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Good turnout and a positive reception to the Cook Journey themes

23 March 2017

Events that celebrate the November 2019 anniversary of Captain James Cook’s visit to Te Whanganui a Hei are gaining momentum locally, at the same time that the Government is ramping up co-ordination of events nationally to mark the 250th anniversary of the first encounters between Māori and Europeans.

Mercury Bay 250 Trust hosted a workshop on Tuesday to bring together individuals, community groups, event organisers and businesses willing to have input on legacy projects and events for the 2019 commemoration that will mark 250 years since Cook visited on his first Great Voyage (1768–1771) aboard The Endeavour.

“We had a good turnout and a positive reception to the themes we’ve established for celebrating this commemoration,” says Mercury Bay 250 Trust Chair Paul Kelly. “The next step is securing and developing venues and ensuring that we are ready to provide visitors with a full range of experiences that leverage off this commemorative occasion.”

The Trust has developed three main themes of exploration and discovery "navigate", Mercury Bay as a first meeting place "share" and scientific discovery "explore". The themes are showcased on a new website  that was created as the platform for promoting the commemoration in 2019.

Ideas being considered include a storytelling venue in Whitianga and projects that enhance the indigenous marine and land habitats that were impacted following these first connections between two cultures.

Mercury Bay is one of four original landing sites for Cook and is significant in Cook’s journey because it was the first amicable contact between Europeans and Maori.

Cook stayed for 12 days with Ngati Hei and named the area Mercury Bay. Cook was preceded many centuries earlier by the Polynesian voyagers and first settlers in Aotearoa including Hei – ancestor of the Ngati Hei people of today.

Ngati Hei are active partners in the commemoration, which will celebrate the exchanges that took place with Cook’s visit and the foundations that were laid for two cultures to share their knowledge, food and customs. During Cook’s visit the local tribes was left with potatoes, which were planted and distributed among the tribes of Hauraki.

Arts, Culture and Heritage Minister Maggie Barry has announced a national commemoration to mark the 250th anniversary and the Trust is liaising with a national co-ordinating committee on how to tie in with events in other landing sites.

“Through the Major Events Development Fund, the Government has committed $3.5 million towards a commemorative voyage around New Zealand by a flotilla including a replica of the Endeavour,” Ms Barry says.

Former PM Jenny Shipley will visit Whitianga to progress Cook 250 celebrations as newly-announced chair of the National Coordinating Committee for First Encounters 250.

Mrs Shipley will visit Whitianga on May 8 and 9 to discuss local initiatives and how the Ministry can support Mercury Bay with coordination and promotion nationally.

Mercury Bay Museum is already advancing plans for a revamp of its exhibition celebrating Cook’s connection to the area and the key themes that have been developed.

“It was an important moment in world history when these three great voyaging traditions - Polynesian, Maori and European – tangled together,” says John Steele, Local Resident and member of the Cook Society.

“It was here in Mercury Bay that the three great navigating and voyaging civilisations of the day met each other -   this is very significant to New Zealand historians.  The mention of the twin hulled canoes is significant also because off Mercury Bay was the first time, Cook (and any other European) had seen one.”

A replica HMS Endeavour will anchor in and around Mercury Bay with a side trip up the Firth of Thames. The ship will arrive in Mercury Bay after sailing from its first stop in New Zealand at Gisborne. It will then make a brief stop in Auckland, before continuing on Cook’s original journey to the Bay of Islands and Queen Charlotte Sound, stopping in Wellington in between.  

Read more on this journey and sign up for updates on the Cook Journey website on www.thecoromandel/cooksjourney under its heritage section.