The Voyage of Rediscovery: 1985-1987
Photo Below: Maori Elder Hector Busby (center, in Feather
Cape) with the Hokule'a crew,
(Behind Hector is Nainoa.)
In 1980, when we
returned from the voyage to Tahiti, we
took Hokule'a to He'eia Kea, to a little inlet in Kane'ohe
Bay. The voyaging community was small and after the trip we were exhausted.
We went back to our own lives. In He'eia Kea there is a lot of fresh water
in the ocean and a lot of rain, and some of the wood on the canoe began
to rot. It was just total neglect by all of us. Finally, Wally Froiseth,
a master woodworker who has contributed for years to the revival of canoe-building
in Hawai'i, got up at a meeting and said, "We've got to take care of
So we went to He'eia Kea and hauled the canoe out of the
inlet. There was a lot of growth on her hulls, and the shrouds and stays
were all slack. The canoe was an absolute mess. When we finally set sail,
the mast snapped because it was rotted. We took Hokule'a into
Hokule'a was really built to sail just once-in
1976-for the Bicentennial of America celebration. We went again in 1980,
to see if we could navigate by ourselves, to live our culture, and to honor
Eddie 'Aikau. We received invitations from a lot of people in the South
Pacific who heard about Hokule'a and wanted us to visit them,
so we sat down and said, "Let's sail the migratory routes that our
ancestors must have taken to colonize Polynesia." And so we started
planning for the Voyage of Rediscovery ... rediscovering ourselves. We were
not going to sail from Hawai'i to the Marquesas and for sure we were not
going to sail to Rapa Nui. Those upwind routes were unrealistic. They were
much too difficult at the time. We did not have the experience.
We mapped out a two-year voyage with seven major legs that
reflected the other migratory and voyaging routes of ancient Polynesia-Hawai'i
down to Tahiti; Tahiti to the Cook Islands; Rarotonga down to Aotearoa;
Aotearoa up to Tonga and Samoa; then against the tradewinds from
Samoa to the Cook Islands and back to Tahiti-the west-to-east migration
route that Thor Heyerdahl said couldn't be done; Tahiti up to the Marquesas;
and finally from the Marquesas back to Hawai'i. The entire voyage would
cover 16,000 nautical miles.1
Crossing 1,700 miles from Rarotonga to
Aotearoa, even though
it's shorter than the trip from Hawai'i to Tahiti, would take Hokule'a
the tropics and into the subtropics for the first time. I thought this would
be the most dangerous of all the legs on this voyage. We were going into
much colder water and much more complicated weather systems. From the beginning
of November to the end of March-the Southern Hemisphere summer-hurricanes
spawn in the Coral Sea, come up hurricane alley, through Tonga and Samoa,
and head to the southeast. They cut right across the planned path of the
canoe. They are infrequent but they do visit the North Island of Aotearoa.
But there were advantages to sailing in summer. High pressure systems settle
in and that's what you want, you want to be north of the high pressure center
where you find trade winds. From Rarotonga we would sail west-southwest,
so we needed trades.
So, in the summer the winds are ideal, but you get hurricanes.
You don't want to go in winter because westerly wind bands move north and
you're sure to get a head wind-hammering and cold-spun off from subtropical
low pressure systems. We wanted to leave before the summer hurricane season
and after the winter westerlies die off and the trades fill in, so we decided
to sail in the springtime.
We took two years to plan. What would the strategy be?
How were we going to navigate this route without instruments? Between Rarotonga
and Aotearoa is a group of small islands called the Kermadecs. If we could
find these islands along the way, we would know where we were. From there,
instead of navigating 1700 of open ocean, we would have to navigate only
450 miles to Aotearoa.
Aotearoa is so much father south than
Hawai'i, so the star
patterns relative to the horizon are very different, and the navigational
system we had been using doesn't work as well that far south. The farther
you get from the equator, the less available for steering the stars around
the north and south celestial poles become. When you go far to the south,
the northern stars are below the horizon, the southern stars never rise
and set, and the paths stars take in the sky get more and more horizontal.
Steering by the rising and setting stars becomes much more difficult. The
stars rise in their houses but then veer off sharply as they continue to
cross the sky, so once they are up in the sky, it's hard to tell where they
rose from and where they will set on the horizon.
I needed to go and study those star patterns. I knew from
a scientific point of view that I had to train this way; but I also wanted
to visit this land to get an instinctual feeling about it before trying
to go there on the canoe. The only person I knew in Aotearoa was a man named
John Rangihau, a man who possesses great mana-like one we would call a kahuna.
I said to him in my kind of foolish innocence, "Mr. Rangihau, I need
to go to Aotearoa, and I need to study the stars in the northern part of
your island. I looked at a map, and I found a place called Te Reinga. It
has a lighthouse. Can you pick me up and drop me off there? I'll live in
the lighthouse; I'll take my own food. And when I'm pau, can you pick me
up?" I had no idea what I was doing. I knew no one but him. And he
said, "Okay, I'll do that."
So I flew to
Aotearoa. I was 29 years old. I went through
customs and no John Rangihau. All of a sudden I saw a very friendly lady
with a banner with my name on it. She was waving it above her head, and
I thought to myself, "Oh boy, things are not going the way I thought
they would go." We went outside in the parking lot, and she put me
in the back of her car. She had a comforter and pillows there to make a
bed. And this was just one of the many, many gestures of caring shown to
me while I was there. I was thinking, "Okay, we're going to Te Reinga,"
but when I mentioned this place, she said, "Oh no, we're going to Mangonui."
We we got to
Mangonui, there was no house-just some tents
and two caravans (trailer homes). It was Hector Busby's land, but I didn't
know that. There was a place being excavated; I learned later it was for
the foundation of the house Hector was planning to build.
We got out of the car and met some people on the beach.
They were very friendly and told me, "Here is your tent. You can stay
in this tent."
My stay had been arranged. They knew I was coming. I kept
hearing this name "Hector Busby," but he wasn't there. He was
out fishing. One of the guys named Matey Baker, a school custodian, said,
"Hey, we set a net in the stream back where that bridge was, let's
go pull it."
While we were walking there, he said, "I hear you
know about the stars." So I started telling him a little bit about
navigation and Hokule'a and what we were trying to do. He
wasn't Maori and was only mildly interested, but it made good conversation.
We walked to the bridge. Matey went under the bridge and I was up on top
pulling the fish out of the net when Hector drove in with a couple of friends,
wondering who was poaching his mullet.
He had his boat on a traiIer behind him. He screeched to
a stop and got out the car. He didn't say a word to me. He just stood on
the bridge with his hands on his hips.
Matey came up from under the bridge and Hector quickly
figured out who I was-"That's the Hawaiian coming down here to look
at the stars and spoil my vacation." At least that's what I thought
he was thinking. It was New Year's Eve, and everyone was on holiday for
Matey came up and introduced me to Hector. Hector wouldn't
even shake my hand. He just told me, "Go sit in the boat." Everybody
else was sitting in the car. So I got into the boat, and we went tearing
down the road. I wondered what was going on. He didn't say hello. Didn't
shake my hand. Nothing. He didn't even acknowledge the introduction.
By the time we got to the beach, I was thinking, "I
don't feel welcome here. This is not set up right. I don't know what John
Rangihau was thinking. Here is a man with so much mana that he's considered
a prophet. What in the world was he thinking by sending me here?"
All I wanted to do at that point was to go to the lighthouse
to study stars, but I didn't have a ride there and the lighthouse was an
hour and a half away. So we got out of the car and everybody was nice to
me except Hector. Hector's wife was very angry about the way he was treating
me. Then Matey said, "Oh, so we hear you're a navigator, so why don't
you tell us where north is?"
Matey didn't mean anything, just being friendly; but Hector
turned to me and I could see the glare in his eyes. Then he ran into his
car and got a compass, but kept it hidden. He was looking at me through
the windshield. Matey and everybody was politely waiting for my answer.
They were not testing me, but Hector was. I could see him with that compass
Luckily it was late afternoon, and the sun was setting.
I took my time. In front of us was a bay that goes out to a point. I said,
"I think north is over here."
Hector waited a few minutes, checking his compass, then
came running out of his car and said, "No, no you're fifteen degrees
By then people there were mad at Hector. And one of them,
Joe Nara, who was a navigator in the Royal Air Force in New Zealand, said
to Hector, "Which way?"
Hector said, "He's too far off to the left."
Joe said, "Yes, because your compass variation is
off by thirteen degrees. He's only two degrees off."
Hector closed his box and walked away angrily.
After things calmed down a little, I was getting excited
about studying stars, so I couldn't wait for it to get dark. When it got
dark, I excused myself from the family and walked away from the camp to
get away from the lights. Matey's son was really attracted to the whole
idea of studying the stars, so he came with me. We went up on a little grassy
hill. I had my charts, my books, and a little flashlight. We studied the
stars. Then about midnight I decided to go back to the camp to wish everyone
a Happy New Year and to thank them for their kindness.
Hector was sitting by the campfire. Suddenly he got up
and began to orate in Maori. I didn't know what he was saying, but
I could see in the yellow light from the lanterns tears streaming down his
When he finished he said, "In this land, we still
have our canoe buried. In this land, we still have our language and we trace
our genealogies back to the canoes our ancestors arrived on. But we have
lost our pride and the dignity of our traditions. If you are going to bring
Hokule'a here, that will help bring it back. Whatever you
need to do, I am with you all the way."
When he first met me, all Hector knew was that I was some
Hawaiian who wanted to come down and study the stars, but he didn't know
why. When I was up on the hill, I think Matey told him about Hokule'a
and what we were trying to do. Somehow, John Rangihau knew that Hector would
be the one to care for me.1
From that point on, all during his vacation, Hector drove
me to places where I could study the stars. We drove a long distance to
Te Reinga, the northern tip of the island. The beach there was ninety miles
long. We went to the lighthouse, and from there, I could see the horizon
to the east, west, and north. At night, I would study the stars and Hector
would sleep in the car. At dawn, he would drive back while I would sleep
in the car.
At the lighthouse, there was a cave where a pohutukawa
tree grew-the same as our '�hi'a lehua. In the myth of Kupe, the
navigator who first discovered Aotearoa, the sailing direction to Aotearoa
from Hawaiki-the homeland-was to steer to the left of the setting sun in
the season when the pohutukawa blooms. That is late spring, early summer
in the Southern Hemisphere, when our voyage was scheduled to depart. And
like Kupe, we would leave from Rarotonga.2
Te Reinga is a sacred place. When a Maori dies,
his spirit goes there to dive into the sea and return to Hawaiki, to the
home land. All of these myths and Maori language and oration were
new to me. The first time I ever participated in a Hawaiian ritual was when
Hokule'a was launched in 1975. When I first got to Aotearoa,
I didn't understand that these myths could provide valuable information
for the voyage-I was there to study the stars.
When my studying at Te Reinga was over, Hector took me
back to the Bay of Islands. He drove off in tears.
That's how my connection with Hector began. It went from
Hector not shaking my hand to his staying with me all the way and my becoming
a part of his family. I think for him the canoe made his history and the
honor and dignity of his culture-which he knows so well-come alive. Hector
is an advisor to the people in the Northern Museum about Maori history
because he knows so many of the old stories. He's a living legend in his
You see from this story that voyaging is not about one
person. It requires many, many people. My relationship with Hector enriched
my life in a way that I could never have imagined before I went to Aotearoa.
I went back home renewed and studied harder. The purpose of sailing Hokule'a
to Aotearoa went beyond applying science or reviving culture; it was also
about connecting people and restoring pride.
In 1985, we sailed down to Rarotonga from where we would
depart for Aotearoa.3 We went to Muri, where there
are seven stones representing seven canoes that left for Aotearoa. The navigator
Kupe also left from there on his voyage of discovery to Aotearoa. A pod
of whales helped him find his way. So we waited at Muri for the right weather
conditions to go. We hoped to leave around November 15.
As we waited, a tropical cyclone roared up hurricane alley,
out of season, with sixty knots of wind. Only three more knots and it would
be classified a hurricane. Once a cyclone cuts through the atmosphere it
tends to create a path for others to follow. We were looking at the possibility
of an early hurricane season which would not allow us to go. Along with
the tropical cyclone near Rarotonga, New Zealand was experiencing a late
winter, with subtropical lows-the two worst conditions for sailing to Aotearoa.
I was frankly afraid to go because there were so many people's lives at
stake. I was in my early thirties, and I didn't have the confidence and
the maturity to be handling that kind of pressure. I was panicking.
I talked to my dad: "What if we have to shut this
thing down? What if the hurricane season starts early?"
He said, "Just make the best choice. Take in all the
information and make your choice. Whatever choice you make, we will support
I went back and forth with the meteorologists, day after
day. Now my father was beginning to get concerned because he saw how
I was. He began to step back and be more conservative with his recommendations.
We started to lose our confidence. Then Hector arrived and heard about our
uncertainty. The next morning he came into my room while I was trying to
make a decision, and he said, "You must go. You have to go. And you
will get there because your ancestors will be with you." He would not
discuss the possibility of not going. He reminded me, "When we were
studying the stars I told you that we would be with you all the way."
He was powerfully adamant. That removed any question about not going. Hector
changed the momentum from more and more doubt to a feeling that this was
not a decision, it was fate. For him it was not an intellectual decision
making process. He just said, "You must go." And so we did.
was a break in the weather: another storm came through,
but behind it there was no sign of another one so off we went. It took
about six hours for Rarotonga to go below the horizon at our
stern. It was an incredible voyage, with very special moments. We had
incredible crew, a crew of common people, from all walks of life,
by a single vision.
One special moment came while we were trying very hard
to find the Kermadec Islands to give us that known point along the way.
If we sailed too far south, we would run into westerly winds, and if we
ended up east of New Zealand in westerlies, we would have to tack against
them for days. But if we didn't sail far enough south and turned west too
soon we ran the risk of sailing past the top of North Island and ending
up in the Tasman Sea without knowing it.
One night we saw two stars, Alpha and Beta Centauri, right
on the horizon and that gave me a lot of confidence that we were at the
latitude of the Kermadecs, which I thought were to the west. So we headed
west.4 The next day we were looking into the sun which
made the water sparkle, and we didn't see a pod of sperm whales coming-about
eighteen of them. We sailed right into the middle of the pod. I don't know
why, but one of the whales-perhaps it was a mother who had become separated
from her calf-turned from the north and swam toward our starboard side with
such force that her whole head rose out of the water. She came right to
the hull of the canoe, then at the last moment, dove down and turned her
tail. Instead of ramming us, which would have permanently damaged the canoe,
she just kind of nudged us to the south. From a scientific point of view
this event had no value. We were just lucky we were still afloat. We continued
heading west toward the setting sun, looking for the Kermadecs.
That afternoon, a squall came out of the north, not an
ordinary squall, but one in which the cloud touches the water, and there
was forked lightning. The winds dropped, and the clouds came upon us. And
then I said, "Let's turn south. Forget the Kermadecs, this is too dangerous."
Since the canoe was high on the water, it could have attracted a hit from
the lightning. So we turned south and sailed into a mist.
We were just trying to sail away from the lightning. I
gave up trying to find the Kermadecs. I didn't know if this was a good decison
or not; I made it out of fear. We found ourselves sailing in a very thin
mist. We sailed in that mist all night-just trying hard to keep the canoe
on track, struggling to steer. I will always remember that night-we couldn't
see the stars, but we could see Venus and Jupiter through the mist. We sailed
on, lightening all around us.
When the first light of dawn came, I was exhausted. The
first light of dawn is always a time when I feel a sense of relief because
now we can see what we're doing. I collapsed, I was out. I slept through
Then there was a commotion among the crew. I looked up
and saw Maori crew member Stanley Conrad shaking Shorty Bertelmann
awake; Stanley was so exicted he couldn't talk, he was just pointing. The
Kermadecs were right there. We had already passed one island and another
one was ahead of us.
It was like a gift. Sometimes navigation is far out of
our own hands. First the whale nudged us to the south. Later we guessed
the whale might have been a cow who we had separated from her calf. But
there might be another explanation-it may have been a sign from our ancestors.
Kupe had a similar experience on his voyage to Aotearoa. Later, we turned
south because of the lighting, and we found the Kermadecs. These moments
are what make voyaging special. After that, we knew where Aotearoa was.
The rest of the voyage was relatively easy.
During this voyage, we wore survival gear, and, throughout
the whole voyage, we talked about the incredible strength and endurance
of the Maori people. Consider that they occupied islands below Aotearoa
at 60 degrees South. That's equivalent to us sailing to Alaska, without
foul weather gear. That's not something that we could do. I tried my hardest
one night to experience the cold, and we were only halfway there, at 30
degrees south. We know of chants of legends and genealogies speaking of
white floating islands and birds that fly through the water-icebergs and
penguins. We were in awe of the strength of those ancestors.
We arrived in Aotearoa [on December 7, 1985, sixteen days
after departure from Rarotonga]. It was a special moment for Stanley Conrad,
the son of a fisherman from the North Land, chosen by his people to represent
Aotearoa. Stanley was a young man, and his father was worried because he
knew the dangers of such a voyage. But Stanley performed extremely well.
He had crossed 1,700 miles of ocean to get home, and he had crossed it in
a canoe, like his ancestors had. As we approached his homeland, he said
nothing, I think because the experience was too powerful for him. It certainly
was for us. The Maoris came out to greet us in Nga Toki Matawhaorua,
with 88 paddlers. Hector's group had relaunched this canoe to help revive
Maori ocean traditions. We heard them chanting before we saw them.
And then we saw the canoe rise on the top of a crest and settle back down
in a trough. It was awesome.
To me, it was such an important time for Stanley standing
there in the rear, as it was for us. The joining of two canoes was the joining
of two cultures. These two cultures have a common ancestry. This was not
a meeting of people, it was a reunion. These experiences are what have made
the voyages so important. And there was Hector Busby fulfilling his promise
that he'd be there all the way, hoping and praying for us like the others,
like any parent would. I was very happy to see him that day, because we
completed the dream he said that our ancestors would support.
After we landed, we were invited to a very special occasion
at the marae at Waitangi. We were greeted in the traditional way. We learned
that the marae houses wellness for the Maori people. We watched grandchildren
and grandparents dance together and sing together. We understood that these
marae housed not just people, but the genealogies by which they traced their
ancestry back to the canoes that brought them to Aotearoa. I can see how
connected the Maori are to their ancestry. And because they are connected
to their past, I believe that it's much easier for them to see the kind
of future they want to voyage to. This was another part of our own work
Henare, the most revered of the elders of Tai Tokerau, got up and said, "You've proven that it could be done. And
you've also proven that our ancestors did it." On this very special
occasion, he laughed and he cried. I recognized from him that we already
come from a powerful heritage and ancestry. The canoe, on its voyages, is
just one instrument to connect to that. Sir James Henare also made an incredible
statement: "... because the five tribes of Tai Tokerau trace their
ancestry from the names of the canoes they arrived in, and because you people
from Hawai'i came by canoe, therefore by our traditions, you must be the
sixth tribe of Tai Tokerau." We didn't know what to make of such a
powerful statement. In a few sentences, Sir James Henare had connected us
to his people. And he said that all the descendants from those who sailed
the canoe are family in Tai Tokerau.5
When it was time to leave
Aotearoa, we couldn't go on schedule
because we had very bad weather conditions. We had to wait twenty-two days.
Hilda, Hector Busby's wife, said, "When you're in my land, I am your
mother and you are my children. So I will take care of you and stay with
you all the way." Twenty-two days we were housed. Twenty-two days she
fed us three times a day. Twenty-two days she washed our clothes. We were
cared for like family. I saw that the quality of my life was determined
by the kinds of relationships I have with others. When I had this dream
of sailing to Aotearoa, I went there alone to sleep in the lighthouse at
Te Reinga; I never imagined how important it was to be connected with people.
1. For more on
voyage from Rarotonga to Aotearoa and the traditions of the Maori
migrations to Aotearoa, see Ben Finney's Voyage of Rediscovery: A Cultural
Odyssey through Polynesia (163-196). See Teuira Henry et al, Voyaging Chiefs
of Havai'i for one version of the story of Kupe's voyage to Aotearoa.
2. Under Hector Busby's leadership,
"the Maori people of the far north of the North Island had formed
the Tai Tokerau Cultural Assocation in 1973 to relaunch Nga Toki Matawhaorua,
a giant Maori paddling canoe 136 feet long named, we were told, after
a legendary canoe that had made a second voyage from Hawaiki to Aotearoa
after having been re-carved or, as its name translates, having been "by
adze hollowed out twice." The modern [replica] had been constructed
for the 1940 centennial of the Treaty of Waitangi between the British and
Maori tribal chiefs. The idea behind the relaunching was to employ
Nga Toki Matawhaorua as a focus for cultural revival among the Northland
tribes, much as Hokule'a had been conceived as a vehicle for
rekindling Hawaiian pride in their voyaging heritage" (Finney Voyage
of Rediscovery 190-191). Hector's interest in canoe traditions was no doubt
the reason why John Rangihau sent Nainoa to him.
3. Hokule'a left Miloli'i
on the Big Island of Hawai'i on July 10, 1985 and arrived in Pape'ete, Tahiti,
on Augst 11, 1985. On August 30, she left Pape'ete and arrived in Rarotonga
on September 14.
4. Nainoa notes: "After I returned
home Will Kyselka explained to me why I was off in estimating my latitude
with Alpha and Beta Centauri-why I turned west for the Kermadecs too soon.
When stars are close to the horizon, their light can be refracted by half
a degree as it comes over the curve of the earth. So we were actually half
a degree north of where we thought we were."
5. Ben Finney's Voyage of Rediscovery:
A Cultural Odyssey through Polynesia (196-201) gives a detailed account
of the welcoming ceremonies when Hokule'a arrived at the Bay