Captain Cook and amplitude

I love maps. All kinds: new, antique, obscure, land maps, charts of the sea, weather charts. I have absolutely no idea how one goes about drawing a map, as I can just about read one. My general ignorance of the process of map making makes me admire Captain James Cook even more. I managed to take this photo of a map of his travels which was displayed in the Tairawhiti museum in Gisborne in New Zealand, before the staff there told me I wasn’t allowed to take photos.

The world as recorded by Captain James Cook
Map showing the routes and discoveries of Captain James Cook


Captain Cook originally got the gig to explore the southern Pacific ocean – to observe the transit of Venus of 1769 and establish if there really was a Great Southern Land, ‘Terra Australis Incognita’ – because of his cartography skills which he had honed documenting the coast of North America. His maps were amazingly accurate, considering they were produced over 200 years ago.

Captain Cook and the Endeavour first landed in New Zealand at Gisborne, which is on the eastern side of the North Island.  Today it is a decent sized town which I wasn’t particularly keen on, but I did appreciate the historical significance of the place. The Tairawhiti museum is good and well documents the physical and social history of the area, including the time before Europeans arrived. There was an altercation between Captain Cook and the Maori on his arrival, where some local people died, and the Endeavour left with none of the supplies it had hoped for, leading Captain Cook to christen the whole area ‘Poverty Bay’. (He was a great man for that – when his ship crashed onto the Great Barrier Reef up near Port Douglas in Australia he named the place ‘Cape Tribulation’- you knew when he was pissed off.) There are some nice statues to mark the spot where land was first spotted and where they came ashore.


Young Nick spotting land
Young Nick spotting land



Captain Cook memorial at Gisborne
Captain Cook memorial at Gisborne


For some reason, Gisborne says that it is the first place in the world to see the sunrise of a new day, even though it is clearly not the most easterly point of New Zealand. The East Cape is. However technically it can be called the first city to see the sunrise.

Gisborne - first to see the light?
Gisborne – first to see the light?


It is probably just a tourist gimmick but who cares. There are beautiful beaches very close by and the thing to do in Gisborne (apparently)  is to get up early and greet the sun. Despite my horror of getting out of bed, I got up at 6.30am and drove to the beautiful Wainui beach a few miles from the town. I nearly had the beach to myself bar a few other nutters out and about early and it was a beautiful experience.

Sunrise over Gisborne 6 June 2015
Sunrise over Gisborne 6 June 2015


However I almost missed it. There I was on the beach, thinking I was great with my compass out, and facing due east as per the needle. I knew roughly the time the sun was due to come up and was very pleased that the cloud bank on the horizon was lifting. All of a sudden I looked to my left and saw the sun rise in the wrong place! The cheek of it. I knew something was wrong, but I decided to forget about the science and just enjoy the moment. Which I did. Turns out it is due to the amplitude of the sun, which means the further you go from the equator in the southern hemisphere the greater the degree of amplitude which means the sun won’t rise exactly due east, but more to the north-east. I observed this in other places too – another fascinating thing about New Zealand and the southern hemisphere in general. My cartography/latitudinal knowledge is clearly not at Captain Cook’s level – this would never have happened to him.

Comments: 7

  1. Megan Lewis says:

    Saw your post on the Writing101 Commons. What a cool experience! I have very limited knowledge of maps, but I was engaged throughout your whole post because 1. the history is cool, 2. your pictures are awesome, and 3. it is very obvious how passionate you are about this subject.

    My only criticism for this post is to make the photos a little larger. I felt like they were too small to really enjoy the photo, particularly the sunrise one.

    My map post was a “Travel Thanksgiving” giving thanks to all many places that have left their mark on me. I’d love to hear your feedback!

    • Julie says:

      Hi Megan and thank you for reading! I really struggle with photos actually – never get them right so will work on those. Many thanks for your feedback. Love your list – how did DC unteach you how to drive? Nice way of interpreting the prompt! Cool list of places you have been – it’s a big world is right. I am in Dublin btw.

      • Megan Lewis says:

        Hi Julie! For some reason, the people in DC drive like maniacs and you have to drive like a maniac too if you want to get anywhere! It’s kind of terrifying at first haha. And I absolutely loved Dublin! I only had a few days there, but I definitely want to return some day.

        • Julie says:

          Must be all the power going to their heads in DC! In fairness, people drive like maniacs in most parts of the world. South America is fairly trying on the nerves! Thanks again for getting in touch.

    • Julie says:

      Megan – I made the pictures bigger if you could take a look? Definitely looks better on my computer and ipad. Do they look better to you? Whenever you get a chance! Many thanks, Julie

  2. Teresa Eddy says:

    Pictures look good Julie.
    I have only been to Gisborne twice and I can say that I am quite happy to not go back. It has it’s nice points, like most places, but there are plenty of other great places in NZ that I’d rather be. It’s also quite cut off and you have to make a special trip to go there. However, it is definitely one of the first places to get the sun. Just up the road a bit at Opotiki is the true point, but that is a small beach town so Gisborne claims it.
    Like reading your truthful opinions on places and happenings. Why don’t you have a “like” button? That would be an easier way for me to tell you I like your stories. 🙂

    • Julie says:

      Thanks Teresa for reading! WordPress is a bit of a mystery to me – I thought there was a like button. I will have a look. Are you in NZ? I just loved it there – I think about NZ a lot.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *