By Rebecca O’Brien, Technical Advisor (Historic)
It was mid-week on a work day. I was about to touch shore at a site linked to some of the world’s great navigators – Captain Cook and Kupe. No great navigator myself, I could only bless the person who developed sealegs tablets. I was visiting Ship Cove – the lovely spot in the Marlborough Sounds where Captain Cook stopped five times during his wanderings around the globe. It is renowned as his favourite place in the Pacific.
Ship Cove is one of the first places we began preserving our history. It is not surprising that one of our first heritage places was a landscape. ‘Heritage’ is often associated with buildings. But in New Zealand, the places that matter to us are just as likely to be found in our forests and coastlines as in our buildings and cities. In 1896, the Government made the forest around Ship Cove a reserve. The reason? Because it was ‘in much the same state as when Cook first
anchored in the bay on January 15th, 1770’. The bush and birdsong that had made an impression on Cook were preserved for future generations.
I was at Ship Cove to find out how the history of this significant spot was presented to visitors. As I entered the cove, my eye was drawn from the forested hills to the stark white memorial – the brain-child of 600 picnickers who visited in 1906. Their legacy was the sturdy, concrete monument to Cook that has distinguished the cove since 1913.
Near the shore, I saw the great carved pou of Kupe silently facing the sea. The bush, the memorial, and the pou are markers. At Ship Cove, we have used them to show what matters to us as a nation.
Ship Cove was bustling. Most of us had arrived by boat. A mud-splashed tramping party spilled out from the Queen Charlotte track. Outward Bounders. A fishing group. A family in gumboots. We were surrounded by fluttering fantails, the song of the tūī, and a patrolling weka that snatched the last piece of my sandwich. The bay is split in two by a stream used to replenish water supplies of visiting ships. On the jetty side, is a pleasant picnic area. Across the bridge, there are informative panels people were absorbed in reading. I discovered one of Cook’s officers also delighted in the ‘sweet harmony of the birds’. We got a taste of the native bush by taking the Waterfall Walk. This 30-minute trek packs a lot and culminates with a fabulous crescendo of waterfalls.
I left Ship Cove impressed by the far-sightedness of the government in 1896. Preserving cultural landscapes is often talked of as a ‘new idea’. Ship Cove demonstrates that it is one of New Zealand’s earliest responses to our particular brand of heritage. And rightly so.