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thinking outside the tank

Captain Cook in Google Earth: Tahiti to New Zealand

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After observing the transit of Venus, James Cook headed south in search of land. Many geographers thought there must be a great southern continent (terra australis incognita); Cook’s sealed orders instructed him to search for it.

Leaving Tahiti on 17Jul1769, Cook spent the rest of July and the first week of August, exploring the nearby islands of Huaheine, Otaha, and Ulietea.

On 09Aug1769, H.M. Bark Endeavour set sail from Ulietea in the latitude of 16.75 degrees south. They left the tropics after crossing  the Tropic of Capricorn on the 15th. During the remaining days of August, Cook resolutely pushed south into progressively ‘tempestious’ weather. At higher latitudes than 37S the winds were fierce and Cook decided that the risks to the ship and her rigging were too great; on 02Sep1769 the ship’s head was pointed north in order to return to latitudes with less violent conditions.

The huge swells coming from the south and south-west convinced Cook that there was no land in that direction for a considerable distance, the point being that high waves need time and space to develop (what oceanographers call ‘fetch’); if there were land nearby the waves would be smaller.

For the first part of September, Endeavour was sailed to the north and the west, and for the last ten days she sailed west and south. Early in October New Zealand was sighted.


The first weeks of the voyage between Tahiti and New Zealand were published some months ago as part of my Google Earth tour which presents Cook’s first voyage round the world. I have now added the journey from Ulietea to New Zealand.

The truth is that, although Cook’s journal carries the description ‘Remarkable Occurrences in the South Seas’, between 14Aug1769 and 02Oct1769 the only significant events were:

  • saw a comet…
  • saw a water spout…
  • saw a piece of wood…
  • saw lots of birds: albatrosses, shearwaters, and several other types…

Perhaps the saddest event was the death of John Reading, bosun’s mate, who seems to have succumbed to an overdose of rum.

For the sake of completeness, I have recorded and published audio files for this part of Cook’s voyage with a total run-time of 45 minutes. To bypass the relative tedium of this display, I used TourMaker to create a presentation which runs for just over 6 minutes. This has no narrative and animates the 3D model ship at the rate of 5 seconds per day.

Copyright © Colin Hazlehurst, 2012

Images of Earth © Google and others

If you would like to follow Cook’s voyage, you will need to install the latest version of Google Earth on your computer; then go to the Captain Cook blog  and click on the links on the right-hand side of the page, under the ‘Google Earth’ heading. After the animation is loaded in Google Earth, you need to expand an entry in the Table of Contents. You will see a ‘Play’ icon which you double-click to start the animation. Don’t forget to enable your speakers to hear the spoken journal.

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