The Reluctant Travel Writer - Making History at Cooks Beach

Leonard Lea Frazer
A statue of James Cook in Christchurch, New Zealand.
A statue of James Cook in Christchurch, New Zealand.

On one of my Travel Writer’s adventures I discovered several Kiwi attractions on the East coast of New Zealand’s North Island, back in November of 1994. The highlights for me, on the Coromandel Peninsula, included the Driving Creek Railway, the Honey Cottage guest house, a horse-riding trip near Whitianga, the thermal-fed Hot Water Beach, a historical re-enactment of Captain Cook landing at Cooks Beach and a relaxing walk on the beach near my campsite at the Hahei Campground.

All the sites mentioned above were reached in a rented car. It seemed, at the time, that I was at the edge of the world, but I was actually only a short driving distance from the cities of Auckland and Hamilton.

A map of the Coromandel Peninsula.
A map of the Coromandel Peninsula.

When Lieutenant James Cook sailed along the coastline of this same area in November of 1769 he was also on a journey of discovery. He had his orders from the British Admiralty to explore and find out if there were other continents in the Southern Sea and while observing the “transit of Mercury” in front of the sun he was able to determine the longitude and thereby the exact position of New Zealand on the World Map. As a result of this, Cook named the area “Mercury Bay.” Other local places named by and after James Cook were, Cape Kidnappers, Poverty Bay, Bay of Plenty, Cook Strait, Mt. Cook and also, where I witnessed the re-enactment of the landing of some of the crew of the HMS Endeavour, at “Cooks Beach,” near the Purangi Estuary.

The long boat carrying Captain Cook and the Marines.
The long boat carrying Captain Cook and the Marines.
Cook is greeted by a Maori Chief.
Cook is greeted by a Maori Chief.

Hundreds of locals and international tourists showed up for the gala event. Youth and adult Maori dance groups were on hand to entertain and participate in the interpretative show. An impressive Maori war canoe and paddlers moved out on the Purangi River to greet the long boat containing Captain Cook and several marines from the Endeavour. The local actors portraying “The English” displayed a large red flag in their craft and were soon escorted to the beach where Cook and company began formal introductions that included rubbing noses with the local Chief and Elders. An adult Maori dance group performed an intimidating “Haka” and later gifts were exchanged between members of Cook’s crew and the natives on Cooks Beach. The Haka is a traditional, ancestral cry, dance or challenge of the Maori. It is used to greet important people who are visiting at National festivals, sports events and on other important occasions.

225 years had past since the actual event had taken place at Cooks Beach and it was memorable to be there and enjoy the festivities.

Nose-rubbing at Cooks Beach.
Nose-rubbing at Cooks Beach.
Young Maori dancers perform at Cooks Beach
Young Maori dancers perform at Cooks Beach