About the Festival

The Cooktown Discovery Festival is a major event on the regional calendar – attracting locals from around Cape York to join with visitors from the broader region and global market to come together and celebrate Cooktown’s history and heritage.

The Cooktown Discovery Festival is presented by Cook Shire Council, in conjunction with the Discovery Festival committee and is delivered with support from Tourism and Events Queensland.

Cooktown’s History

Cooktown is where Lt James Cook found safe haven in 1770 to repair his ship, the “HM Bark Endeavour”, and where the First Reconciliation took place between Europeans and the Guugu Yimithirr people. It is also significant to mention that Sydney Parkinson recorded a list of Guugu Yimithirr words, the first official recording of indigenous language. An altercation between Bama (Indigenous) and Wangaar (White people) over the capture of turtles was followed by the first recorded act of reconciliation in Australia. Cook recorded in his journal ‘we followed them for near half a mile and then sat down and call’d to them and they stopped also; after some unintelligible conversation had passed they lay down their darts and came to us in a very friendly manner; we now returned the darts we had taken from them ‘which reconciled everything’.

At Endeavour River, 325 species of plants were collected, only a small fraction of them previously known. In seven weeks at an unfavorable time of the year (the dry season), Banks and his team managed to collect over half of the species (55%) known to the area today. It was during their time here that they sighted a strange animal which Banks described as resembling a gerbil but much larger. That was the first sighting of the Kangaroo during Cook’s voyage, named after the Guugu Yimithirr word for the animal ‘gunguuru.’

A century later, Cooktown was built on the banks of the river where that historic meeting took place. A bustling new port and community grew from a ramshackle tent city to service the mining camps of Queensland’s largest gold rush on the Palmer River. The gold soon disappeared, but Cooktown hung on, surviving economic decline and two devastating cyclones, to emerge as one of Tropical North Queensland’s best kept secrets.

Cooktown Today – ‘Two Cultures One People’

The township of Cooktown has a population of approx. 2,500, and is continuously growing as word spreads of its beautiful location and the friendliness of its people. With the completion of the Mulligan Highway in 2006, the town is now easily accessible by a fully sealed road and air, yet its remote location, stunning landscapes and laid-back lifestyle give it a distinctly frontier feel – the very essence of Australia.

Cooktown Discovery Festival 2018


Something big is coming! The Discovery Festival is just the beginning. 

In 2020, we will be celebrating 250 years since Cook arrived in Cooktown. You are invited to join us to hear the stories behind the stories, experience the reconciliation and uncover the scientific discoveries in a 48 day festival that will once again put Cooktown on the map.

View the 2020 website.

© 2019 Cook Shire Council