On Cook's Trail: a holiday history of Captain Cook in New Zealand. Darkin, John. 2007

On Cook's Trail: a holiday history of Captain Cook in New Zealand. Darkin, John. 2007

Darkin, John. 
On Cook's Trail: a holiday history of Captain Cook in New Zealand.
Reed Publishing (NZ) Ltd. 
ISBN 978-0-7900-1115-8.

According to the "Author's Note" at the beginning of this book Darkin is providing us with some highlights of Cook's early contacts with New Zealanders, which "set the tone for race relations between two vastly different cultures". Having moved from Europe to New Zealand in 1995, Darkin found himself "poorly briefed on Cook's New Zealand connection" and wrote this "short holiday history" for other such people.

I'm not clear why it is called a holiday history. It is certainly short, being only 94 pages. So perhaps the idea is that you might read it whilst on holiday, as a bit of light reading. Included are some sections called "Cook's Trail" that are "intended as a holiday guide for travellers wishing to visit Cook's important landing sites".

Before the tour of New Zealand, there are brief chapters on Cook's life up to 1768, his men, Endeavour, the missions to observe the Transit of Venus and find the Great Southern Continent. There's an interesting slip on charting: "In 1976, accuracy in determining longitude was yet to be perfected." There are brief notes on Abel Tasman and Tupaia. The latter, apparently, "saved Cook's bacon by guiding him through several diplomatic scrapes".

The tour begins on page 29 with the arrival in Poverty Bay in 1769. Darkin describes the events from both the European and Maori points of view, and takes the trouble to explain some terms unfamiliar to landlubbers like me, such as pinnace and yawl. However, later in the book he says some Maori "started interfering with the ship's external equipment so muskets and cannon were fired to warn them off" without explaining what this external equipment was and how it was being interfered.

At the end of a useful explanation of the events, the first "Cook's Trail" section appears with an indication of what there is to see there today: streets in Gisborne named after members of the crew, a monument in Kaiti Beach Road, the two Cook statues (one authentic and one of an impostor), the statue of Young Nick, a stained-glass window and a totem pole.

And so the tour continues, in the same direction as Endeavour took around the North Island, with descriptions of the events broken into short sections, each with its own heading. I got annoyed with the sections, as there are so many of them, the font used for the headings is difficult to read, and many headings are silly, e.g. "Nice flowers, pity about the dancing".

The book is a good read, with a nicely put story. There are some many quotes from Cook's journal, and plenty of comments about what was happening and why. Several times there are references to the taking of the land and the difficulty of dealing peacefully with the natives. The language used is definitely not that of the 18th century, e.g. "acquiring occupied territory and winning over its inhabitants called for a salesman's smile backed by a show of knee-knocking muscle"

After 40 pages on the North Island tour there are only 12 on the South Island. Followed by two pages on the Second Voyage and another two on the Third.

There are ten "Cook's Trail" sections (and one "Cook's Tour") that briefly point out the modern places to go. Plaques and cairns are given, cruises to islands recommended, and even a lighthouse mentioned. There are scant directions to these points and no maps of how to find, which is a major disappointment. Even some sketch maps would have been good. In this respect John Robson's book "Captain Cook's World: Maps of the life and voyages of James Cook RN" 1 has better maps and more information on Cook monuments, statues and which parts of the coast would have been seen by Cook.

Inside the front and back pages are maps of the North and South Islands showing 39 of the places of interest. But there are several places described in the book that do not appear on the map, and there is no cross-reference from the map to aid you to quickly find the relevant "Cook's Trail", etc. Indeed, there is no index, so if you want to find what happened when Cook arrived at, say, Great Barrier Island, you have to follow the tour until the place is mentioned. Sadly, Ship Cove fails to be included at all!

Ian Boreham


  1. See Cook's Log, page 1694, vol. 23, no. 1 (2000)

Originally published in Cook's Log, page 39, volume 30, number 3 (2007).

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