Two Rotorua men were on board traditional Maori canoes which returned to New Zealand after a 10-month historic voyage across the Pacific Ocean on Saturday .
Haimona Brown and Te Miroa Maxwell were among 23 sailors who travelled 10,000 nautical miles from Auckland to Rapanui (Easter Island) and back in two waka hourua (double-hulled sailing canoes) using only the stars, moon, sun, ocean currents, birds, and marine life to guide their way.
The return trip to New Zealand involved sailing via Tahiti and Rarotonga.
The Waka Tapu journey was organised by Te Puia's New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute to teach and transfer knowledge of Maori and Polynesian traditional sailing methods to future generations.
The institute's director, Karl Johnstone, said the waka's return completed a "monumental milestone" in New Zealand's modern day navigation history and recognised a life's work by waka-building expert Hekenukumai Busby who built the principal waka, Te Aurere in the early 1990s and completed the second waka, Ngahiraka Mai Tawhiti, in 2011.
Mr Johnstone said 60 crew members from a wide range of iwi and aged between 18 and 67, had participated in various stages of the journey, and weathered storms, cold weather and extreme swells.
Associate Minister of Tourism Chris Tremain said the Waka Tapu crew should feel an immense sense of pride.
"This is a significant achievement and a true testament to the traditions and skills of tangata whenua. By retracing the journey that their ancestors took, the crew have helped ensure the retention of indigenous navigational and environmental knowledge for future generations of New Zealanders."