For the first time in more than four centuries, the sails of a waka from mainland New Zealand appeared on the horizon off the Chatham Islands last Thursday.

"It was pretty special," Te Waka Te Matau a Maui traditional navigator Piripi Smith of Clive said.

"It's 400 to 500 years since a waka has been there."

The Ahuriri-based waka set sail on the first of what is set to become an annual voyage to the Chathams on the night of April 14, with a crew of 15 - about a third of them inexperienced at open sea sailing.

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"They really enjoyed it and I think we've hooked most of them in," Mr Smith said, adding that while a couple were initially sea-sick they came right on the second day and continued to carry out their duties.

"The voyage went absolutely to plan - it could not have been better and we made really good time."

The waka averaged about nine knots as it made the most of favourable northeasterly and northerly winds, and even got a boost from some of the big swells encountered during the just over two-day voyage.

"We were getting up to 17 knots surfing down some of the waves."

While the first night made traditional navigation challenging, there were enough breaks in the cloud to make critical moon and star sightings.

The second night was "amazing" Mr Smith said as the crew had a clear view of the moon as it went through a total eclipse.

"We used traditional navigation there and back," he said.

They also used traditional methods to source extra food on the way, picking up a few albacore tuna.

There was a nod to less traditional eating preparations although as they cooked some but created sushi as well.

"So we made sure we took along some wasabi and soya sauce."

The first sight of the islands came around midnight Thursday when they spotted distant lights from lighthouses.

They anchored up and made the approach to the main wharf after dawn and were welcomed by locals who performed a powhiri.

"They looked after us so well."

During the four days on the island, the waka crew were taken diving, shown how to pluck wekas and also played some golf at the island's club.

"It was pretty rugged - everyone drives around in four by fours."

To reciprocate the hospitality, the waka crew took about 60 locals for sails in the bay off the main port of Waitangi.

The waka arrived back off Napier last Thursday night.

"We are looking at making it an annual voyage and forming partnerships with people over there," Mr Smith said.

The trust focuses strongly on youth and he said many Chatham Island young people came to the mainland for secondary schooling.

"We will look to sail some of them back to their island in voyages to come."

In the longer term, the waka trust also want to sail the vessel across the Tasman to Australia to "connect with whanau there"..

In the meantime, Mr Smith said there were a lot of youth and educational programmes the trust would be focusing on in the community with the voyages being the "icing on the cake".