Cook Strait is the strait between the North and South Islands of New
Zealand. It connects the Tasman Sea on the west with the South Pacific Ocean on the east.
south the coast runs runs along Cloudy Bay and past the islands and entrances to the Marlborough
Sounds. To the north the coast runs along Palliser Bay, crosses the entrance to Wellington
harbour, past some Wellington suburbs and continues another
to Makara beach.
Location of Cook Strait
The strait is named after James Cook
commander to sail through it,
in 1770. In Māori
it has the
or Raukawa Moana
may mean "bitter leaves".
Cook Strait is one of the most dangerous and unpredictable waters
in the world. In good weather one can see clearly across the
its narrowest point separate Cape
Terawhiti in the North Island from Perano Head on Arapawa Island in the Marlborough Sounds.
Counter-intuitively, at this point the
South Island coast lies further north than that of the North
In Māori legend
, Cook Strait
was discovered by Kupe
followed in his canoe a monstrous octopus called Te Wheke-a-Muturangi across Cook Strait
and destroyed it in Tory
Channel or at Pātea.
- See also: The legend of
When Dutch explorer Abel Tasman
saw New Zealand in 1642, he thought Cook Strait was a bight
closed to the east. He named it
, after the Zeehaen
, one of the
two ships in his expedition. In 1769 James Cook established that it
was a strait
, which formed a navigable
Cook Strait attracted European settlers in the early 19th century.
its use as a whale migration route, whalers established bases in the Marlborough
Sounds and in the Kapiti
area. From the late 1820s until the mid 1960s
Island was a base for whaling in the Sounds.
Head on the east coast of the island was the principal whaling
station for the area. The houses built by the Perano family are now
operated as tourist accommodation.
During the 1820s Te Rauparaha
migration to, and the conquest and
settlement of, the Cook Strait region.
more permanent settlements sprang up, first at Wellington, then at
Nelson and at Wanganui (Petre). At this period the settlers saw Cook Strait
in a broader sense than today's ferry-oriented New Zealanders: for
them the strait stretched from Taranaki to Cape
Campbell, so these
early towns all clustered around "Cook Strait" (or "Cook's Strait",
in the pre-Geographic Board usage of the times) as the central
feature and central waterway of the new colony.
Between 1888 and 1912 a dolphin named Pelorus Jack
became famous for meeting and
escorting ships around the Cook Strait. Pelorus Jack was
usually spotted in Admiralty Bay between Cape Francis and Collinet
Point, near French Pass, a channel used by ships travelling between
Wellington and Nelson.
Pelorus Jack is also remembered after he
was the subject of a failed assassination attempt. He was later
protected by a 1904 New Zealand law.
At times when New Zealand feared invasion, various coastal fortifications
were constructed to defend Cook Strait. During the second
world war, two 9.2 inch (23 cm) gun installations were
constructed on Wrights Hill behind Wellington.
These gun could range
across Cook Strait. In addition thirteen 6-inch (15 cm) gun
installations were constructed around Wellington, along the Makara
coast, and at entrances to the Marlborough Sounds. The remains of
most of these fortifications can still be seen.
Head Lighthouse was the first permanent lighthouse built in New
Its first keeper, Mary Jane Bennett, was the first
and only female lighthouse keeper in New Zealand. The light was
decommissioned in 1935 when it was replaced by the Baring Head
A number of ships have been wrecked with significant loss of life,
such as the Maria
in 1851, the City of Dunedin
1865, the St Vincent
in 1869, the Lastingham
1884, the SS Penguin
in 1909 and
The shores of Cook Strait on both sides are mostly composed of
steep cliffs. The beaches of Cloudy Bay, Clifford Bay, and Palliser
Bay shoal gently down to 140 metres, where there is a
more or less extensive submarine plateau.
The rest of the
bottom topography is complex. To the east is the Cook Strait Canyon
with steep walls descending eastwards into the bathyal
depths of the Hikurangi Trench
. To the north-west lies
the Narrows Basin, where water is 300 and 400 metres deep.
Fisherman's Rock in the north end of the Narrows Basin rises to
within a few metres of low tide, and is marked by waves breaking in
rough weather. A relatively shallow submarine valley lies across
the northern end of the Marlborough Sounds. The bottom topography
is particularly irregular around the coast of the South Island
where the presence of islands, underwater rocks, and the entrances
to the sounds, create violent eddies. The strait has an average
depth of 128 metres (420 feet).
The South and North Islands were joined during the last ice
Brothers is a group of tiny islands in Cook Strait off the east
coast of Arapawa
View from Cape Koamaru of the Brothers
Islands with Wellington west coast on the horizon.
North Brother island in this small chain is
a sanctuary for the rare Brothers Island tuatara
, while the
largest of the islands is the site of the Brothers Island
The tidal flow
through Cook Strait is unusual. On each side of the strait the tide
is almost exactly out of phase, so high water on one side meets low
water on the other. Strong currents result, with almost zero tidal
height change in the centre of the strait. Although the tidal surge
should flow in one direction for six hours and then the reverse
direction for six hours, a particular surge might last eight or ten
hours with the reverse surge enfeebled. In especially boisterous
weather conditions the reverse surge can be negated, and the flow
can remain in the same direction through three surge periods and
longer. This is indicated on marine charts for the region.
There are numerous computer model representations of the tidal flow
through Cook Strait. While the tidal components are readily
realizable, the residual flow is more difficult to model.
In April 2008, a resource consent was granted to Neptune Power for
the installation of a $10 million experimental underwater tidal stream turbine
capable of producing one megawatt. The turbine has been designed in
Britain, and will be built in New Zealand. It will be 14 metres in
diameter and constructed of carbon
. It will be placed in eighty metres of water, 4.5
kilometres due south of Sinclair Head, in waters known as the
“Karori rip”. Power from the turbine will be brought ashore at
substation. The turbine is a pilot, and will be sited in
slower tides for testing. Neptune hopes to generate power from the
unit by 2010. The company claims there is enough tidal movement in
Cook Strait to generate 12 GW of power, more than one-and-a-half
times New Zealand's current requirements. In practice, only some of
this energy could be harnessed.
other side of the strait, Energy Pacifica has applied for resource
consent to install up to 10 marine turbines, each able to produce
up to 1.2 MW, near the the Cook Strait entrance to Tory Channel.
They claim Tory Channel is an optimal site
with a tidal current speed of 3.6 metres a second and the best
combination of bathymetry
accessibility to the electricity network.
The power generated by tidal marine turbines varies as the cube of
the tidal speed. Because the tidal speed doubles, eight times more
tidal power is produced during spring tides than at neaps.
Electric-power and communication cables link the North and South
Islands across Cook Strait. These cables are currently operated by
- Power cables: A high-voltage direct current
(HVDC) system uses three undersea cables. During dry periods, this
gives the South Island access to gas and coal power generated in
the North Island. Likewise, during peak winter periods, it gives
the North Island access to power from the large hydroelectric
installations in the South Island. The submarine cables are laid on
the seabed within a legally defined zone called the cable
protection zone (CPZ). The CPZ is about seven kilometres wide for
most of its length. It narrows where the cables enter the water at
Fighting Bay on the South Island and at Oteranga Bay, Cape Terawhiti, in the North Island. Fishing
activities and anchoring boats are prohibited within the CPZ.
Transpower has a current proposal to spend nearly $700 million
upgrading the electricity link. If implemented, this will have a
capacity of 1200 MW by 2014.
- Communication cables: Fibre optic cables carry
telecommunications across Cook Strait, used by New Zealand’s main
telecommunication companies for domestic and commercial traffic and
by Transpower for control of the HVDC link.
specimens have been washed ashore on Cook Strait or found in
the stomachs of sperm whales off
A colony of male fur seals
long been established near Red Rocks on the Makara Coast, west of
Cook Strait offers important habitats to many cetacean
species. Several dolphins (Bottlenose
frequent in the area along with Killer
and the endemic Hector's
. Long-Finned Pilot Whales often
strand in mass at Golden
The famous Pelorus
was a Risso's Dolphin
observed escorting the ships between 1888 and 1912, though this
species is not a common visitor to the New Zealand's waters.
Migratory large whales attracted many whalers
to the area in the winter. Currently, annual survey of counting
is taken by Department of Conservation
and former whalers help DOC
to spot animals. Other occasional visitors include Southern Right Whales
, Blue Whales
, Sei Whales
and Sperm Whales
Cook Strait offers good game
. Albacore tuna
caught from January to May. Broadbill
, mako sharks
and the occasional marlin
and white shark
also be caught.
ferry services run between Picton in the Sounds and Wellington.
Although Cook Strait is only 24 kilometres
wide at its narrowest point, the ferry journey covers 70
kilometres. The strait
rough water and heavy swells from strong winds, especially from the
south. New Zealand's position directly athwart the roaring forties
means that the strait
funnels westerly winds and deflects them into northerlies. Due to
this the Cook Strait is regarded as one of the most dangerous and
unpredictable waters in the world.
According to Māori oral tradition
, the first woman to swim
Cook Strait was Hine Poupou. She swam from Kapiti Island to Dürville Island with the help of a
Other Māori accounts tell of at least one swimmer
who conquered the strait in 1831.
In modern times, the strait was first swum by Barrie Devenport in
1962. Lynne Cox
was the first woman to
swim it, in 1975. The most prolific swimmer of the strait is
, who has crossed eight
times, including two double crossings. Aditya Raut
was the youngest swimmer at 11
years. Stephanie Bennington was the youngest female swimmer at 13
years. Pam Dickson was the oldest swimmer at 55 years. By 2008, 71
single crossing had been made by 61 individuals, and three double
crossings had been made by two individuals. Crossing times are
largely determined by the strong and sometimes unpredictable
currents that operate in the strait.
- Mists of time: The mythical
navigator Kupe follows, in his canoe, the
octopus Te Wheke-a-Muturangi
across Cook Strait.
- 1642: Abel Tasman mistakes Cook
Strait for a bight.
- 1769: James Cook establishes it is a
- 1822: Ngati Toa migrates to Cook
Strait region, led by Te
Whaling station established in Tory Channel.
- 1851: Maria wrecked in on rocks at Cape Terawhiti, 26 people die.
- 1855: Severe earthquake on both sides of Cook Strait.
- 1865: Paddle steamer City of Dunedin sinks in Cook
Strait, 39 people die.
- 1866: Cook Strait submarine telegraph cable laid.
St Vincent wrecked in Palliser Bay, 20 people die.
- 1879: Kangaroo lays the first Telegraph cable across Cook
Lastingham wrecked at Cape Jackson, 18 people die.
- 1904: Pelorus Jack is protected by
New Zealand law
- 1909: SS Penguin wrecked in
Cook Strait, 75 people die.
- 1920: First aeroplane flight across Cook Strait.
- 1935: Air services begin across Cook Strait.
- 1962: Cook Strait rail ferry service begins.
- 1962: Barrie Devenport swims the strait.
- 1964: Cook Strait power cables laid.
- 1968: TEV Wahine
wrecked at entrance to Wellington harbour, 53 people die.
- 1975: Lynne Cox is the first woman to
swim the strait.
- 1979: Paul Caffyn crosses the strait
in a sea kayak.
- 1984: Rush Philip swims the strait both ways.
- 1991: Five new power and communication cables laid
- 1994: First fast-ferry service begins operation across Cook
- 2002: Two further communications cables laid.
The retired frigate HMNZS Wellington is sunk off Wellington as an artificial
- 2008: A resource consent is granted to Neptune Power to install
a $10 million experimental underwater tidal stream turbine capable
of producing one megawatt.
- 2008: Energy Pacifica applies for resource consent to install
up to 10 marine turbines, each able to produce up to 1.2 MW, near
the the Cook Strait entrance to Tory Channel.
- Grady, Don (1982) Perano Whalers of Cook Strait,
1911-1964. Intl Specialized Book Service. ISBN
- Harris, T.F.W. (1990) Greater Cook Strait DSIR
Publishing ISBN 0-477-02580-3