Cooktown boomtown as travellers bunker down in remote outpost

Cooktown is a boomtown as tourists from Victoria and New South Wales vie for space in the remote north Queensland outpost.

Sep 11, 2020, updated Sep 11, 2020

Visitors from Victoria and New South Wales who managed to beat the Queensland border shutdown – and are trying to separate themselves from coronavirus outbreaks in the south – have all but taken over the small town 300km north of Cairns.

Cooktown has long been a magnet for tourists due to its remote seaside location, colourful locals and plentiful fishing.

Tourism authorities in the town say they have never been busier, thanks in part to interstate visitors — particularly from Melbourne — who are not in a hurry to return home to the city’s strict Stage 4 COVID-19 lockdown.

It is a far cry from initial concerns that the Queensland border ban would send accommodation providers to the wall.

‘Even busier than a normal year’

Cooktown Caravan Park owners Leslyn and Paddy Auchterlonie say they are turning away dozens of caravanners looking for a site every day.

“It is extremely busy and it is nothing to turn away 30 vans a day,” Auchterlonie said.

“It’s even busier than a normal year.”It was becoming so unmanageable for just the two of us, we had to put more staff on.”

She said the park was full of cars towing caravans baring number plates from Victoria, New South Wales and South Australia — many of whom have been in Queensland for several months.

“Many people seem to be circling around Queensland,” Auchterlonie said.

“No-one is in a hurry to go back to that environment of severe lockdowns.”

No hurry to return home

Priscilla and Matt Blackshaw, who usually call Brisbane home, only intended to visit Cooktown for a few weeks but have now been in the town since border restrictions were lifted in Cape York to Queenslanders in July.

“We’re not in a rush to get back, we definitely feel safer up here, from COVID,” Blackshaw said.

“I have health issues and that’s why I wanted to get away from the hustle and bustle, as far away from Brisbane as possible.”

She said although she missed her family — including her 14 grandchildren and her 89-year-old mother — returning was not an option, just yet.

“It seems to be getting worse (COVID-19 cases), ” she said.

“My husband is a big fisherman so he’s very happy to stay here longer.

“We’ve let my son move into our house, because it was just sitting empty, and he’s using the opportunity to save up for a house deposit.”

She said that they were not the only ones not in a hurry to head home.

“We have met so many people that would normally be travelling overseas, but they’ve bought a caravan and they are seeing their own state,” Blackshaw said.

She said she had also picked up some work at the caravan park where she was staying, after she was approached by owner Auchterlonie.

A ‘normal’ life

Auchterlonie said she was pleased that the small seaside town was providing a haven for visitors.

“They can have a normal day, they can go fishing and enjoy themselves,” she said.

“They can be away from the traumatic events that are happening, like severe lockdowns.”

– ABC / Kristy Sexton-McGrath

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