very tired, with little PK dragging his dog bed out of somewhere to camp at the bedside to keep us company.

We drifted off wondering about why we were so lucky to have chanced upon this amazing place. As we listened to the sound of the sea and the wind we knew it was going to be tough to leave on the following day – we felt like we could stay there forever.

Only one more instalment to go, you’ve already come this far, bear with me please!

25-09-2006, 03:40 PM
So we arose on Sunday morning to another beautiful day, but it was with a somewhat heavy heart we realised that we had to leave to go back to Townsville, a full 650km days riding. As we were packing up the bikes Barry tried unsuccessfully to convince us to stay anther few days – I would have loved to though.


We jumped on the bikes, and motored pretty much directly back to Townsville. Back past Black Mountain, back past the ranges in the savannah, back across the Atherton Tablelands. We stopped briefly for an awesome lunch at the Falls Teahouse in Milla Milla. I must have personally gone past this place at least 100 times and never called in. From now on though I will be stopping every time, the view was great, the staff friendly, the sandwiches HUGE!



As we left the café the clouds were looming, and we got a little bit of rain coming down the Palmerston Range and heading down the Bruce Highway.


Fortunately we had the foresight to pack our wet weather gear and actually put it on before we hit the rain, so when we arrived home we were tired, but dry and happy.

If you enjoyed this report and feel like you could use a bit of Barry’s hospitality, well you can!! Barry is most keen to welcome motorcyclists from around the country and around the world (he especially loves South Africans!). He is keen to share his special place with all so that the place is used and appreciated, not hidden away. And all you have to do is bring some beer and tucker for the man, and possibly join him for a BBQ and a few drinks and exchange stories, which I can tell you is an absolute pleasure in the extreme. So if you enjoyed this, and are going to be in the north Queensland area, drop me a line and I’ll hook you up with Barry for a stay at the Cooktown signal station – I tell you it will be one of the most rewarding trips you will ever take. We’re already planning our next trip up there – the adventure route next time!

Thanks for reading.


25-09-2006, 04:15 PM
What a fantastic report, :clap: :clap: :clap: thanks heaps Leon. :thumbs:

Not often you come across something like that.

Now where do I go next holidays Tassie or far north Queensland? :whistle:

25-09-2006, 04:56 PM

SPEECHLESS !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :drool: :drool: :drool:
:thumbs: :thumbs: :thumbs: :thumbs: :thumbs:

The " Best post of the year" and ""Roty" awards
will have to come down to dirty tactics, political pressure and sheer curruption ....that was OUTSTANDING STUFF !!!!!!!!!!

Again...thanks for posting it up, the pics are again: superb ! :D :D

Not too sure about the author, though...
http://usera.imagecave.com/leonh2/Cooktown3/IMG_0183.JPG :rofl: :rofl:

25-09-2006, 05:21 PM
Mind blowing mate!!!

Thanks for sharing.

26-09-2006, 05:51 PM
Great post mate.