Story: Canoe navigation

Page 5. Recent voyaging

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Te Aurere

The Hōkūle‘a was the first replica canoe of many. Its voyages inspired Hekenukumai (Hector) Busby from Northland, New Zealand, to build Te Aurere, which made a dramatic voyage to Rarotonga early in the voyaging season in 1992. Navigated by Mau Piailug, Te Aurere was battered by storms for days on end. The New Zealand Meteorological Service advised the crew to sail in a certain direction, but Piailug, relying on his traditional skills, suggested another. Te Aurere followed the advice of the meteorologists and ran into an even worse storm. A few days later, when the same thing happened, the crew decided to follow Piailug’s advice. They sailed into calmer weather.

In 1995 Te Aurere sailed from the Marquesas Islands to Hawaii with several other modern canoes, including Tākitimu and Te Au-o-Tonga from Rarotonga, and Hōkūle‘a and Hawai‘iloa from Hawaii. On the return trip, Te Aurere sailed non-stop for 30 days from Hawaii to Rarotonga, then on to New Zealand.

Te Au-o-tonga

As well as sailing alongside Te Aurere, Te Au-o-tonga made trans-Pacific journeys of its own, proving it was possible to sail from West Polynesia to New Zealand, as Māori ancestors may have done. Thomas Davis built Te Au-o-tonga in Rarotonga and sailed it to Samoa. When easterly trade winds proved too strong for a direct return to Rarotonga, Davis sailed south to New Zealand before cutting north-east to Rarotonga.


Many replica canoes have been criticised for not being entirely traditional. Hōkūle‘a was made from modern materials, Te Au-o-Tonga and Te Aurere had outboard motors, and most carry radios and satellite navigation instruments. However, Hawaiki-nui is relatively authentic. It was carved by Mātahi Avauli Whakataka-Brightwell in the early 1980s, with the hulls hewn from tōtara and lashed together with sennit rope made from coconut fibre. Bamboo masts supported sails woven from pandanus leaves. The only modern equipment was a radio. In 1985 Whakataka-Brightwell and the Tahitian navigator Francis Cowan sailed Hawaiki-nui from Tahiti to Rarotonga, then on to New Zealand, steering through several storms.

Whakataka-Brightwell has summed up the spirit of the renaissance:

I would sit beside Hawaikinui, next to my father’s tipuna photograph … my mind, my spirit embraced in the beauty of our canoe – the hull adze cuts, the family-tree sculpture, the scent of the wood, the fibre rope lashings. I searched the Maori horizon for a solution to ancestral landlessness, the lack of culture and language, the poor health and unemployment of my tribe. 1

Tuia 250 Voyage

In late 2019, three replica voyaging canoes took part in the Tuia 250 Voyage to 14 sites of historic and cultural significance around Aotearoa New Zealand. They were the va’a tipaerua Fa’aifaite from Tahiti, and the waka hourua Haunui and Ngahiraka Mai Tawhiti. These vessels were accompanied by three European tall ships, including the HMB Endeavour replica from Australia.

  1. Quoted in Anne Nelson, Maori canoes, Nga waka Maori. Auckland: Macmillan, 1991, p. 15. › Back
How to cite this page:

Rāwiri Taonui, 'Canoe navigation - Recent voyaging', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 15 June 2024)

Story by Rāwiri Taonui, published 8 Feb 2005