Tuia 250 is about the people and places of Aotearoa New Zealand - what brought us together, the challenges we face and how we will weave our cultures and values into a future we will be proud to leave for the next generation.

Tuia 250 will also acknowledge the feats of European explorers, the technology they developed and their first encounters with the people of this place when James Cook, Tupaia and others on the Endeavour arrived and sailed around Aotearoa in 1769.

The New Zealand Geographic Board Ngā Pou Taunaha o Aotearoa (NZGB) is contributing to this national commemoration by identifying and researching the stories for just over 200 place names given during Lieutenant James Cook’s first encounters around our shores. Included are original Māori place names.

Place names from Cook’s voyages

In August 1768, Lieutenant James Cook sailed from Plymouth, UK, on the HMB Endeavour. On board were 94 people, including officers, seamen, gentlemen and their servants, with nearly 18 months of provisions. The first purpose of the voyage was to travel to Tahiti and record the transit of Venus; the second, contained in secret instructions, was to travel further south and investigate the possibility of a southern continent.

Rather than a southern continent, Cook showed that the coast Dutch explorer Abel Tasman had charted in 1642 was part of a group of islands, which we now call New Zealand. These islands were inhabited and already had names, given by the tangata whenua. Cook and others on board the Endeavour recorded some of these names and attempted to rename other places. They recorded both original and new names on various charts (maps) and in journals.

After Cook’s first voyage (1768-1771), he easily convinced the British Navy to send a second voyage (1772-1775). This time he was assigned two ships: the Resolution (which he took command of) and the Adventure. They travelled as far south as possible, surveying the Antarctic waters, and spending the winter in New Zealand and the Pacific Islands. After this voyage, Cook was sent on a third voyage (1776-1779) to see whether there was a northwest passage from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic. While on his voyage, he died in Hawaii in February 1779.

Most of the names come from Cook’s first journey, as it circumnavigated New Zealand and stopped at various places. The second and third voyages were briefer and were primarily refuelling stops at Dusky Bay and Queen Charlotte Sound/Tōtaranui.

30 of the place names associated with Cook and the Endeavour are explored here; examining why those names were used, and how they have changed over time.

The names

The names used by those on board Cook’s ships fall into several broad categories:

  • descriptive (eg Flat Island, Bay of Islands)
  • metaphorical (eg Bay of Plenty, Poverty Bay)
  • narrative (eg Cape Runaway, Cape Turnagain).

Names also honoured people:

  • royalty (eg Queen Charlotte Sound)
  • officers in the British admiralty (eg Cape Brett, Cape Colville)
  • professional members of his ship’s complement (eg Banks Peninsula, Solander Island)

In addition to Cook, several other men on board kept journals and created charts. Those mentioned frequently in this project include:  

  • Richard Pickersgill, originally the master’s mate on the Endeavour, promoted to master after the death of the original master Robert Molyneux on the return trip to England. Pickersgill was then promoted to third lieutenant for the second voyage. Of Pickersgill’s charts, several of the New Zealand coast from the first voyage survive and one of Dusky Sound on the second.
  • Joseph Banks, naturalist and later President of the Royal Society. Banks, as a young wealthy gentleman, financed himself and his retinue on Cook’s first voyage. A transcription of his Endeavour journal can be viewed online. Banks pulled out of Cook’s second voyage after his increasing demands for space and resources were turned down.
  • Robert Molyneux, master on the Endeavour until his death on the return trip from Capetown to England. There is one extant chart by Molyneux (his name is spelt in many different ways).
  • Joseph Gilbert, master of the Resolution on Cook’s second voyage. Gilbert made several charts of Dusky Sound.  
  • Peter Fannin, master of the Adventure on Cook’s second voyage. There is a surviving chart of Fannin’s showing the Cook Strait.

See the stories in Google Earth

We’ve made all of the stories available in Google Earth with additional photography, and Cook’s original manuscript charts showing the names as they were first recorded. You can compare this to LINZ’s modern hydrographic charts.

Click here to select and save these stories to your Google Earth.

More information

Last Updated: 12 June 2019