The cape was named by Captain James Cook in 1769. On his journey of discovery, he sailed south to this point before deciding to turn and head north around New Zealand, and named the point as a result of his decision.
Cape Turnagain is 650 kilometres (400 mi) north-west of Chatham Island, making it the nearest point of mainland New Zealand from Chatham Island.
There is another Cape Turnagain or Point Turnagain on the Kent Peninsula in Arctic Canada.
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