Waka Crew Prepares to Sail Into the History Books

Published: Wed 15 Aug 2012 10:14 AM
Waka Crew Prepares to Sail Into the History Books
Rotorua, 14 August 2012 - New Zealand’s Olympic success on the water proves what a strong seafaring nation we are – and later this week another group of Kiwis will embark on one of our nation’s most extreme nautical challenges; Waka Tapu (sacred canoe).
Waka Tapu will see a crew of 23 sailors undertake an intrepid open sea voyage to Rapanui (Easter Island) across 10,000 nautical miles of ocean in traditional waka hourua (double-hulled sailing canoes) using only the stars, moon, sun, ocean currents, birds and marine life to guide them on their journey across the vast Pacific Ocean.
The two waka hourua, made from kauri, will be guided out of Waitemata Harbour at 11:30am, Friday 17th August by an impressive flotilla including Royal New Zealand Navy vessels, waka taua (war canoes) used during last year’s Rugby World Cup opening ceremony and other waka hourua.
New Zealand Māori Arts & Crafts Institute (NZMACI) director Karl Johnstone says it will be a spectacular sight, and expects in excess of 500 people including politicians and dignitaries tipped to attend the departure.
“Sailing is part of this nation’s psyche, history and culture. Waka Tapu will inspire New Zealanders all around the world. It will go down in history as one of our great maritime achievement stories,” Johnstone says.
This epic journey has been 20 years in the making and is being organised by NZMACI in partnership with Te Taitokerau Tārai Waka. It’s designed to retrace and revitalise the steps taken by the ancestors of Māori who first travelled across the Pacific to make their home in New Zealand. The voyage also aims to close the final corner of the Polynesian Triangle defined by Hawaii in the North, New Zealand in the South and Rapanui in the East.
The expedition will be headed by renowned Northland navigator Hekenukumai “Hector” Busby (MBE) who turned 80 this month. Hector, a revered exponent of waka traditions internationally, has personally built both of the double-hulled sailing canoes, naming one of them after his late wife, Ngahiraka.
“That connection will add a touch of poignancy to this journey which will be filled with adventure, intrigue and history,” Johnstone says.
The carefully chosen crew comprised of 18 men and five women has been training for months and will complete final safety checks this week. Both waka have been fitted with AIS tracking devices, and each life jacket also has an individual tracking device. Maritime New Zealand has certified both waka as safe and ready to sail.
Life on board will be extremely challenging. Crew members will take turns sleeping in small compartments for three or four hours at a time, and will fish constantly for fresh food. A small stock of fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, dry freeze foods, rice, noodles, canned food, water and vitamins will be on board, and the crew will take minimal clothes on the journey.
Head navigator Jack Thatcher predicts the first leg will be tough because of chilly temperatures, but the winds are forecast to be favourable. The crew is hoping for a good push from westerly winds on the first leg out of Auckland on Friday.
The voyage to Rapanui will take six to eight weeks each way, with each waka travelling up to 100 nautical miles per day. The crew faces the prospect of battling 20m high ocean swells as it will be the start of cyclone season when the waka reach Rapanui in October.
The public can watch the waka departing Auckland this Friday from Wynyard Quarter, next to the Team New Zealand sheds. It’s recommended to park on Beaumont Street. People will also be able to track progress over the coming weeks by visiting the Waka Tapu website
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 Māori cultural heritage.
NZMACI operates Te Wānanga Whakairo Rākau o Aotearoa (the National Wood Carving School), Te Rito (the National Weaving School), and Te Takapū o Rotowhio (the National Bone, Stone and Greenstone Carving School) and will be opening a fourth wānanga in Doubtless Bay, Northland – Te Wānanga-a-Kupe Mai Tawhiti – later this year. Te Wānanga a Kupe will teach all aspects of kaupapa waka including waka building and non-instrument navigation.
NZMACI also trades as Te Puia, New Zealand’s preeminent visitor experience and cultural centre in Rotorua. For more information go to

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