Two cultures traded animals, plants and knowledge at picturesque Meretoto / Ship Cove in 1770.
A remote bay near the mouth of the Marlborough Sounds has been recognised as a historic place by Heritage New Zealand Pouhere Taonga.
When the Endeavour first arrived in Meretoto / Ship Cove in 1770, Māori warriors in four waka encircled the ship, throwing stones and verbally challenging the crew.
But Captain James Cook’s navigator Tupaia welcomed the rangatira (leader) on board with a hongi, smoothing over a historic meeting that sparked a relationship of learning and trading between the cultures.
The bay and Motuara Island have been listed as a Category 1 historic place on the Heritage List Rārangi Kōrero, ahead of the 250th anniversary of Cook’s arrival in Aotearoa / New Zealand.
Heritage assessment adviser Kerryn Pollock said the site had “outstanding heritage values” as a place of early sustained contact between Māori and Pākehā.
“Meretoto / Ship Cove served as James Cook’s expedition base over the three South Pacific voyages he undertook in the late 18th Century,” Pollock said.
Cook and his crew members spent more time at the bay than any other part of New Zealand.
“As a result, there was opportunity for repeated interactions between Māori and Europeans, which forged relationships that were by turns amicable, challenging and violent,” Pollock said.
Top of the South (Te Tauihu) iwi Rangitāne, Ngāti Apa ki te Rā Tō, Ngāti Kuia and Te Ātiawa had strong connections to the cove, which was sheltered and had a source of fresh water.
It was used by Māori as a gateway between the North and South Islands, on the route between argillite quarries in Whakatu / Nelson and Rangitoto, and pounamu deposits further south.
The sloping sandy bay was also a perfect spot for Cook to careen the Endeavour, which required the ship to be beached for repairs.
Pollock said trading and “intellectual curiosity” brought Māori and Europeans together, and Tupaia was able to ensure “smooth relations” as a translator and “cultural facilitator”.
“This incident foreshadowed the great esteem the people of Tōtaranui held for Tupaia – a feeling replicated among iwi at other Aotearoa / New Zealand anchorages.”
The lengthy stay at Meretoto / Ship Cove allowed Cook’s crew to study native plants and animals, and tried introducing their own flora and fauna.
“The first pair of sheep ever released in Aotearoa / New Zealand were found dead three days later after eating poisonous plants,” Pollock said.
“The goats fared no better, with the male running into the sea twice before he presumably drowned, leaving the female with no mate.”
However, hens and pigs both established breeding populations, and potatoes were incorporated into Māori horticulture.
Crew members also studied the stars from Meretoto / Ship Cove, Pollock said.
“In fact, over the course of Cook’s second and third voyages the area became one of the most precisely measured places in the world, even more so than Greenwich itself, home of the Royal Observatory, as latitude and longitude calculations were refined,” she said.
Cook proclaimed British sovereignty over Te Waipounamu / The South Island from Motuara Island in 1770.
His connection with the area encouraged other early European visitors to visit.
The site became New Zealand’s first historic reserve after it was set aside by the Government for its historic significance in 1896.
Monuments were erected at Meretoto / Ship Cove in 1913 and 1920, but had little reference to tangata whenua and pouwhenua and interpretation panels were added in 2006, Pollock said.
“It’s timely to formally recognise the heritage significance of Ship Cove / Meretoto for its associations with the Cook voyages and the first meetings of peoples that occurred then, as well as its longer significance to Māori.
“It is a place of importance to all New Zealanders.”