Celebrations to unveil the Cook Memorial in 1906
Image: Tairawhiti Museum ©


Captain Cook landed in Aotearoa and changed the course of history for Maori forever. Visit the site where the first European set foot on New Zealand soil.

The Cook Landing Site National Historic Reserve commemorates the first landing place of James Cook in New Zealand in 1769. The site is believed to be within a short distance of the actual landing site, and not far from Te Toka a Taiau where the first significant meeting between Maori and Europeans took place.

The landing site has changed a great deal since that time. It is now situated beside the Esplanade Road, on an area of reclaimed land close to the edge of the Pacific Ocean. The old shore line is marked only by a noticeable dip in the ground in front of the obelisk.

First arrivals

The site where Cook first set foot on New Zealand soil was also the first landing place of the Horouta and Te Ikaroa-a-Rauru waka (canoes) which carried Maori to the district.

Cook's first voyage to New Zealand

Cook set sail from Plymouth, England in August 1768 on the Endeavour. After sailing to Tahiti to record the transit of Venus across the sun, he started on his next mission - to continue south looking for a large landmass or continent.

On 6 October 1769, Nicholas Young, who was sitting on the mast head, sighted land. It is now thought likely that the land he first saw was the peak of Mount Arowhana, rather than the southern headland of Poverty Bay, which Cook named Young Nick’s Head.

The first landing 

Cook Memorial.
The Cook Memorial today
Image: Jamie Quirk | DOC

On 8 October 1769, Cook and his party made their historic landing in New Zealand. Local Maori were mystified by what they saw. They thought the Endeavour was an enormous bird with wings of great size and beauty; the longboats were smaller birds; while Cook and his men were atua (gods).

Cook was eager to make friendly contact with the Maori people. However a series of unfortunate encounters, both on the day of the landing and the next day, resulted in the deaths of several Maori.

The following day Cook took his leave and the Endeavour headed south. Initially Cook had planned to call the bay he landed in, Endeavour Bay, but instead he named it Poverty Bay “because it afforded us no one thing we wanted”.

DOC's work

When DOC was given responsibility for the Cook Landing Site National Historic Reserve in 1990, the site was barely more than a paddock. Since that time DOC has completed many projects to ensure that the site’s historical significance is honoured:

  • Development of the Banks Garden which includes representatives of many types of plants that Joseph Banks (the Endeavour’s botanist) collected in the East Coast
  • Conservation work on the flagpole in partnership with the New Zealand Navy
  • Conservation work on the Cook Memorial
  • Interpretation relating to the centenary of the unveiling of the Cook Memorial.
  • Education and events to mark Cook's historic landing in partnership with the Te Unga Mai Trust and Tairawhiti Museum.  

Getting there

The Cook Landing Site National Historic Reserve is located about 1.4 km down Kaiti Beach Road (off Wainui Road) in central Gisborne.

You can follow Cook's journey around the East Cape by visiting:

  • Anaura Bay - an hour north of Gisborne. A Historic Places Trust plaque beside Hawai Stream marks Cook's second landing site in New Zealand.
  • Cook's Cove Walkway - 2km south of Tolaga Bay. Cook stayed here for several days to repair the Endeavour and replenish his supplies before heading north to Mercury Bay. There is a walkway between Cook's Cove and Tolaga Bay, and about 3 hours should be allocated to take in the fantastic scenery (return trip). 

Further reading

Beaglehole JC. (1968) The Voyage of the Endeavour, 1768 - 1771 (Cambridge University Press).
Gisborne District Council. (1994) Turanganui a Kiwa: Landfall (Logan Print, Gisborne).
Mackay JG. (1949) Historic Poverty Bay, Gisborne. 
Kerekere-Smiler K. (1996) Historical Address of the Arrival in 1769 of the Endeavour to Turanganui-a-Kiwa.
Salmond A. (1991) Two Worlds (Penguin).
Salmond A. (2003) The Trial of the Cannibal Dog: The Remarkable Story of Captain Cook's Encounters in the South Seas (Penguin).

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