A splendid memorial to Captain Cook’s observation of the ‘Transit of Mercury’ across the sun is located where it happened at the western end of Cooks Beach. The memorial was officially inaugurated by Queen Elizabeth 11 on April 25, 1970. In the intervening 52 years, the Memorial has gone through several developments. Currently it is a splendid structure, topped by a metal sextant. On the surrounding platform there are informative placards and a seat.
The importance of Cook’s observation on November 5, 1769, can hardly be overstated. Because of its calculations could be made as to the size of the sun and the moon. The observation made it possible to accurately locate the Islands of the Pacific. Cook’s measurement only differs by 1/8th of one percent to today’s measurements.
A few days later, on November 15, 1769, Captain James Cook hoisted the Union Jack and claimed New Zealand for England. That is the way things were done back then. If Cook hadn’t claimed it, the French were eager to make it as their colony.
The Informer was alerted by Aldon O’Keefe, a long-term resident of Cooks Bay that this significant Memorial needed attention. On inspection this is what we found.
The Memorial itself and the surrounding platform, placards and seat were all in good shape.
The problems were these.
• The Memorial is set back from the road and not obvious. There was a signboard indicating the memorial’s presence but as you can see from the adjacent photo it was broken by mischief or storms of both. It has not been replaced and there is no way of knowing the memorial is there. Clearly signage is needed. This is one of the most significant historical sites in New Zealand (perhaps the most significant) due to the mapping and consequent migration that followed.
• There is a very reduced track from the road into the platform. We reached the platform by pushing through some bushes and then seeing the track which took us up a well-constructed and well-preserved gentle, sloped ramp – this would be great for older persons, parents with push chair or a disabled person but impossible to access due to there being a non-maintained track from the footpath to the ramp. There is a track from the beach but no signs from that direction as to the nature of the Memorial.
• There is no parking except on the road. This sealed road is narrow as you can see from the photos and locals say it is very busy in the summer and long weekends when you would expect visitors and tourists to be out and about. There is an area next to the memorial platform and track which is planted in spinifex. This would have been done to help erosion, but it makes it impossible for a road with a low gutter lip and easy to drive up to provide space for parking. In the end the spinifex is being eroded away from the beach side, a lot of it has disappeared. The area is flat and right up to the road – perfect for parking. With a proper’ hard structure’, it could be a safe parking place for cars, and there is room for a picnic area as well. It seems a shame to have this memorial, so thoughtfully planned in terms of construction, with decorative signs telling the history, all sitting on a ramped architect-designed platform, and not provide the means for people to visit it and enjoy it.
A more significant problem is beach erosion.
The site to the East is flanked by pines which are in the process of being felled. Some came down in the recent storms and you can see in the photos the roots of those pines. Once they are felled, the beach will encroach very close to the memorial platform, in time and in the not-too-distant time, undermine it.
Questions: So will this fall foul to a ‘managed retreat’ policy? Will the reality of budget constrictions allocated to recovery be enough to sort this situation out? Is there the will locally to activate enough momentum to ensure the memorial is saved?
Another resident said,’ I feel very privileged to live across from where Captain Cook moored the Endeavour for the Transit of Mercury. He was an amazing explorer, cartographer and seamen. She points to a marker in the water out in the estuary, and then continues, “We will work to preserve this place and care for it. There are many instances in history, much greater than we face, where people wisely stand up to the forces of nature and create a sustainable environment. There are ways we can do this.”
The solution presented below by Aldon O’Keefe, relates to the Council’s plan which was implemented some years ago to stop beach erosion. This entailed the creation of a rock wall which now extends along the beach for a kilometre or so. This has proved highly effective and included well-constructed steps by Tonkin and Taylor from TCDC. The first design with small rocks did not work as they moved with the force of the big waves,” but the bigger rocks, laid in a different way as a second attempt, have proved very effective.” This was paid for by the 26 home owners living at that part of Cooks Beach.
• It is suggested that a similar wall as the nearby rock wall protecting the residences, be built in front of the Memorial. In fact this wall could be an extension of the wall in front of the residences.
• Once the rock wall is extended as detailed above, the presently eroded beach which would then be behind the rock wall can be sand filled and this regained land would extend the car park and picnic area for visitors to the Cook memorial.
• As part of this rock wall construction, pedestrian access to the beach and a boat launching ramp be included.
• That the parking area and adjacent picnic area be named ‘The Captain Cook Memorial Reserve’.
• That information on explanation placards in this area include the fact Queen Elizabeth 11 opened the memorial on April 25, 1970.
Caption: The Sextant at the Captain Cook memorial showing the very easy access platform by ramp.