There was a rousing welcome on Thursday when The Cook Islands vaka Marumaru Atua led four of a fleet of seven traditional voyaging canoes into Avatiu Harbour.
Beginning in 2010 the fleet has travelled the Pacific Ocean from New Zealand, where the vaka were built, to the Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Hawaii, across to the California coast of the USA, down the coasts of Mexico and Costa Rica, to the Galapagos Islands, back to Tahiti and most recently making landfall in Aitutaki before coming to Rarotonga.
Aitutaki turned on the sun for the voyagers but the weather on Rarotonga was dull with occasional showers. More problematic though was the lack of wind. Three of the vaka were becalmed en route and the original hoped for time of arrival of 12 noon passed as four canoes waited on the horizon for their fleet-mates to appear. These boats are powered by the wind and sun. Each has eight solar panels that charge batteries used to power electric motors if needed for safe entry into harbours. On the high seas they rely on sails so if there’s no wind they don’t go anywhere.
The welcoming crowds drifted away until, around 5 o’clock, the word went out that the four were on the way in and then people returned in full force.
With Marumaru Atua in the lead, the vaka sailed into the harbour entrance, furled their sails and came gently to rest against the wharf to the sound of conch shell, nose flute and the cheers and applause of the spectators.
Marumaru Atua (Cook Islands), Faafaire (Tahiti), Hine Moana (Pan Pacific) and Te Matau a Maui (Aotearoa) arrived on Thursday.
Gaualofa (Samoa), Uto Ni Yalo (Fiji) and Haunui (Pan Pacific) arrived overnight.
The guiding light of the Pacific Voyagers project is Dieter Paulmann, a German philanthropist and founder of the Okeanos Foundation for the Sea. He is a passionate environmentalist and after seeing the Cook Islands vaka Te Au O Tonga at the 2008 Festival of the Pacific Arts in American Samoa he realised that these canoes using traditional navigation techniques would be an ideal way to spread a message of sustainability and respect for the ocean; to move your paddle silently through the water.
It’s an awe-inspiring project and you can read more about it on the two websites of the Pacific Voyagers and the Okeanos Foundation.The seven vaka are due to leave Rarotonga on Tuesday morning – weather permitting – heading for the July 2012 Pacific Arts Festival in the Solomon Islands via Samoa, Fiji and Vanuatu.