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Friday 30th November 2012: After travelling over 5000 nautical miles across the Pacific Ocean with no GPS or modern navigational equipment, a group of courageous Kiwi sailors will finally reach their long-awaited destination by the middle of this week.
Two traditional waka hourua (double-hulled sailing canoes) will arrive at Rapanui (Easter Island) more than three months after setting sail from Auckland.
The 20 crew members undertaking this extreme ocean adventure have relied solely on the stars, moon, sun, ocean currents, birds and marine life to guide them on their journey, in a bid to retrace and revitalise the steps taken by Māori who first travelled across the Pacific to make their home in New Zealand.
The expedition, named Waka Tapu, also aims to close the final corner of the Polynesian Triangle defined by Hawaii in the North, New Zealand in the South and Rapanui in the East.
The expedition’s chief navigator, Jack Thatcher, says crew members have received fantastic support along the way and spirits are high as they enter the home stretch.
“Everybody onboard is buzzing and can’t wait to get to Rapanui. It’s a surreal feeling that’s for sure!
“We’ve been speaking with Rapanui authorities over the radio this morning – bringing us up to speed with the local ocean and weather forecasts,” Thatcher said earlier this week.
Waka Tapu has attracted global media interest and a big welcoming ceremony will take place to celebrate the crew’s arrival. Whanau, extra crew members and other New Zealand-based dignitaries will all fly to Rapanui to attend.
The expedition was organised by the New Zealand Maori Arts & Crafts Institute (NZMACI), in partnership with Te Taitokerau Tārai Waka. Paramount Chief of Ngati Tuwharetoa, Sir Tumu Te Heuheu, is patron of the voyage and tribal representatives will travel to Rapanui to celebrate the crew’s achievement.
NZMACI director, Karl Johnstone, says special arrangements have been made to allow 80 year-old Hekenukumai “Hector” Busby (MBE), who personally built both double-hulled sailing canoes, to experience the thrill of sailing into Rapanui.
“Hector will be taken out by boat to board Te Aurere and will remain on the waka alongside the crew for the arrival. This journey has been Hector’s dream. His skills and knowledge of traditional navigation techniques are unsurpassed and it is only fitting he should be there to experience the joy of this accomplishment.”
Johnstone says it will be incredibly moving to see the waka sail into Rapanui, knowing the journey has been 20 years in the making and has helped forge cultural, scientific and academic bonds across the Pacific and beyond.
The Waka Tapu crew will spend the following week resting in Rapanui before travelling on to Tahiti where the waka will layover for the cyclone season. The majority of the crew will fly home to New Zealand and then return around April next year to sail the return journey back to Auckland.
The public can track the expedition’s progress by visiting the Waka Tapu website www.wakatapu.co.nz or the crew’s Facebook page www.facebook.com/wakatapu.