Following on from our successful Cairns Outback bus and train trip in June and July 2022, which included stays in Georgetown, Karumba, Forsayth and Mount Surprise, my wife and I undertook a short stay in Cooktown. We travelled from Cairns on the Trans North bus service on Tuesday 5 July, stayed three nights at the Seaview Motel then returned to Cairns by Trans North Bus on Friday 8 July.
On Wednesday 6 July we enjoyed an energetic day’s touring, which included a lot of walking with visits to the Cooktown Museum, the Cooktown Botanic Gardens, and the Reconciliation Rocks Precinct.
The Cooktown Botanical Gardens were first proclaimed in 1878 and remained opened to the public until 1917 when funds to maintain the Gardens diminished and a forced closure resulted. It was not until 1986 that the Gardens enjoyed a renaissance with the Cook Shire Council commissioning a conservation report on the Gardens Reserve which ultimately resulted in the very beautiful Botanic Gardens we have today. The Gardens are located within the 62 hectare Gallop Botanic Reserve, situated 1.5km from the centre of Cooktown.
Our walk from the Museum to the Gardens, mostly along Walker Street, took 30 minutes and by the time we arrived we were in need of a drink, as the weather was very hot for walking. As it was lunchtime, we opted to have lunch at the café located in the very impressively constructed Nature’s Powerhouse Facility. The café is essentially a large open air deck with a roof over the top containing tables and chairs and it provides a nice atmosphere to enjoy lunch with lots of lush, green vegetation growing all around the deck providing added relief The menu choices are limited; however my wife and I did enjoy their cheese, bacon and tomato croissant as a light lunch meal and for drinks my wife had a vanilla milkshake and I had a very delicious iced coffee.
After lunch, before embarking on a tour of the Gardens, we had a look at some of the features in the Nature’s Powerhouse facility, namely a very comprehensive gift shop and the very impressive Vera Scarth Johnson Gallery. The Gallery features the botanic works of artist Vera Scarth-Johnson (1912-1999). Entranced by the beauty of the Endeavour River valley, Vera became passionate about the need to graphically record the flowering plants found in this unique region before they became endangered. This she achieved through her collection of completed works to the people of Cooktown she kindly donated in 1986. Prints of Joseph Banks Florilegium ( a collection of literary extracts) are also to be found in this Gallery. This is an absolute “must see” when visting the Botanic Gardens – it will totally captivate you as you admire the rare talent of Vera on display here. There is a ‘no photographs’ policy in the Gallery which needs to be observed and admission is free. One of the bonuses at the gift shop was the excellent example in a composted wire basket of a magnificent live Cooktown Orchid specimen; this purple flower being Queensland’s official floral emblem. It was as good a specimen of this flower as you would want to see anywhere. It was sitting on a bench next to a bookcase and definitely took pride of place competing with a stuffed snake specimen beside it.
The Botanic Gardens are divided into various plant themed sections for ease in viewing the trees and plants. There are around 20 individual plant sections including the Orientation Garden, the Vera Scarth Johnson Garden, First People’s Grove and the Banks and Solander Garden, to name just four. We decided to just do a leisurely walk along the very impressive walking paths and admire whatever caught our eyes at the time. We found this a nice way to enjoy the flora highlights on offer. It would have taken us too long to try to concentrate on all the plant sections in these extensive Gardens. Some highlights we noted included the Palmetum featuring beautiful, exotic palm trees, an incredible flowering Zamia Nut tree, Cycas media (collected by Banks and Solander in 1770); a delightful fan shaped Bismarck Palm and an excellent rich red flowering Crepe Ginger. There were more plants observed, of course. However these are just four to mention for this review.
Another area of consideration is the abundance of beautifully carved polished wood seating dotted throughout the Gardens to ease the weary walker. Two that stood out for us included the one constructed from Moreton Bay Ash and the seat paying tribute to Bert and Una Mason. A celebration plaque attached to this seat, donated by the Cooktown community in 2010 and located under a pair of paper bark trees growing near the gate leading to the walking track to Finch’s Bay reads simply “ Bert and Una Mason welcome you to this place we loved. Wait a while to enjoy the sunbirds, wallabies, little purple orchids, paperbark trees and green tree frogs". Bert Mason, who passed away in 2000, was a renowned geologist who with his wife Una in the early 1990’s used to live in Cooktown half of the year and down in Victoria the other half . He was an active member of the Endeavour Lions Club and a great supporter of the Cooktown State School, mentoring students.
Adjoining the Botanic Gardens is the Queen’s Park Cricket Oval, separated from the Gardens by a purposeful painted fence. A novel piece of signage at the entrance to the Gardens walk gave typical North Queensland warnings - regarding falling tree limbs, falling mangos, snakes and crocodiles. The warnings were next to a great map of the Gardens to make the task easier to find where everything is located. Very considerate.
We really enjoyed our short two hour visit to these wonderful Botanic Gardens. We are so glad we did not let the challenging walk to and from the Gardens make us change our minds. This visit was well worth the effort and we could have so easily given ourselves more time here, had that been available to us.