Meretoto/Ship Cove
Image: Avara Moody | DOC

Introduction

Meretoto/Ship Cove was James Cook’s favourite New Zealand base during his three voyages of exploration. It is also part of the rich history of Polynesian navigation and has great significance for local Māori.

Highlights

Meretoto/Ship Cove has a significant history for early inhabitants Ngāti Apa, Ngāti Kuia and Rangitāne, the later Ngāti Toa, and the current guardians Te Ātiawa.

Te Ātiawa has a deep connection to the Tahitian priest Tupaia, a skilled navigator and translator on Cook’s crucial early voyages.

Meretoto/Ship Cove is a sheltered cove with a lush coastal forest backdrop. There are nearby kayaking tours, anchorages for personal boats, coastal lodges, and the cove is the starting point for the iconic Queen Charlotte Track.

Mounuments to Cook were erected in 1913 and 1920. In recent years three pouwhenua/monuments have also been added at the site, depicting Kupe and local tribes.

The natural heritage of the site, filled with bird song and thick coastal forests, is reminiscent of the environment Cook would have encountered when he first landed. Over 125 years of preservation have seen the area remain largely unmodified, except for modern visitor facilities.

Getting there

The only access to Meretoto/Ship Cove is by boat, either private or a commercial tour.

Deep connections

For early Māori, Meretoto/Ship Cove offered vital shelter from the rough open sea, and placenames in the area reference the great explorer Kupe. The Tahitian navigator Tupaia commands great respect for smoothing the first contact with Cook and reconnecting local tribes to their Polynesian roots.

A favoured site

Meretoto/Ship Cove is the only location visited on all three of Cook’s voyages in the 1770s, one of only two in the South Island, and the only anchorage in his final voyage. Cook spent 170 of his total 328 days in the country here, meaning that the site had some of the most precisely measured coordinates in the world at that time.

Historic importance

Frequent contact between Māori and Europeans at Meretoto/Ship Cove laid the foundation for New Zealand’s bicultural heritage. Meretoto/Ship Cove became New Zealand’s first historic reserve in 1896 and an attraction for both tourists and historians. 

Further reading

Meretoto/Ship Cove: Heritage NZ

Back to top