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5,400nm by Stars Moon and Sun - New Zealand to Easter Island

by Samantha Allan/Sail-World Cruising on 29 Jul 2012
Easter Island ahoy SW
In under three weeks a group of intrepid New Zealanders will soon undertake an amazing (and some say, perilous) journey across the Pacific Ocean in traditional waka hourua (double-hulled sailing canoes), using only the stars, moon, sun, ocean currents, birds and marine life to guide them.


Two waka hourua carrying up to 24 crew will depart Auckland on the 17th August this year bound for Rapanui (Easter Island). The journey will see them sail a return trip without GPS or modern navigational tools in a bid to retrace and revitalise the steps of their ancestors.

This epic journey has been 20 years in the making and is attracting global academic, scientific and media attention.
This historically-significant expedition, named Waka Tapu (sacred canoe), is being organised by the New Zealand Maori Arts & Crafts Institute in partnership with Te Taitokerau Trai Waka.

The expedition will be headed by renowned Northland navigator and canoe builder Hekenukumai 'Hector' Busby (MBE) who will turn 80 this year. Hector, a revered exponent of waka traditions internationally, built both of the double-hulled sailing canoes. He built the principal waka, Te Aurere, in the early 1990s after being inspired by the arrival of a Hawaiian canoe which voyaged to Aotearoa in 1985.

Te Aurere has now sailed over 30,000 nautical miles, visiting Hawaii, French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, New Caledonia, and Norfolk Island.

'They compiled star maps, traded knowledge, studied the flight path of birds, the migration patterns of whales, and used tidal movements and other environmental indicators to reach their destination safely and accurately,' New Zeland Maori Arts and Crafts Institue Direcotr Karl Johnston said of the ancient Polynesian sailors. 'That’s what we will emulate.'

Easter Island, or Rapa Nui, a Chilean territory known for its 887 monumental moai statues, is one of the world’s most isolated inhabited islands. The sailors plans to make the 5,400nm journey to the territory using double-hulled traditional Maori canoes called waka hourua. The team’s goal is part of a larger effort by Polynesian cultural and academic groups to recover and revitalize the ancient navigational techniques of their ancestors.

However, the journey is also part of the group’s quest to travel the Polynesian triangle. New Zealand, where the group will begin their journey, comprises the southeast point of the triangle, while Easter Island represents the western side.

The Chilean government is on board with the seafarer’s project as well, thanks to the organizing efforts of the New Zeland Maori Arts and Crafts Institute. The sailors also enjoy the support of a variety of academics and anthropologists from across Chile.

The voyage to Rapanui is likely to take up to 10 weeks each way, with stop overs planned on the way up, in Raivavae and Mangareva and on the return trip in Tahiti and Raratonga. The crew will travel 100nautical miles per day on average. The chief of Ngati Tuwharetoa, the main patron of the voyage, is enthusiastic about the sailor’s upcoming expedition.

'This journey will be an immense source of pride for all New Zealanders and all people who are connected by the Pacific Ocean,' he said.

Busby’s second waka, Ngahiraka Mai Tawhiti, sailed her maiden voyage in 2011. She was built to support Te Aurere with a view to ‘closing the Polynesian Triangle’ by completing the journey eastward to Rapanui (Easter Island). The voyage will reinforce the knowledge he has built up over the past 25 years so it can be passed on to aspiring voyagers throughout the Pacific.

There are no cabins or mod-cons on board the waka and the quest of finding a small island within such an expansive ocean is nothing short of challenging.

Before the waka hourua depart, Te Aurere will be consecrated to recognise the cultural and spiritual significance of the voyage. The waka will be made tapu (sacred) and a stringent set of cultural restrictions put in place for the journey to Rapanui.

The arrival back to New Zealand is expected to be in April 2013, following a layover to allow the cyclone season to pass.

About New Zealand Maori Arts & Crafts Institute:
The New Zealand Maori Arts & Crafts Institute was formally established in 1963. It is a self-funded charitable entity legislated under the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute Act (1963) with a mandate to protect, promote and perpetuate Maori cultural heritage.

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