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The Queen Charlotte Track, which winds its way between Queen Charlotte and Kenepuru Sounds in Marlborough, starts its journey at Ship Cove (Meretoto).
When I arrived there on a ferry from Picton, I knew that I had plenty of time before dusk (and no tent to set up at my first stop in the Endeavour Inlet), so I decided to spend some time at the historical site where Captain Cook landed on five different occasions.
I wasn’t the only one that chose to do this; there were only a few walkers that barreled off down the track without a second look. There weren’t just walkers there, either. A friendly father and son duo had docked their sailboat at the wooden jetty and were in no hurry to leave. And why would you be? It was gorgeous, and just being there was relaxing. It was a good taste of what would await me at every stop along the scenic track.
The memorial to Captain Cook’s stays, which totaled 168 days and marked the first sustained contact between the English and the Maori, stood tall and white against the lush green forest around the cove. One side was simply inscribed “COOK.” It was guarded by old cannons, which formed an interesting juxtaposition to the tranquil sounds towards which they were pointing.
There was also plenty to show what a significant site this is for the Maori. Prior to Captain Cook’s visit, they had valued it for the same reasons he had — it was a safe, sheltered haven from the often wild waters of the Cook Strait just beyond.
A small marae — a Maori meetinghouse — stood empty near the memorial. Nearby, wood carvings guarded a small bridge to another part of the cove. There, an intricately carved tiki stood much taller than any man, with his paua eyes trained on the water and islands beyond. This was what most fascinated me. I loved the workmanship in the wooden carving and how striking his eyes were.
It was amazing to think that Ship Cove, with the exception of the memorial and the jetty, probably looked almost the same now as it would have when Captain Cook arrived. Nowhere was there evidence of human habitation — there was just blue sky and rolling hills covered in thick vegetation and the occasional punga tree (also known as New Zealand’s iconic silver fern).
In short, it was perfect, untouched New Zealand.
Have you ever been anywhere that felt like it hadn’t been touched by humans for hundreds of years? Where was it?
I highly recommend visiting Ship Cove, whether it’s at the beginning of your Queen Charlotte experience or as a day trip from Picton. Both The Cougar Line and Endeavour Express run day trips to Ship Cove for $75.