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.
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.
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.
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.
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.