Ship Cove
Image: Avara Moody | DOC


Meretoto/Ship Cove was James Cook's favourite New Zealand base during his three voyages of exploration. The area holds key cultural heritage stories told in a beautiful sheltered cove with a lush coastal forest backdrop.

Queen Charlotte Sound/Tōtaranui area 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 James Cook’s favourite New Zealand base during his three wide-ranging voyages of exploration.

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 Māori and European took place. Māori were quick to trade for European goods while Cook's people observed and engaged in Māori cultural life. Tupaia of Ra'iātea, Tahiti was with Cook on the Endeavour and helped smooth relations. For Tōtaranui Māori, he also reconnected them with their Polynesian history.

This cove was already valued by Māori as a place of shelter at the edge of the open sea. Much is known about James Cook, however, less is known about the tangata whenua of the area. The 250th commemorations of James Cook’s 1769 voyage to Aotearoa/New Zealand have provided the opportunity to re-examine the histories of the area and increase our understanding of the past.

Meretoto/Ship Cove is a focal point within a wider landscape associated with Cook and Māori 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 Track.

This site has visitor facilities reflecting the cultural themes of the site and interpretation covering the Māori and Cook stories of Meretoto/Ship Cove and the surrounding area. Three pouwhenua, one depicting Kupe and his arrival, and two depicting the iwi with associations to the site are significant features. 

Meretoto/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.

Further reading

Recommended books:

  • Salmond, Anne 1991. Two Worlds: first meetings between Māori and Europeans 1642 – 1772. Viking.
  • Salmond, Anne 1997. Between Two Worlds: early exchanges between Māori and Europeans 1773 – 1815. Viking.
  • Salmond, Anne 2004. The Trial of the Cannibal Dog: Captain Cook in the South Seas. Penguin Books.

See also:

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