Historic Ship Cove

Ship Cove holds key cultural heritage stories told in a beautiful sheltered cove with a lush coastal forest backdrop.

Totaranui (Queen Charlotte Sound) was visited by the great Polynesian explorer, Kupe, during his exploration of this country which his wife named Aotearoa.

This site is internationally recognised as Captain James Cook’s favourite New Zealand base during his three wide-ranging voyages of exploration.

Information panels at Ship Cove. Photo: Steve Bagley.
Information panels at Ship Cove

In all, his expeditions spent 170 days at this anchorage between his first visit in January 1770 and final departure during his last voyage in February 1777. Cook found this place provided a central and secure anchorage with good wood, water and fishing where he could prepare and provision his ships and restore his crews.

It was during these visits that some of the earliest sustained contact between Maori and European took place. Maori were quick to trade for European goods while Cook’s people observed and engaged in Maori cultural life.

This cove was already valued by Maori as a place of shelter at the edge of the open sea.

Ship Cove/Meretoto is a focal point within a wider landscape associated with Cook and Maori history in the outer Queen Charlotte Sound. It is a popular landing point for local launch tours and international cruise liners; a destination for sea kayaks and an anchorage for cruising boats and is the starting point of the 4-day Queen Charlotte Walking Track.

Ship Cove has strong synergies with other Marlborough Sounds tourism opportunities; coastal lodges, concessionaires, Long Island Marine Reserve, Motuara Island Nature Reserve, Blumine Island World War II forts.

New visitor facilities reflecting the cultural themes of the site and new interpretation covering the Maori and Cook stories of Ship Cove and the surrounding sound were installed in 2006.

Further reading

Many books have been published which include information about this site. Three recommended books are:

Salmond, Anne 1991. Two Worlds: first meetings between Maori and Europeans 1642 – 1772. Viking.

Salmond, Anne 1997. Between Two Worlds: early exchanges between Maori and Europeans 1773 – 1815. Viking.

Salmond, Anne 2004. The Trial of the Cannibal Dog: Captain Cook in the South Seas. Penguin Books.  (Winner of the 2004 Montana New Zealand Book Award).


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