What does the word “discovery” mean to you?
Back in school in the 1980’s we were taught that Captain Cook “discovered” New Zealand. His vessel the Endeavour features on our 50c coin. Monuments to Cook stand in many places that he visited, and even places that he didn’t visit (such as Christchurch) on his travels around the country. But of course Cook wasn’t the first person to “discover” New Zealand at all. For starters – Dutch Explorer Abel Tasman stumbled across New Zealand’s shores 127 years before Cook – and even gave the country the name New Zealand.
But of course the real discoverers of New Zealand were the Polynesian Navigators who landed on the shores of Aotearoa New Zealand at least 700-1000 years ago.
It is fair to say that I’ve always been a bit of a fan of Captain Cook. He was an incredible navigator and explorer. Books such as Rob Mundle’s ‘Cook’ and Richard Hough’s book Captain James Cook – a Biography, line my book shelves. I thought I knew all about his adventures in the Pacific.
But a couple of years ago I watched a TV series starring Sam Neill. “The Pacific – In the Wake of Captain Cook“. It was then that I realised that after all this time I really only knew one side of the story. Cook’s side. I didn’t have any real understanding of the other side of the story – the wider repercussions of his visits to the Pacific, the colonisation that followed, and the huge impact this had on the Polynesian people that resided in this so called “undiscovered” corner of the world.
After watching the series and reading the book, I felt a bit betrayed to be honest. I questioned what I thought I knew, my idolisation of Cook faded. I learned about the people who were killed during the visits to the islands, the new diseases that the sailors left behind, decimating some populations. The destruction of the customs and culture by the missionaries who followed in Cook’s wake. Ecosystems pushed to the point of extinction by the whalers and introduced pests, and the displacement of the people during this age of colonisation.
Of course Cook was just one European explorer. The French, Spanish, Portuguese & Dutch were also sailing around the globe stepping ashore, planting flags to claim that particular island as the new property of the country they represented, and reaping havoc on the indigenous populations who had resided on those lands for hundreds or thousands of years before the Europeans arrived.
It is difficult to apply today’s moral standards to what was the acceptable thing to do 250 years ago. However if you put yourselves in the shoes of the descendants of the people who were impacted by Cook’s visits, it is easier to understand why the commemoration of his arrival in New Zealand has caused some controversy.
Tuia 250 became less of a ‘celebration of Cook’s discovery of New Zealand 250 years ago’ to a commemoration of the weaving together of our history, culture and heritage. A way of recognising that New Zealand is founded on a history of voyagers and what better way to do that – than with a sailing voyage – a flotilla of vessels travelling together around the country, remembering, sharing experiences, teaching people, talking, questioning and gaining a better understanding of what has happened in the past, the impacts that had and how we can move forward together to a brighter future.
Of course I jumped at the chance of being a part of this incredible voyage. Six iconic vessels – three sailing waka and three tall ships, visiting various parts of the country. I submitted my application requesting a spot on a sailing waka. Having already studied celestial navigation, I wanted to learn more about how the Polynesian voyagers and navigators explored the Pacific and made it to the shores of New Zealand, and experience first hand how to sail these incredible vessels.
Thankfully my application was successful and I was allocated a position on Fa’afaite a waka hourua from Tahiti sailing from Auckland/Tamaki Makaurau to Whangarei.
In case you are wondering why a vessel from Tahiti would be sailing around New Zealand, you once again need to step back 250 years to 1769, when the Endeavour departed from Tahiti with a Polynesian navigator called Tupaia on board. The success of Cook’s explorations in New Zealand must undoubtedly be credited to this incredible man. When he landed on the shores of New Zealand Tupaia was able to communicate with the Maori, and essentially reconnected them back to their Polynesian ancestors. If you haven’t heard much about Tupaia, I really recommend reading this book – Tupaia – Captain Cook’s Polynesian Navigator.
Using traditional Polynesian navigation techniques Fa’afaite took around three weeks to sail from Tahiti to New Zealand where she joined two other waka – Haunui, Ngahiraka Mai Tawhiti and the three tall ships – the Endeavour replica, The Spirit of New Zealand and The R Tucker Thompson. From there the Tuia 250 voyage began.
I first set eyes on Fa’faite on the Monday morning where she was berthed in front of the New Zealand Maritime Museum, and thought she was absolutely beautiful. She was built in New Zealand back in 2009 and she is a 72′ va’a Moana double masted sailing canoe.
I met up with my fellow trainees – Rob, Pepe, Tania & Marcello. We’d all been allocated a berth on the various waka for the next week. We had a chance to explore the museum and the Tuia 250 Educational activities lining the Viaduct area, while the waka crews were busy provisioning and sorting various maintenance issues on the boats.
Rob and I jumped on board Fa’afaite and were introduced to the rest of our crew. Captains Titaua & Moeata, my watch team Hinatea, Maui, Viri and Sandrine, and the rest of the team India, Poe, Morgane, Christian & Lucien. 13 of us in total. Girls bunks in one hull and boys in the other. We got busy filling water tanks, riding Lime Scooters, eating sushi and ice creams, exploring the museum, safety briefings, helping prepare the boat, and waiting for the gas fitters to sort an issue with the stove.
Once we were all sorted and ready to go we hoisted the sails and set off bound for Motutapu Island. It was blowing a good 20kts and we were flying down the harbour. It was great to get the sails up and feel the power of the boat, and watching India on the Hoi (helm). There didn’t appear to be much shelter in the lee of Motutapu so we turned around and rafted up with Ngahiraka beside Motuihe Island instead, where we cooked up a huge spaghetti bolognese and had a good singalong with our new friends.
I was up early for my 6am watch and was greeted by a pod of dolphins cruising past. We cooked up some breakfast for our fellow crew and once they emerged from their bunks we raised sail to follow Ngahiraka through to Omaha Beach – about a 30 mile sail.
Once again we had a strong South Westerly blowing in the perfect direction for a fast sail up the coast, and I got my chance to help Sandrine on the Hoi.
When we reached Omaha the wind was absolutely howling, and we hunted around for a reasonable anchorage but thankfully the team on Ngahiraka had done their research, and we followed them in to a tiny cove where we pulled up in to the shallows while the tide slowly retreated. We squelched across the mudflats to the shore where we walked up to the shops of Leigh for ice creams and fish & chips. The locals flocked down to visit the two impressive visitors beached on the shoreline.
In the evenings Rob and I enjoyed checking in with the crew. Practicing our French, learning about life in Tahiti, how colonisation had impacted their culture, how the nuclear testing had affected French Polynesia and how to navigate using the stars.
The following morning there was enough water under our hull to set off again and we headed north towards Whangarei. Another 30 mile sail up to Urquharts Bay in a stiff SW breeze. Hoisting the sails and learning how to wrangle the different rig set up was fascinating. We trailed some fishing lines out the back but we were flying along at about 10kts – a bit too fast for fishing.
Mid afternoon we negotiated the entrance to Whangarei harbour, dodging big ships and we anchored beside Ngahiraka in the lee of some impressive craggy mountains and went for a very chilly swim. Titaua, Joelene & Terissa went for a snorkel and managed to collect a few scallops for an evening snack. The other waka Haunui had also sailed in to the bay to join us, having made the passage from Auckland in one day after undergoing some maintenance, and the R Tucker Thompson were also anchored in the bay.
With no lights on board and night watches to to be attended, the crew usually went to bed quite early. Plus it was freezing! I had just about every item of clothing I’d brought with me on to try and keep myself warm. I hunkered down in my bunk and listened to the wind howling in the rig and waves sloshing against the hull all night hoping the anchor would hold.
As is often the case – when the sun rises, the wind and waves are not usually as bad as they sound when you can’t see them, but it was still blowing about 25kts. The Spirit of New Zealand and Endeavour had also arrived in the bay and it was time for us to muster for our parade up the channel to Whangarei. But first we needed to cook some scrambled eggs for the crew’s breakfast.
Parading in a 2-3 kt current, with a really strong wind on the nose in a narrow channel with 5 other vessels of varying sizes is a bit challenging… Moeta and Titaua had it all under control though as we motorsailed in a procession waving at the crowds gathered along the shoreline including a large crowd of school children doing an impressive haka.
We eventually pulled alongside in Port Nikau and enjoyed a fabulous shared lunch with our friends on Haunui followed by some much needed showers at the nearby Stadium. I don’t think you can ever really appreciate a shower until you’ve spent multiple days being salty without one, and its fair to say those showers were awesome.
We had a crew gathering that afternoon. An opportunity to share our thoughts about the passage and say our farewells. Even though we still had another night together, the next days schedule sounded pretty hectic and it was nice to be able to give thanks to Fa’afaite for a safe passage and to our fellow crew for all the amazing hospitality we had enjoyed.
That evening was very special. Fa’afaite’s 10th birthday party. We had about 100 people gathered on board from all the different vessels. The Endeavour crew baked a cake and everyone else brought something so there was food for everyone. Lights candles, decorations, kava, singing and a fantastic night followed by the rugby showing on the big screen in Cooks cabin on the Endeavour.
Saturday morning arrived. Our last day on board. The wind had died down and we were heading on to Whangarei for the powhiri (welcome ceremony). The three waka headed upstream accompanied by the local waka-ama teams and then by the traditional waka which would have been very similar to the ones that approached the original Endeavour 250 years ago and looked incredibly intimidating.
A powhiri is a fantastic experience, the wero – challenge, then karanga – calling on to the marae, then speeches, songs, dancing and finally the hongi – pressing of noses and sharing of breath. We enjoyed an incredible lunch where I was lucky to sit with Hon Dame Jenny Shipley – chair of the board of the Tuia 250 Commemoration. I was able to get her insights on how the voyage was progressing and personally thank her for what had been an incredible week.
My part in the Tuia 250 voyage was one of discovery. Discovering new friends, gaining a greater understanding of the culture and history of our amazing country – the good the bad and the ugly, learning about Polynesian navigation and the incredible sailing waka that roamed the Pacific Ocean hundreds of years before anyone else ‘discovered’ it. It was an opportunity for me to step outside of my reality, from what has personally been a very challenging year of loss, grieving, stress and change. I feel very privileged to have been given the opportunity to be a part of the Tuia 250 commemoration and I am proud to share my adventure with you now.
The vessels are about to sail south – to Totaranui – Queen Charlotte Sound, Wellington and Te Whakaraupo – Lyttelton in December, where I hope to be able to meet up with my friends again. If you are a kiwi I hope you can be part of the journey and get the opportunity to learn more about our shared history of how Aotearoa New Zealand became the place that we all enjoy living in today.
You can learn more here: Tuia 250