Meretoto/Ship Cove
Image: Avara Moody | DOC


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.

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.

Pest control exercise for Marlborough Sounds

A pest control operation primarily targeting goats and deer is planned from 15 May to mid-June 2023:

  • between Endeavour Inlet and Little Waikawa Bay in Totaranui/Queen Charlotte Sound, and
  • Oruawairua/Blumine Island.

We recommend you stay on the track within these areas during of this operation.

See a map of the area (Jpg, 122 K)

This operation uses aerial shooting from a helicopter and ground hunting teams with indicator dogs. Visitors may be aware of helicopter and gunshot noise.

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 place names 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.

Current Meretoto guardians Te Ātiawa o Te Waka-a-Māui have a deep connection to Tupaia.

The Kurahaupō iwi of Ngāti Kuia, Rangitāne o Wairau and Ngāti Apa Ki te Rā Tō were the iwi present at Meretoto at the arrival of Captain Cook on the Endeavour. They also met with the Tahitian priest Tupaia, and were able to converse with him, making connections back to their ancestral homeland of Rāngiatea from which he came.

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

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