The Pacific's Challenge - Four Vaka to journey the Islands

Vaka Moana - Voyages of the Ancestors - Asian - Polynesian sailing canoe

For the first time ever four traditional vaka will assemble in the Waitemata Harbour to make a stand for the Pacific Ocean.

On Sunday April 11th four vaka will sail in Te Kumete O Te Moana Nui, a regatta in the Waitemata Harbour, and then leave Auckland on Wednesday April 14th for a Pacific Ocean Voyage to French Polynesia, Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga and Fiji. In 2011 seven vaka will unite in Auckland to undertake a longer pan-Pacific voyage to Hawaii via French Polynesia.

A fleet of vaka has not set sail across the Pacific for more than 1,000 years. The vaka, all built in Auckland, successfully blend traditional Pacific craftsmanship with modern boatbuilding techniques. This melding of the modern and traditional is a metaphor for of how we should treat our environment – linking the past with the future and reconnecting the Pacific peoples utilising the best of every culture and generation. It’s time to make a change.

The events’ aim is therefore to raise awareness of the environmental issues that face the Pacific Ocean, as well as recapture traditional Pacific voyaging skills and re-establish cultural links between the countries that share the Pacific.

The vaka make up an informal network of voyaging societies, (The Pacific Voyager’s Network), involving New Zealand, Cook Islands, Fiji, French Polynesia, Tonga, Vanuatu and Western Samoa.

The network is supported by Okeanos, a German-based philanthropic organisation formed with the objective of protecting the world’s oceans and marine life.

The four vaka taking part in Sunday’s regatta and the 2010 ocean voyage are: Te Matua a Maui (New Zealand crew), Hine Moana (Western Samoa, Vanuatu, Tongan crew), Uto Ni Yalo (Fijian crew) and Maramaru Atua (Cook Islands crew). Once in Tahiti a full Tahitian crew on Faafaite will join the fleet. Two further vaka (making a total of seven) have also been built and will take part in the 2011 voyage.

Programme for Te Kumete O Te Moana Nui Regatta on Sunday 11th April:

Move your paddle, silently through the water.

· The event will start with an opening ceremony at Bayswater Marina, Auckland, at 8am on Sunday and the four-vaka regatta will start in the vicinity of the Auckland Harbour Bridge at 10am.

· The four vaka will sail to Motuihe Island and back to the start line, returning about 4pm. A closing kava ceremony will follow. At the closing ceremony the bowl (te kumete) will be passed to a new guardian for safe keeping until the next regatta. That guardian will carry the bowl to their home when they sail in the 2010 Pacific Voyage.

· 'Kumete' means large bowl, 'Te Moana Nui' means the great ocean (i.e. the Pacific Ocean). The full meaning is ‘The bowl of the Pacific’.

· All seven vaka were built at Salthouse Boatbuilders, Greenhithe, Auckland. The double-hulled vessels (22m in length) are constructed from e-glass and foam. Traditional boat building techniques are still visible; the hulls lashed together using wooden beams and rope lashings. Authenticity is maintained with the vaka adorned with customary carving, colouring and insignias of each nation. Traditional flax sails and modern sails are used and two of the vaka include a solar power system for auxiliary propulsion.

The 2010 Pacific Ocean Voyage leaving Auckland, April 14th:

On April 14th four vaka (with a fifth vaka joining in Tahiti) will depart from Auckland and sail to French Polynesia, Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga and Fiji.

· The aims of the voyage are to re-establish cultural links through traditional voyaging and to raise awareness of the key environmental issues threatening the Pacific Ocean - including ocean noise, pollution, habitat destruction, overfishing, acidification and de-oxidation and climate change.

· At each island a vaka will stay behind to continue training crew to use the vaka for cultural and educational purposes (encompassing enterprise, kinship, navigation and ocean conservation). At the same time highlighting how we can interact with the oceans in a quiet, healthy and sustainable way.

· The crews will rediscover traditional sailing and navigational knowledge, skills and customs, which will set the platform for future generations and help to revive and sustain a very important part of Pacific culture.

· The Te Kumete O Te Moana Nui Regatta and the two Pacific voyages have the backing of the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which has initiated the Pacific Ocean 2020 Challenge. The IUCN brings together 181 countries in a global partnership to help societies to ensure the use of natural resources is equitable and ecologically sustainable. The target of the Challenge is to achieve a healthy, sustainable and productive Pacific Ocean by the year 2020.