Thursday, January 31, 2013

Cooktown 1/31/2013

We have seen and learned a great deal on this trip along with making many observations. The first being that no matter how long your stay in a location there will always be things you just can’t see. Unplanned events occur, sometimes for good and sometimes not and there are things over which you have no control. Today we were reminded that the circumstances around which things happen could directly affect your impressions. Coming off visits to Whitsunday and Cairns and a visit to the Great Barrier Reef, Cooktown might have been an interesting place to stop, but as only the second stop on our ill-fated third segment, we arrived feeling that this was a port that could have been skipped if we had held back to see one of the previous two.

The ship’s newsletter described this stop, as a tranquil, historic location on the Cape York Peninsula. Inhabited by only nomadic Aboriginals for thousands of years prior to becoming a township, it was named in honor of Captain James Cook. In 1770 the famous English explorer and cartographer beached the HMB Endeavour on the banks of what he later called the Endeavour River, to undertake repairs after running aground on one of the many reefs that fringe this coastline.  In 1873 the government of Queensland decreed that the site of Cook’s landing would become a Far Northern seaport and the start of the trek to newly discovered gold fields near the Palmer River. Today, Cooktown is a small community that prides itself on having no traffic lights. It is a place to learn about the Aboriginal culture or Captain Cook and explore the rugged beauty of a pristine environment.
Our tour description read that we were to see “two of Cooktown’s most iconic sites: a mysterious heap of granite boulders known as Black Mountain and the Lion’s Den Pub, a fixture in the bush for more than 135 years”.  The Black Mountain is an enormous labyrinthine jumble of granite that originally formed beneath the earth’s surface 240 million years ago. Erosion gradually exposed the rocks, rounding their corners, creating dramatic, natural phenomena, with the rocks precariously stacked upon each other, seemingly defying gravity. While the granite appears to be black, the color is actually the result of oxidation and lichens clinging to its surface. The granite is pinkish-gray inside. The ancient Aborigines called this “the place of sphere” and held it sacred.

We were told that the trip to the mountain range would involve an hour of walking on uneven surfaces. The mountains were most unusual but our tour was in fact a ten-minute stop along the road to take pictures with the mountain in the distance. 

The stop at the pub give us a chance to have a local beer and view the quirky decorations, including a Minnesota Vikings hat hanging near the bar, but both stops were disappointing. Perhaps we should have gone on the tour led by the Aboriginal elder or the one that went to the botanical gardens that featured plants unique to this area. Perhaps this stop just couldn’t compare to what we had just missed.

The best parts of the day were unexpected. At the Pub we saw the popularly referred to ‘Cannon Ball Tree’. Not only is the fruit as large, round and heavy as its namesake, but when ripe and falling to the ground, it often does so with loud and explosive noises. The fruit, bark and beautiful flowers of this unusual tree have by long tradition been used for medicinal purposes.

The second surprise was the thunderstorms that began to develop as 
our ship left port and Mother Nature put on an amazing show.

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