Hawaiian Navigators Among the Māori

When Hōkūleʻa arrived in Auckland Harbor, it had been 29 years since she last sailed in the waters of Aotearoa. (Photo by Kaipo Kīʻaha)

By Captain and Pwo Navigator, Kālepa Baybayan

It’s 9 a.m. and most of the crew of Hōkūleʻa, our 62-foot, deep-sea Polynesian voyaging canoe on a multi-year journey around the world, is still asleep. It’s amazing how exhausting sea travel can be. The hours of standing watch break down your natural rhythm of work-sleep cycles. The past two weeks have been not just busy and tiring, but also very successful for us. It has all been worth the effort.

We just arrived into Wellington, Aotearoa (New Zealand) and the crew is comfortably settled in at the tertiary marae (meeting house) on the campus of Massey University.

Welcome to Wellington

We attended a powhiri (a welcome ceremony) from Māori at the whare waka (canoe house) on the Wellington Waterfront. Papa Tip and I spoke followed by a crew oli (chant) of Auē Ua Hiti Ē and Ia Waʻa Nui.

Our Wellington hosts are the most fantastic people; they’re very generous, kind, and giving. Simple things like doing laundry become tremendous chores while at sea since all non-essential washing is done with salt water rather than precious fresh water. Luckily Dale, one of our hosts, has kindly offered to do all the crew’s laundry, which is a welcome treat. I hope some day we can reciprocate their generosity.

Ancient Wisdom, Modern Technology

The following morning we had a busy day with education outreach, a visit to the Met Weather Service station, and a cultural astronomy discussion at Carter Observatory in the afternoon. This is the perfect venue to discuss how traditional navigation is used in contemporary voyaging.

This ancient wisdom is thousands of years old and relies exclusively on careful observation of environmental cues such as the stars, weather, and oceans to guide our way. But modern technology like this weather station sure helps us to speed up the learning process. As we sail further away from familiar waters, climatology in different parts of the world can be tricky, so getting local knowledge from reputable people can be a great tool.

Just a few days after we arrived in Wellington, we prepared for a departure at 9:30 pm to Mohua Bay on New Zealand’s South Island.

Hōkūleʻa sits docked outside of the New Zealand Maritime Museum in Auckland, Aotearoa (New Zealand). Photo by Āina Paikai.
Hōkūleʻa sits docked outside of the New Zealand Maritime Museum in Auckland, Aotearoa (New Zealand). (Photo by Āina Paikai)

Rough Passage

The passage from Wellington was not an easy one. It is full of shifting currents and eddies. One needs to be cautious if  considering visiting Te-Wai-Pounamu by sea.

The most dangerous part of this trip was transiting through the French Pass in the Malborough Sound. The passage through the Cook Strait from Wellington was a quick 19-hour transit that was ushered along by a swift current that had us moving at about 14 mph at one point. We had difficulty with the current around Stevens Island, which slowed us down to 2 mph, but we negotiated that turn and soon got back up to a comfortable speed.

We are very grateful that the crew, canoe, and escort vessel remained healthy and safe.

The Islands’ Real Gold

Mohua Bay is nestled on the northwestern cape of Te-Wai-Pounamu, South Island, New Zealand. Its more popular name, “Golden Bay,” was given after gold was discovered in the area. Our kaumātua (Māori elder), Hector Busby, and his daughter, Gina, were there to welcome the crew ashore with a blessing.

Whatever value you put on physical gold, the warm welcome and generosity of the people we have met throughout New Zealand are the real treasure.

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Meet the Author
Marisa Hayase works with the Polynesian Voyaging Society to support Hōkūleʻa’s journey around the world. While sailing 47,000 nautical miles, Hōkūle'a and her sister canoe Hikianalia work to string together a “lei” of stories--big and small--that bring people together and inspire a new pathway forward for the health of our oceans and planet. The Polynesian Voyaging Society preserves and strengthens the traditions, values and knowledge behind one of the greatest feats in human history. Thousands of years ago, Polynesians found and settled islands scattered over 10 million square miles of ocean, exploring unchartered waters and using only the stars, waves, and marine birds and animals to guide them. Hōkūle'a was built 600 years after the last of the Hawaiian sailing canoes had disappeared from sight but not memory. Hōkūle'a brought traditional Pacific exploration back to life and helped spark a revival of Hawaiian language, culture and knowledge. She is more than a voyaging canoe—she represents the hope shared by people of Hawai’i, the Pacific, and the world that we can protect our most cherished values and places from disappearance. Marisa has worked with nonprofit and government organizations nationally and internationally, conducting research in South America, Japan, México, and Europe. She graduated from Williams College with a B.A. and has a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from Harvard University. A resident of Kailua, Hawaiʻi, Marisa is happiest when learning new things, building community, and spending time outdoors with her husband, son, and daughter.