Hundreds of people gathered in Auckland's Viaduct yesterday morning to farewell a fleet of five vaka preparing to leave New Zealand on a 15,000 nautical mile journey across the Pacific.
Watched by guests, the vaka and voyagers were blessed by kaumatua and minister Takutai Wikiriwhi, before the skippers took part in a kava ceremony with vaka kaumatua Hekemukumai Busby.
Four of the vaka then left the Viaduct Basin and sailed down the harbour to salute their wellwishers, before heading over to Devonport.
Hoturoa Kerr, chief of the Haunui vaka, said he had a core crew of sailors on board from all around the Pacific Islands, who had been sailing for the past 30 years.
"Everybody is keen and excited and raring to go. We've just got to the wait for the right winds now and then we're hoping to set off on Friday evening."
Mr Kerr said the organisers were trying to get out the environmental message to the rest of the world, that the impact of a lot of the industrialised nations was really negative on the Pacific Ocean.
"We've got people here whose islands have been covered by rising water levels and their fishing grounds are no longer as abundant.
"We are trying to raise awareness to people who live thousands of miles away that what they do affects ordinary people who are, in some cases, subsistence living."
Mr Kerr says the vaka are very eco-friendly and run on solar energy.
"We're fully stocked up with supplies to last us all the way to Hawaii. Hopefully we'll catch heaps of fish, but we've stocked up with a lot of canned goods and locally produced organic food.
The five vaka from New Zealand will voyage across the Pacific to Hawaii via French Polynesia (Tuamotus, Marquesas), meeting up in Tahiti with two more vaka from the Cook Islands and Tahiti.
Mr Kerr said they expected to arrive in Hawaii by the first week of June.
In Hawaii, the vaka crews would attend the Kava Bowl Ocean Summit 2011, which would include discussions among an international mix of scientists, academics, practitioners, media, political and corporate leaders to create ideas about moving toward sustainable use of marine resources and services.
The second phase of the journey would start in July, when some of the vaka will sail on to North America via San Francisco, then down the west coast to San Diego.
The vaka will then return via the Cocos Islands, Galapagos, French Polynesia, Cook Islands, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji and ultimately to Honiara, Solomon Islands for the 11th Pacific Arts Festival in 2012.
The voyage will be the subject of a documentary film, and Dieter Paulmann, the film's executive producer, will travel with them.
"We are embarking on an extraordinary journey that brings together culture and consciousness as never before. For the first time ever, seven Pacific Island crews will sail a fleet of traditional Polynesian voyaging canoes ... across thousands of miles of open ocean. They'll map their way in the way of their ancestors, using the stars, sun, wind, and wildlife as their guides. As we travel along will them, we will come to experience first-hand the power and the plight of our greatest ocean - the Pacific," he said.
The film is scheduled for release in 2013.