Hōkūle‘a: Return to Aotearoa

After almost six months since departing from Hawai‘i on the Worldwide Voyage, Hōkūle‘a and Hikianalia arrived in Aotearoa (New Zealand) to a Maori welcoming ceremony that was not only stunning to see, but historical as well.

A Maori woman holding a flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand waves to the two canoes in Waitangi. (Photo by Daniel Lin)
A Maori woman holding a flag of the United Tribes of New Zealand waves to the two canoes in Waitangi. (Photo by Daniel Lin)

When the crews of the voyaging canoes first sighted the northern coast of Aotearoa, they were elated that they were able to make it to their destinations safely using only traditional methods of non-instrument navigation. They were also excited to reach the southern point in the Polynesian Triangle (with Hawai’i to the north and Easter Island to the east), a feat that has only been accomplished a handful of times on traditional voyaging canoes since the times when ancient Polynesians sailed extensively throughout the region.

The welcoming party from Hawai'i, consisting of voyaging elders, crewmembers, and students from Kamehameha Schools. (Photo by Daniel Lin)
The welcoming party from Hawai’i, consisting of voyaging elders, crewmembers, and students from Kamehameha Schools. (Photo by Daniel Lin)
(Photo by Daniel Lin)
Men of Waitangi and Ngā Toki Matawhaorua, an 80-person paddling canoe that escorted crew members from Hōkūle’a to shore. (Photo by Daniel Lin)
(Photo by Daniel Lin)
A Maori waka rests on the beach. (Photo by Daniel Lin)

The first time Hōkūle‘a sailed to Aotearoa was in 1985. At that time, the country’s waka (canoe) traditions and voyaging existed largely in stories and books. Seeing Hōkūle‘a arrive in the town of Waitangi stirred the souls and imaginations of many watching from shore. One of the individuals that was moved by the sight of Hōkūle‘a was Hekenukumai Busby, a bridge builder who decided to turn to canoe carving and has since carved over 30 wakas.

29 years later, Hōkūle‘a has returned to the shores of Waitangi with her sister canoe, Hikianalia, to strengthen these existing bonds between two great voyaging cultures and forge new ones. This time, several of the original Hōkūle‘a crewmembers that made the maiden trip to Aotearoa were also on shore to greet the canoes. Standing next to these voyaging elders, who sailed here years before I was even born, I could not help but feel an incredible sense of gratitude for all that they had done to make the voyaging community what it is today.

As I get ready to sail on the next leg of the Worldwide Voyage, I am honored to be doing it with the people who paved the way for bringing voyaging back to glory. Having just returned from sailing on the Samoa leg of the Voyage not too long ago, I am grateful for another opportunity to learn from my crew members and the communities of Aotearoa.

Voyaging elders of Hōkūle'a, all of whom were in Waitangi in 1985.  (Photo by Daniel Lin)
From right: Harry, Gordon, and Billy, voyaging elders of Hōkūle’a, all of whom were in Waitangi in 1985. (Photo by Daniel Lin)

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A photographer and National Geographic Young Explorer, Dan has spent his career trying to better understand the nexus between people in remote regions of the Asia/Pacific and their rapidly changing environment. Dan is a regular contributor to National Geographic, the Associated Press, and the Guardian. He believes firmly in the power of visual storytelling as a vessel for advocacy and awareness, which helps to better inform policy makers. In 2016, Dan started the Pacific Storytellers Cooperative seeking to empower the next generation of storytellers from the Pacific Islands. Additionally, Dan is a crewmember for the Polynesian Voyaging Society, a Fellow of The Explorers Club, and a member of the IUCN Specialist Group on Cultural and Spiritual Values of Protected Areas. He received his Masters Degree from Harvard University