One of the core members of the Te Matau a Maui Voyaging Trust, Clive's Piripi Smith, has received the highest honour in kaupapa waka navigation.

At an initiation ceremony staged for the first time in New Zealand last weekend, Smith was made a Pwo navigator — an honour which originated thousands of years ago on the island of Satawal in Micronesia where the kaupapa behind Pwo emerged from.

Mau Piailug, one of the great teachers of traditional navigation of the 1970s to '90s was active in continuing to pass on the skills of waka navigation which had been passed from generation to generation and was responsible for teaching traditional celestial navigation to the Hawaiians during the 1970s. They in turn passed on the knowledge to other voyaging societies throughout the Pacific.

Those who receive the Pwo navigation honour do so from other senior Pwo navigators throughout the Pacific. It is an acknowledgement they have reached a level where they are seen as a leader and teacher of the traditional ways of waka and navigation.

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"It is a huge honour to be given the title of Pwo," Smith said.

"The ceremony goes back thousands of years while the Pacific was still being discovered by our ancestors."

Smith has been involved with voyaging waka for 13 years and spent much of that time with the waka Te Aurere, which was built by Sir Hekenukumai Busby, and is of Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Porou and Ngāti Raukawa descent.

In the past, all Pwo ceremonies took place in Micronesia but after Mau Piailug's death they took place in Hawaii. Last weekend was the first time the ceremony was done in Aotearoa. It was staged at Aurere Beach, Taitokerau, in the far north.

Hawaiian Pwo navigator Nainoa Thompson and representatives from the Kamehameha Organisation and the Polynesian Voyaging Society took part in the ceremony, along with Sir Hekenukumai.

Smith is only the fifth person from Aotearoa to receive the title of Pwo, and the first from Hawke's Bay. He passed his training tests when he successfully navigated two waka, Te Aurere and Ngahikaka-mai-tawhiti from Aotearoa to Rapanui (Easter Island) in 2012.

He learned navigation from Jacko Thatcher under the guidance of their kaumātua, Sir Hekenukumai Busby.

And he passes his knowledge on. He teaches waka crew traditional navigation and was responsible for building the Atea a Rangi star compass at the Waitangi Regional Park.

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Smith said the history of the Pwo meant receiving it came with "quite a bit of responsibility — so it is not something you accept lightly".

He said he relished the challenges and satisfaction of teaching people the skills of traditional navigational.

The oral traditions had been going for thousands of years "and someone has to continue passing that on".

And while he had achieved what could be seen as the pinnacle of the art, he said there was always more to learn, and more to pass on.