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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The bay has been recognised by its dual name, Meretoto/Ship Cove since 2014.1

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

The bay was given its European name by Captain James Cook in 1770. Cook anchored in the bay to replenish the HMS Endeavour on his first voyage of the Pacific. Cook built his headquarters in the bay and within a few days, raised a flag pole on nearby Motuara Island to hoist the Union Jack flag and proclaim British sovereignty over the South Island.2

Cook was the first European to set foot in the Sounds. He visited the bay five times between 1770 and 1777, spending approximately 100 days in total in the cove. 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. The decedents of these pigs are known to this day as Captain Cookers.3

Meretoto/Ship Cove had been used by Māori for many generations prior to the arrival of Europeans. The iwi or tribe, Rangitāne settled in the cove soon after their arrival to the Marlborough Sounds. They gathered kaimoana/ seafood in the area and used it as a site for manufacturing pakohe/argillite. Other iwi, including Te Ātiawa o Te Waka-a-Māui used the bay as an urupā/burial site and an anchorage for waka/canoes.4

Māori were also inhabiting the area during Cook’s first visit. European records note that soon after the arrival of the HMS Endeavour in the bay, a scouting party in waka encircled the ship. The interaction was a peaceful one with Cook inviting members of the party on board. Maori established a temporary kainga or village near Cook’s encampment. During Cook’s second voyage on the HMS Resolution, the crew recorded that several Māori families were living nearby, supplying the crew with fish.5

A memorial obelisk located within the bay commemorates Cook’s voyages. It was designed by W Mansfield of Wellington and was unveiled on 11 February 1913 in front of 2000 people.6 In addition, a scenic reserve of 1,700 acres was established to enclose the bay.7

The widely renowned Queen Charlotte walkway 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. “Ship Cove/ Meretoto Heritage”, Destination Marlborough, accessed November 23, 2017 .

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

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

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

6. Department of Lands and Survey, Marlborough Sounds reserves: a handbook for visitors (Blenheim, Department of Lands and Survey, 1969) p12.

7. “Ship Cove”, from An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock, originally published in 1966. Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, accessed November, 23 2017, .

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

9. Queen Charlotte Track Inc., “Track History”.

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.