Category: Australia

Cooktown – Mrs Mary Watson Story

Mary Watson Story

Cooktown - grave yard

This tragic account of Mary Watson a 23 year old with a four month old infant living on Lizard Island in 1879 still echoes in Northern Queensland today.

Visiting the local cemetery and finding Mary Watson’s grave site was one of the activities we had planned to do while visiting Cooktown in far north Queensland.

This is a fascinating placed filled with history of the early pioneer days of Cooktown and the account of Mary Watson still is alive after 132 years, not a long time in the scheme of things.

Part of pioneer folklore…

Mary Watson is part of the pioneer folklore of northern Queensland, a heartbreaking story of a young woman with an infant son living on Lizard Island with her husband Captain Robert Watson a beche-de-mer fisherman and along with some Chinese servants.

The story goes like this….

While Captain Watson was away, mainland Aboriginals came to Lizard Island, a sacred place for local indigenous people and attack the settlement. One of the Chinese servants was killed, there was an uneasy standoff and Mary Watson along with her infant son and the remaining Chinese servant Ah Sam acquired the only available vessel.

This was a huge metal drum used for boiling  beche-de-mer (sea cucumbers) they set sail from Lizard Island 2nd October 1881 unaware that Lizard Island (named by Captain Cook) is the only island in the group with fresh water.

A tragic end

The dishearten result was that the three of them died of thirst; the metal drum discovered a few months later by a passing fishing vessel on 19th January 1882.

The sad picture of the three  fugitives in the metal drum with the infant still at Mary’s breast, along with a diary of her short life on Lizard Island and documentation of their final days, had a huge impact on the local community and unjust reprisals ensued.
The whole account of this tragic event along with the prejudice that existed at the time can be read here in more detail..Mary Watson's grave in Cooktown

Cooktown Cemetery

After a visit to Finch Bay we followed the Tourist Map in search of Mary Watson’s grave.

It took us a while to find the site, the cemetery had a lonely abandoned feel, elaborate headstones adored parts of the graveyard and other sites were just mounds.

A window into the past I believe where there was a time when folks didn’t even have an equal footing in death.

We reach the grave with a puce coloured bougainvillea to the side, the inscription was hard to read, testament to the 130 years since her death.

This is a fascinating place to visit if history is of interest to you..

In addition I am lead to believe that the ruins of the small stone cottage are still visible on Lizard Island, near Mangrove Creek at the southern end of Watson’s Bay.

Maybe one day I will have the privilege of visiting Lizard Island and writing about my visit to this tragic site.

Cooktown to Cape Tribulation – Daintree National Park

Bloomfield Track, CooktownBloomfield Track Cooktown to Daintree National Park

Taking the coastal road to Cooktown is something that I have wanted to do for a long time and the opportunity presented itself in hitching a ride with two equally eager travellers.

First however we travelled the inland route to Cooktown and decided to take the coastal route back to Port Douglas and then on to Cairns.

This is the account of that journey.

I had some preconceived ideas…

The Bloomfield Track

After reading a number of accounts about this stretch of coastal road between Cooktown and Cape Tribulation known as the Bloomfield Track it’s not surprising I had some preconceived ideas of the journey. 

These descriptions had conjured up the following images;

  • 4 Wheel drive only
  • Comments like – the road is off the planet
  • Narrow dirt track barely wide enough for one vehicle
  • Flooded creeks and causeways
  • Steep hill sides
  • Dense rainforest
  • Spectacular vistas of sweeping coastline
  • Crocodile infested rivers
  • Mangroves lining wide rivers systems

These comments clouded my perception of the journey between Cooktown and Cape Tribulation and fabricated romantic images from many movies I had seen about adventures along treacherous coastlines.

Included in this imagery was meandering red dirt tracks hugging hillsides and exposing secluded bays and sweeping coasts, this didn’t exist along this part of the journey.Coastal Road to Cooktown

Should I clarify it by saying the rainforest was so dense you could barely see any water.

In addition there probably are tracks to remote bays and beaches, but we didn’t investigate them we stayed on the Bloomfield Track.

Sweeping Coastline Cape Tribulation

These sweeping coastline views were to be revealed later between Cape Tribulation and the Daintree River.

A section of the road I had travelled on a number of occasions.

In reality the approximate 80km dirt track from the Wujal Wujal turn off on Developmental Road to Cape Tribulation was all the above and more, we travelled in the dry season so the creeks and water causes were not a problem.

However the dips they produced in the roads would be another matter during the wet season when raging torrents of water were rushing across them.

Before you plan on North Queensland travel   Checking the road condition is a must before travelling on this coastal route.

This is wild country and you don’t want to put yourself in physical danger…

Crocodiles basking on the foreshore

We had the privilege of seeing large crocodiles in the wild, basking on the foreshore of mangrove lined estuary a timely warning of the dangers of wandering off the beaten track and taking note of all the warning signs about not getting close to the water’s edge and that included the beach.

Just because you don’t see them doesn’t mean they are not there!

Condition of the Road during the dry season

The dirt track was in pretty good condition it was wider than we had thought, a couple of section were narrow but most of the track was ample enough for two vehicles and well graded. However in a couple of sectors exposed rocks were visible which added to a bumpy ride.

There were a number of creek crossings but fortunate for us this was the dry season so there was little water except for the crossing just before Cape Tribulation which came up to the wheel axial.

In addition the dirt track had a couple of very steep ascents that kept us on our toes, we could only imagine how slippery it would be if the weather was wet.

Cape Tribulation Beach

Cape Tribulation, Daintree National Park

Secluded bays and deserted beaches, along with sweeping coastline best describes this section of the coastal road from Cooktown to the Cape, not quite in civilisation so to speak but yet luxury rainforest accommodation along with backpacker style lodgings are hidden behind the rainforest canopy lining the road, giving the location a feeling of mystery and isolation.

By this stage we were ready to take a break have a spot of lunch but not before we checked out the beach but again be careful… warning signs of crocs are ever present in the area so please heed them.

The last leg of this coastal route is at the Daintree River Crossing, here is where you pay your fee and travel on the ferry for a couple of minutes till you reach the other side and back on the road to Port Douglas and Cairns.

Before you plan on North Queensland travel – ‘the coastal Road’ check the conditions with the authorities and take note of the advice given.Signage on the road to Cooktown

Cooktown Australia – Cherry Tree Bay Hiking Trail

Cooktown a Local Hiking Trail

View from Grassy Hill

On the way back down from the Grassy Hill was a sign to Cherry Tree Bay, so we all bundled out of the car took this walking trail, apparently this beach can only be accessed by foot or boat.

We weren’t sure what to expect, but it was one featured in the local Cooktown Tourist Map a great resource I might add.

This hiking trail was harder then we anticipated but fortunately we were prepared with water bottles and hiking shoes. The ground was very uneven in sections and the descent was steep in a couple of spots. However if you were used to hiking this wouldn’t be an issue.

At times the walk resembled the walking trails in South East Queensland, Mount Cougal and in particular Burleigh Heads National Park where the dry forest terrain is similar in parts

Hiking Trail to Cherry Bay

Cherry Tree Bay a short hiking trail

After about twenty minutes we reached Cherry Tree Bay, a beautiful remote bay, it is a secluded location with beautiful white sands, and swaying Palm Trees, the edges of the bay are surrounded by large granite boulders that are commonly found along the Australian eastern coastline.

The hike to Cherry Tree Bay is a short hiking trail I recommend, an activity that should be on your list of things to do in Cooktown.

Check out the tourist map that is available from many Hotels and local retailers with details about the local walking trails.

Cherry Tree Bay is a favourite spot for locals so I am lead to believe but because it’s only accessible by foot or boat, I can’t see it ever being crowded, given the small population of Cooktown.

The signage on the beach is very clear about swimming in the sea it reads….

  • Keep away from the water edge and do not enter the water
  • Take extreme care when launching or retrieving boats
  • Do not clean fish or leave fish waste near the water’s edge
  • Camp well away from the water

Whilst travelling up from Cairns and catching site of two large crocodiles basking on the muddy banks of rivers, I would be taking serious note of that signage and staying away from the water’s edge.

Cherry Tree Bay estuary runs along side the beach an area where estuarine crocodiles are likely to be.

If you visit Cooktown Australia take the time after visiting the Grassy Hill and check out Cherry Tree Bay its worth the short hike, the signage is on your left travelling down from the Grassy Hill.

If your schedule permits… it’s one of the things to do in Cooktown in far north Queensland.

Gillian on Cherry Bay Beach

Next on our agenda is Finch Bay were there is a large granite boulder that resembles a beached whale….and Mt Cook further down the coast.

Cooktown Heritage and Scenic Rim Walking Trails will keep you entertained with the abundance of local history that is part of the Australian heritage.

North Queensland Accommodation – Cooktown

Our North Queensland Accommodation – Cooktown

Cooktown was everything I ever read about, a truly beautiful north Queensland town on the edge of the last frontier, the town is steeped in history and it’s got that laid-back Queensland feel. We were eager to see what our North Queensland accommodation was like.

Sovereign Resort Hotel

Sovereign Resort Hotel

We only had a couple of nights at the Sovereign Resort Hotel it was a perfect location, full of old world charm but yet a touch of luxury which surprised me given the location. Their balcony restaurant and cocktail bar had a great atmosphere with its hardwood floors.I could imagine what it would be like on a hot humid night with a balmy sea breeze rolling in; you could easily be transported back to the 1880’s when parts of this Hotel were originally built.

You could easily be transported back to the 1880’s when parts of this Hotel were originally built.

It was the first few days of spring the weather was magic and the humidity was low. Summer would be another ball game and one I wouldn’t like to test.

Time for a walk around Cooktown

Jetty

 

It’s all about walking, so while my companions were tucked in bed catching up on their sleep in our comfortable Cooktown accommodation…I was up early and scoping out the town.

Strolling down towards Fisherman’s Wharf the scene was picture perfect; from locals fishing off the pier down to the old fishing boats moored waiting for their next excursion.
It’s hard to believe standing on the dock on this beautiful peaceful morning that at one time this was one of the busiest ports in Queensland during the Palmer River Gold Rush.

The history attached to this location is part of the fabric of Queensland and you get the sense of it walking around.

Cook's Landing KioskIt was time for my morning coffee so I dropped into Cook’s Landing Kiosk, I highly recommend it, the locals were friendly and full of helpful advice not to mention the huge breakfast I enjoyed during my second visit later in the morning with the family.

 Breakfast at Cook’s Landing Kiosk is something you should do in Cooktown

After breakfast it was time to check out the sights of Cooktown the Grassy Hill was our first port of call..

Our stay at the Sovereign Resort Hotel our North Queensland accommodation was memorable and one I am eager to replicate again soon…