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 Busby from Northland, New Zealand, to build Te Aurere. That canoe made a dramatic voyage to Rarotonga in 1992, navigated by Mau Piailug. Sailing early in the voyaging season, 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 the same thing happened, but this time the crew decided to follow Piailug. They sailed into calmer weather.

In 1995 Te Aurere sailed from the Marquesas Islands to Hawaii with several other modern canoes, including the Tākitimu and Te Au-o-Tonga from Rarotonga, and the 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 is 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 from Rarotonga to Samoa. However, when easterly trade winds proved too strong for a direct return to Rarotonga, Davis sailed south to New Zealand, from there cutting northward to Rarotonga.


Many replica canoes have been criticised for not being entirely traditional. For example, the Hōkūle‘a was made from modern materials, Te Au-o-Tonga and Te Aurere had outboard motors, and most are equipped with radios and satellite navigation instruments. However, the Hawaiki-nui is one canoe that is relatively authentic. Carved by Mātahi Avauli Whakataka-Brightwell in the early 1980s, the hulls were hewn from tōtara and lashed together with sennit rope made from coconut fibre. Bamboo masts supported sails woven from pandanus leaves. The only piece of modern equipment was a radio. In 1985 Whakataka-Brightwell and the Tahitian navigator Francis Cowan sailed the Hawaiki-nui from Tahiti to Rarotonga, then to New Zealand. On their dramatic voyage they successfully steered 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
  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 10 July 2020)

Story by Rāwiri Taonui, published 8 Feb 2005