Cooktown is a very small town in Queensland's tropical north that is really worth a visit. It may not be big, but the natural beauty makes up for that. The town is about 240 km north of Cairns. This might not sound really far, but getting there takes a little longer than you'd think.
There are two main driving routes to get to Cooktown from Cairns, the inland road or the coastal road. Of course the most interesting way to go is to take the coastal road.
The road will take you to Cooktown in about five and a half hours. This road is only accessible by 4-wheel drive vehicles, as at some point the roads are not preserved and other types of cars will definitely not be able to go through. There are many places in Cairns to rent a 4-wheel drive, and it's not too expensive for what it's worth.
Now, if you want to make a real deal of this 4-wheel drive trip, there are many places worth stopping over before finishing in Cooktown. The land in this area is very tropical, so there are nice views and amazing beaches to check out and enjoy a little swim.
The Coastal Route Stopovers
When you leave Cairns, you can first head north on the Captain Cook Highway and visit the little town of Port Douglas. From there, keep going north on the road from Port Douglas to Cape Tribulation. At some point, you will have to pay - a low fee - to board a ferry, to get your car across the river.
Right after that, you will go through the Daintree Rainforest, which is about 45 minutes drive through nature. There is a viewpoint in the forest where you have an amazing view of the mountains, forest and ocean.
If you are lucky you might see a couple of cassowaries on the road, I saw a mum and her baby crossing the road. The drive through is just great, you can see that the tropical jungle is untouched; and the views of the ocean on the side of the road and the fresh sea breeze, just feels so good.
Once you've passed the massive rainforest, you will get to Cape Tribulation. This National Park is a truly magnificent area, with the rainforest on one side, and crystal clear water and long sandy beaches on the other. After Cape Tribulation, much of it is just a dirt road and small waterways that need to be crossed. It is an amazing drive, but this is the part where the 4-wheel drive vehicle is a must.
The journey through these roads, to get to Cooktown, is an adventure itself. You will go through forests, up and down hills, and back into the forest again. You will also go through a small aboriginal village, where you can stop and check out the waterfall near by.
When you arrive in Cooktown, there is an amazing 360 degree view from Grassy Hill that you can miss, especially when there's a nice sunset.
The town is very isolated but has its local charm. The local people are really nice and friendly, there are good restaurants and there's enough accommodation to offer you a good night sleep after a tiring 4-wheel drive road trip.