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Captain Cook’s Tree, Mercury Bay


CCS members Allan Grey, John and Noelene Steele, and Gordon Whiteacre under the tree’s canopy taking initial measurements.  The tree itself was too large to fit in the picture.


A giant pohutukawa tree, thought already to have been 200-300 years old in 1769 when Captain Cook walked past it, has recently been “discovered” on a small beach in Mercury Bay, New Zealand. 


Still in excellent health, the huge old tree is in the process of being aged by experts whose preliminary estimates, from measurements taken last year and other data, are that the tree could be as much as 750 years old.  One commented, “We think it is at least 400-500 years old and potentially much older”.  If so, the tree was perhaps seeded when Ferdinand Magellan sailed into the Pacific and King Henry VIII signed the Treaty of Calais.


This New Zealand tree has a canopy over 35 metres wide, and overhangs a small beach at the mouth of the Purangi River, about 500 metres from where Endeavour was moored.  It is 100 metres from the grassy knoll where Cook planted his King’s Colours on November 15, 1769.  It is the only place Cook could have landed on his way to planting the flag since there are rocky shores on either side, barring a dinghy landing.


It is hoped to give the tree special identification as part of a new Cook Heritage Trail being developed for the 250th anniversary co­mmem­
orations taking place in 2019 in Mercury Bay.  


Visitors will be able to see five or six key Cook sites, including the Transit of Mercury observation point, the Endeavour Buoy or mooring spot, the giant pohutukawa, the “Flag site” and the so-far unnamed “Cook Stream”, where his crew filled the ship’s water barrels.


Allan Grey (centre) is dwarfed by the giant tree, which had a girth at the base of its trunk of about 7 metres.


It is hoped the scientists will be able to confirm preliminary estimates of the tree’s age within the next few months.

John Steele

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 11, volume 41, number 2 (2018).

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