It was November 15, 1769 when Cook sailed from Mercury Bay , out past Centre Island towards Ahuahu in a light nor’ west wind - cautiously well out to sea, past Red Mercury , Repanga Island (Cuvier), around Cape Colville into the Firth of Thames.
His men were rested, well-fed and had learned a lot more about Maori life and customs. Down the Thames coast, two large canoes came out to meet them, the warriors throwing a few stones before Tupaia talked to them from the poop deck and Cook fired a musket overhead warning them off.
Next day more canoes came out, but from the other side - the warriors calling out ‘Toawaka….Toawaka…’ the Ngati Hei chief’s name, and one saying he was his grandson. Cook invited him and another on board giving them each a small present but wondering how they even knew about the Endeavour ? Simple! As soon as Cook had left, Toawaka sent his son Hamuhona, a powerful runner, 42kms over the Coromandel ranges to tell their allies there of their new friends.
Endeavour anchored next day, close to where Thames now stands where they could see the mouth of the Waihou river, so Cook, Banks, Solander and Tupaia , rowed and sailed in the ship’s boats on the incoming tide, past Kopu and 6 kms into the interior. Maori along the river banks invited them in, but Banks’ attention had been caught by a magnificent forest - ‘clothed’ , he said, ‘ with the finest timber we’d ever seen’ - kahikatea, matai and kauri - stretching 40 kms inland.
They were stunned by the sheer size and height of the trees. After collecting small specimens, it took all night for them to row back on the ebb tide, reaching the Endeavour about 7 the next morning.
The Waihou expedition was the furthest inland sortie Cook made on this first voyage – and it confirmed two things. Relations with Maori here had improved dramatically since the Gisborne problems - and second, the spectacular forests promised a rich new resource for British ship-building. But Cook and Banks would have been horrified had they known of the forest plunder to come after they left the Waihou River