Tuia - Mercury Bay 250 Commemorations

In November 2019 it will be the 250th anniversary since Captain Cook came to NZ and sailed into Mercury Bay.


Mercury Bay on the Coromandel will play a significant role in celebrations to mark the 250th year since Captain James Cook made his first landfall in New Zealand - as it was one of four locations where Europeans and Māori first met 250 years ago in October 1769.

The 250th anniversary commemorations has been given the Maori name Tuia, meaning to weave together, symbolising bringing people together in unity

Visit our Cook 250 celebration website.

On Cook’s first voyage, the Endeavour and its crew spent 12 days forging relationships with the local tribe Ngati Hei, who, after a tragic first start with the death of a tribe member, welcomed the navigator and showed them their pa on the headland at Wharekaho, Simpsons Beach. This was the first time that a European had been shown a Maori pa, and it was documented in journals with drawings and explanations from Cook’s journey.

The Mercury Bay Anniversary 250 Trust has been formed to bring together individuals, community groups, event organisers and businesses willing to have input into Tuia commemorations.

The Trust has created a Cook Journey website, and members of the Trust are welcoming of anyone wishing to contact them to discuss Tuia by email

Education projects

On a national level, the Ministry of Education is involved in the planning for the Tuia commemoration, with representatives from the Ministry in Whitianga in February 2018 to discuss how the commemoration, and the first encounters theme of the commemoration, can be incorporated in the national school curriculum.

Tuia is a big national event and the goal will be for school students in Invercargill through to Kaitaia to know as much about Cook’s 12 days in Mercury Bay as school students in Whitianga and the Coromandel District.

Legacy projects

Central government has signalled it will allocate some funding to our region for legacy projects, which the Trust is working on providing details on.

At this stage we are still working through possible proposals and investigating options to fit the criteria for government funding, But some concepts we're looking at include public art installations, heritage trails, signage and commemorative pieces that represent this founding event in our history, which also celebrate the inspiring Pacific and European traditions that our nation has emerged from.

Iwi projects

Iwi involvement is also paramount in Tuia commemorations. Cook spent 12 days in Mercury Bay, with this visit being significant because it was the first time Europeans (“pakeha”) developed some understanding of the way local iwi (Ngati Hei) lived. It was also the first time Europeans were invited and welcomed onto a pa with a karanga (an exchange of calls that forms part of a powhiri).

Joe Davis, from Ngati Hei is on the Mercury Bay Anniversary 250 Trust and is instrumental in working on several Tuia projects, one of which is a powhiri at Wharekaho (Simpsons Beach) when it is hoped the replica of the HM Endeavour, Cook's ship will arrive in Mercury Bay next year.

The ship is based at the Australian National Maritime Museum in Sydney but the plan is that it will visit all four of the Cook landing sites, as well as Auckland.

Cook anchored off Waiomu five days after leaving Mercury Bay and rowed with members of his crew up the Waihou River. They landed at a Maori village not far from Netherton, where they were welcomed with open arms.

Whitianga Town Centre upgrade

It’s expected that the Whitianga town centre upgrade, with the theme of Polynesian and European explorers, will be completed by the time of the Endeavour's visit, and a display in the Mercury Bay Museum with the same theme is also expected to be open to the public by that time.

The Mercury 250 Anniversary Trust anticipate Tuia commemoration activities in Mercury Bay will kick off from September 2019 and will continue until the end of summer 2020.

Mercury 250th Anniversary Trust

  • Mercury Bay Community Board Chair Paul Kelly
  • Local iwi representative Joe Davis (Ngati Hei)
  • Mercury Bay Area School Principal John Wright
  • Richard Gates, Mercury Bay local historian
  • Sir Michael Fay is the patron.

The Trust's purpose is to help develop long-term legacy projects as well as facilitate events that cam ne delivered in 2019 which recognise the significance of Cook's landing at Mercury Bay, while highlighting the importance of our own Maori history and heritage.

The Trust has identified three core themes

  1. Navigation and exploration - Crossing Places (kupe to Cook)
  2. Discoveries of science - Transit of Mercury
  3. Meeting places - Sharing of Cultures,

All of these themes will be integrated into projects and evens which are relevant and enduring to Mercury Bay, but also for the wider Coromandel and across the country.


  • Establish Trust and structure (2014-2015)
  • Programme design (2016-2017)
  • Details programme design (2018-2016)
  • Delivery of programme (2019)

Planning so far

Septmeber 2018 - The arrangement for next year’s 250th anniversary of explorer James Cook's arrival in New Zealand, called “Tuia Encounters 250,” is gaining momentum with the hope everyone takes part in the national commemorations. The Trust has recently contracted well-known Whitianga resident, Jan Wright, as their event coordinator. Read more here.

April 2017 - The Department of Internal Affairs announced today $9M of funding will be available for community projects that align with the kaupapa of Tuia – Encounters 250 through the Lottery Environment and Heritage Fund. More details on the fund can be found here. Please get in touch with the Mercury Bay 250 Trust so that we can ensure funding proposals can align with projects the Trust are already working on.

November 2016 - August 2017 - Liaison with government departments to provide details on what legacy projects could benefit from central government funding. 

August 2016 - Launch of new website to promote the 250th celebrations on 

June 2016 - Mercury Bay confirmed to host the replica of the HMS Endeavour from in November 2019.

March 2015 - A national hui was hosted by the Te Ha Trust, Gisborne to dicuss the planning around the regions and also to see if there was any way to establish common ground for commemorations. Representatives from the Mercury Bay 250 Trust attended and several national strategic themes were passed.

  1. Te Ha (sharing breath and winds that brought voyagers to NZ)
  2. Voyages, journeys of discovery over time (navigation, science, botany, matauranga)
  3. First meetings (on land and sea)
  4. History, education and knowledge - sharing stories leading to understanding
  5. Reconciliation and healing.
  6. Commemoration and celebration
  7. Legacies to protect and conserve legacies of the past to inform the new
  8. Dual heritage - shared future (Te Katoa)

A national coordination group with support from central government has also been endorsed. It's anticpated that there will be representatives from all regional coordinating groups for the Endeavour landfall sites, which includes:

  • Mercury Bay (Thames-Coromandel District)
  • Bay of Islands
  • Queen Charlotte Sound (Marlborough District Council, iwi and community groups)
  • Tairawhiti (Te Ha 1769 Sestercentennial Trust) Gisborne.

Other agencies proposed as partners

  • Ministry of Culture and Heritage
  • Ministry of Education
  • Department of Conservation
  • Te Puni Kokiri
  • Heritage NZ
  • Creative NZ
  • Toi Maori
  • Museum of NZ Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Botanical gardens and societies.

Cook's visit to Mercury Bay.

Mercury Bay was one of the four landing sites for Cook's ship The Endeavour - and significant as it was the first positive interaction between Captain Cook, his crew and Maori (local iwi Ngati Hei).

This is an occasion of national significance as well as of major importance to the historic heritage of our ward and our District.

Fellow Trust member and local historian Richard Gates has a vast knowledge of Cook history and says the commemoration is significant. “It is one of the most important milestones in our country’s history.

“Apart from his later stopover at Ship’s Cove in Queen Charlotte Sound, Cook stayed longer at Mercury Bay than at any other North Island location during his circumnavigation of New Zealand between October 1769 and April 1770. It was here New Zealand was put on the map and it was here the hospitality of local iwi Ngati Hei, following some initial unfortunate misunderstandings, led to a peaceful understanding and respect between Pakeha and Maori.”

The Endeavour was a bark, or barque, originally launched in 1764 as a three-mast broad beamed Whitby Cat named the Earl of Pembroke. Cook served on Whitby Cats before joining the Royal Navy, and when selected to lead a voyage exploring the seas of the ‘Terra Australis Incognita’, he was quite at home.

Captain Cook sailed three voyages throughout the Pacific Ocean, accurately charting many areas and recording New Zealand on European charts for the first time with an observation of the Transit of Mercury at Cooks Beach in 1769.

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 tribe was left with potatoes, which were planted and distributed among the tribes of Hauraki.

Ngati Hei impressed Captain Cook and his crew with their technically and tactically advanced fortified pa, their culture and their courageous opening of hearts to a strange race with customs and technologies unlike anything that they had ever known.

The impressions left upon Ngati Hei is reflected in the comments of Te Horeta, also known as Te Taniwha, who was a 12-year-old boy when he came into contact with the Endeavour and its crew during this, Cook’s first voyage of 1769. Te Horeta Te Taniwha was an old man when he recalled the Endeavour’s visit and recalled the sight of the longboat and pinnace coming to shore, with its rowers pulling their oars with their backs to the land. “Yes it is so; these people are goblins; their eyes are at the back of their heads; they pull on shore with backs to the land to which they are going.”

He wrote of Cook as a “supreme man in that ship”: “We knew he was lord of the whole by is perfect gentlemanly and noble demeanour. He seldom spoke, but some of the goblins spoke much. But this man did not utter many words, all that he did was to handle our mats and hold our mere, spears and wahaika and touch the hair of our heads.”

Cook was not the first European to New Zealand’s shores – Portuguese and Dutch explorers including Abel Janszoon Tasman arrived in the 17th Century – but Tasman did not set foot on New Zealand, charting Golden Bay (Murderers Bay as he described it) and the west coast of the North Island. But, as Richard Gates notes, when it comes to who was ‘first’ among these European explorers, both Australia and New Zealand put Cook on a pedestal.

“Perhaps it is because of the sheer scale of his three voyages to the Pacific. He filled in the blanks on a vast area of the globe that was previously only superficially understood by Europeans. His voyages were also the world’s first fully scientific expeditions in an era now known as the age of enlightenment.”

The three other landfall sites were in the Bay of Islands, Queen Charlotte Sound (Marlborough) and Gisborne.