Tolaga Bay wharf

Image: DOC


Explore the area Captain Cook visited in 1769 on his circumnavigation of New Zealand.

Place overview


  • Walking and tramping

Find things to do and places to stay Tolaga Bay area

About this place

History and culture

Local Maori

At the time that Captain James Cook visited the area in 1769, Maori had inhabited the area for many centuries. The main iwi (tribe) living at the bay and using Cooks Cove for fishing and gathering other seafood was Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti, who made their homes around the rich, coastal land of Tolaga Bay and the alluvial flats of the Uawa and Mangaheia rivers.

There were large cultivations on the flats surrounding the low hills, and pa (fortified villages) on prominent ridges and high points, both inland and along the coast itself. An estimate of the early population of Tolaga Bay is 1,200 people,a significant number at that time.

The Endeavour arrives in Cooks Cove - October 1769

When James Cook's vessel, the Endeavour, first approached Tolaga Bay, he had already spent two-and-a-half weeks exploring the New Zealand coastline. He reached Tūranginui-a-Iwi/Poverty Bay in early October 1769, after a journey of more than a year, from Plymouth Sound, England, via Tahiti.

Along with this crew (including able seamen, officers and gentlemen) he made a number of records of what he saw, providing us with an interesting picture of the past.

As the Endeavour anchored in Tolaga Bay, a number of canoes came alongside bringing crew fish and kumara. There was a great deal of contact between the locals and the visitors while the ship was anchored in the bay.

Observations of the culture and diversity of the landscape

One of the crew (Sydney Parkinson) described the country as "agreeable beyond description" and Joseph Banks, the botanist on board, collected 20 new plant species, some of which the crew sampled.

The Tahitian high priest Tupaea, who travelled on board the Endeavour, spent time in discussions with local priests (tohunga) and appears to have made a deep impression as several places were named after him.

The crew of the Endeavour spent some time at the place now known as Cook's Cove (Opoutama) where they dug a well for a spring to collect fresh water. They were also much taken with the Hole-in-the-Wall rock formation.

The visitors were received with warm and friendly support and the crew's overall impressions of the bay were extremely positive. Banks wrote:

"Throughout all this District the people seem free from apprehension and as in a state of Profound Peace; their Cultivations were far more numerous and larger than we saw them anywhere else, and they had a far greater quantity of fine Boats, fine Cloaths, fine carved work; in short the People were far more numerous, and lived in much greater affluence than any others we saw".

Cook's departure

Cook weighed anchor and left Tolaga Bay in the early hours of the morning of Sunday 29 October 1769, after taking on supplies of wood, water and food.

The Endeavour visit was well remembered by the different hapu (sub-tribes) of Te Aitanga-a-Hauiti, and there are various accounts describing the kinds of goods that the local people acquired from Cook and the effect that they had on the local economy.


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