Hōkūle‘a: Breathing Deeply and Treading Softly

It’s been two weeks since I arrived in Aotearoa (New Zealand) to continue the Worldwide Voyage around this beautiful country. So far, the crews of Hōkūle‘a and Hikianalia have connected with numerous communities all around the northern cape of the country to learn about their histories and lands. One such stop was the Waipoua Forest along the Hokianga coast to see the mighty kauri trees that lived therein.

Tane Mahuta, a massive kauri tree in the Waipoua Forest (Photo by Daniel Lin)
Tane Mahuta, a massive kauri tree in the Waipoua Forest (Photo by Daniel Lin)

The kauri tree is widely regarded as a sacred tree that is native to this land. This is partly because they can grow to be thousands of years old and up to 300 feet tall! One of the most well-known kauri trees in this forest is Tane Mahuta, otherwise known as the “Lord of the Forest.” As I stared in awe of this living legend, I was overcome with an incredible sense of humility and awareness that this wasn’t simply a tree in the woods. Rather, it was as if I could actually feel the mana, or spiritual power, within this tree and in doing so, I came to understand the underlying message of this place—to breathe deeply and tread lightly. Sadly, due to disease, pests, and deforestation, many of these giants are dying, which further endangers the ecosystem that grows around them. This is why conservation efforts of these treasures are so important today.

Hōkūle'a captain, Bruce Blankenfeld, and crew members gazing up at Tane Mahuta.  (Photo by Daniel Lin)
Hōkūle’a captain, Bruce Blankenfeld, and crew members gazing up at Tane Mahuta. (Photo by Daniel Lin)

Another major component of this visit to the Waipoua forest was to connect with the Maori tribe of Te Roroa, the native people who call this land their home. Although there have been significant strides towards the conservation of this forest, the people of Te Roroa are hopeful that the New Zealand government will pass legislation to recognize this area as a National Park. This would establish a formal partnership between the government and the tribe, which, in turn, should strengthen the conservation efforts of this beautiful area.

Watch captain, Dennis Chun, plays a traditional Maori game. (Photo by Daniel Lin)
Watch Captain Dennis Chun plays a traditional Maori game. (Photo by Daniel Lin)
Two young Maori children from the tribe of Te Rorua, who will help to steward this land for future generations to come. (Photo by Daniel Lin)
These two young Maori children from the tribe of Te Rorua will act as stewards for this land for future generations. (Photo by Daniel Lin)

As crewmembers on this voyage, we are reminded daily about the importance of learning from the wisdom of our elders. Over time, I’ve come to realize that these “elders” may not necessarily be living, or even human. On this particular trip, our elders came in the form of enormous kauri trees and, despite all of the other sounds that echoed through the forest that day, I will never forget the whisper of these trees urging us to breathe deeply and tread lightly, in the forest as well as on this Earth.

Crewmembers hold hands in a circle to offer a prayer to the forest. (Photo by Daniel Lin)

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Meet the Author
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