Ship Cove (Meretoto)

This bay is attractive and the surrounding hills are completely covered with native bush. There is a substantial wharf here as well as toilets, fireplaces and shelters around the grassy areas along the foreshore.

A swift river comes out into the bay between the wharf and monument and holding in this area can be very poor. Water is piped to the wharf.

A marked track leads from near the wharf to Resolution Bay. This track tends to be muddy and is through native bush.

A lookout has been constructed about two-thirds of the way to the saddle on the Ship Cove side. There is a good view from the lookout and saddle. It takes about one and a half hours to walk to Resolution Bay.

Ship Cove collects considerable swell from the open sea, particularly near the wharf. The combined club mooring on the north-west side of the bay also gets some of the swell.

The mooring is safe in winds from W to NE. There is still shelter in SW winds but it can be rather gusty.

The coves from the north-east of the mooring are well sheltered in W to NE winds and miss the swell from the open sea. These coves give good anchorage with deep water close to the shore.

The only satisfactory part of Ship Cove in SE to S winds is to the eastern side of the wharf. The water is deep here and if close to the shore there is no wind. The western side of the wharf is not deep and gets progressively shallower from the wharf to the river mouth. Mooring to the wharf is prohibited.

The bay to the south of Ship Cove gives good shelter in SE to SW winds to boats anchored either swinging free or with a stern line to shore. The holding is good with a mud, sand bottom.

There is a rock close to the shore on the western side, about 200 meters north of the beach at the head of the bay. There is a combined club mooring here.

From Ship Cove to Motuara Island N sector winds tend to be very strong with frequent gusts. Winds from S semicircle also blow strongly through here, with a considerable height of sea. Yachts under sail should proceed with caution and should not be over canvassed. 


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Since 2014 the bay has been officially recognised by its dual name, Meretoto/Ship Cove.1

The Māori name for the bay, Meretoto translates as bloody weapon. A mere is a short, flat weapon made of stone and toto means blood.2

The bay was given its European name by Captain James Cook in 1770.3

Meretoto/Ship Cove had been used by Māori from several iwi (tribes) for many generations. The bay was used for the gathering of kaimoana (seafood) and as a site for manufacturing pakohe (argillite) tools. The cove was also used as an urupā (burial site) and an anchorage for waka (canoes).4

Cook was the first European to explore Tōtaranui/Queen Charlotte Sound. He visited Meretoto/Ship Cove five times between 1770 and 1777, spending approximately 100 days in the area. The bay provided safe anchorage, food and fresh water and timber for repairs to his ships. During these visits Cook and his men planted vegetable gardens and released animals, including goats, sheep and pigs.5

Māori were inhabiting the area during Cook’s first visit. European records note that soon after the arrival of the HMS Endeavour, a scouting party in waka encircled the ship. The interaction was a peaceful one with Cook inviting members of the party on board. Thereafter Maori established a temporary kainga or village near Cook’s encampment.6

While the importance of Meretoto/Ship Cove to New Zealand’s history has long been appreciated, up until the late Twentieth Century, wider historical interest focused predominantly on European perspectives and Captain Cook.

For example, a scenic reserve was established in the bay as early as the 1890s and in 1913 a memorial obelisk commemorating Cook’s voyage was unveiled in front of a large crowd.

More recently, however, the dual heritage of the area has been recognised and the traditional stories of Māori are being acknowledged.

In 2006 the Department of Conversation and iwi worked together to redevelop an area of the bay in order to provide a bicultural interpretation of the site. Three pouwhenua (carved wooden posts) were installed on the site, one depicting the Polynesian explorer Kupe and his arrival in the area, and two depicting the iwi with associations to the bay.7

The widely renowned Queen Charlotte walkway also begins at Meretoto/Ship Cove.

Originally a series of separate walkways used by iwi to access adjoining bays and later, by European settlers for moving cattle and for coast watch during the Second World War, the tracks were joined together by local farmers in the 1980s.8

In 1991, under the management of the Department of Conservation, all sections of the track were connected into one walkway.

Today the walkway is managed and maintained by the Department of Conservation with the assistance of 10 private owners, known as the Queen Charlotte Track Inc.9


1. “NZGB decisions - August 2014”, Land Information New Zealand, accessed November 23, 2017, .

2. “New and altered geographic names of Te Tau ihu”, the Prow, accessed November 23, 2017, .

3. Hilary Mitchell and John Mitchell, Te Tau Ihu O Te Waka: a History of Maori of Nelson and Marlborough: Volume 1: Te Tangata me Te Whenua- the People and the Land (Wellington: Huia, 2004) 150-153.

4. Marlborough District Council, Nelson City Council and Tasman District Council, “Te Tau Ihu Statutory Acknowledgements 2014”, accessed July 18, 2018, .

5. Mitchell and Mitchell, ‘History of Maori of Nelson and Marlborough’, 150-153.

6. Joy Stephens, “Ship Cove – a haven for Captain Cook”, The Prow, accessed December 6, 2017, .

7. Peter N. Meihana and Mark Moses, “It’s a Māui’s World”, Tuia 250, accessed August 20, 2019, .

8. Marlborough District, Nelson City and Tasman District Councils, “Statutory Acknowledgements 2014”.

9. “Track History”, Queen Charlotte Track Inc., accessed November 23, 2017, .

Good at times
Deep (>10m)
5 or less | Mooring #231 lies on the north side of Ship’s Cove. Northeast of Clubs’ mooring #18. This mooring is sheltered in west to north-east winds. It is not good in southerlies. It is currently limited to one boat at a time of maximum boat length 13.5m.