The great navigator and waka builder Sir Hekenukumai Busby has embarked on his final voyage.

One of Northland's most influential leaders, the man known as Sir Hek is credited with almost single-handedly reviving ancient Māori traditions of ocean voyaging.

His feats of sailing around the Pacific on waka hourua (double-hulled ocean-going canoes) and navigating only by stars, currents and birds put to rest long-held myths that Māori had arrived in New Zealand by accident rather than by design.

Sir Hek, who was knighted at Waitangi in February, died on Saturday aged 86.

Advertisement
Kaihoe (paddlers) perform a rousing haka as Sir Hekenukumai's casket is carried from Te Uri o Hina Marae, near Kaitaia, yesterday. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Kaihoe (paddlers) perform a rousing haka as Sir Hekenukumai's casket is carried from Te Uri o Hina Marae, near Kaitaia, yesterday. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Thousands of people paid their respects at Te Uri O Hina Marae at Pukepoto, near Kaitaia, during his four-day tangihanga with more than 500 attending karakia whakamutunga (final prayers) before he was laid to rest at nearby Te Rangihaukaha Urupa.

Kelvin Davis attends the service for Sir Hekenukumai Ngaiwi Puhipi at Te Uri o Hina Marae in Ahipara. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Kelvin Davis attends the service for Sir Hekenukumai Ngaiwi Puhipi at Te Uri o Hina Marae in Ahipara. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Yesterday's mourners included Ministers Shane Jones and Kelvin Davis, Tuwharetoa paramount chief Tumu Te Heuheu, and delegations from the Polynesian Voyaging Society in Hawaii and the group entrusted with one of Sir Hek's waka in the Dutch city of Leiden.

Also there was Hawaiian navigator Nainoa Thompson, whose arrival in New Zealand in 1985 on the traditional waka Hōkōle'a sparked Sir Hek's passion for ocean voyaging.

Thompson spoke of Sir Hek's courage in striving to achieve the seemingly impossible, at a time when traditional Polynesian voyaging was ''standing on the cliff of extinction''.

To honour a man who had changed many lives, his own included, he had named a star after him in a constellation shaped like a fish hook.

''He is with us forever,'' Thompson said.

Kaihoe (paddler) Albert Cash leads the procession up the hill to Sir Hek's final resting place. Photo / Michael Cunningham
Kaihoe (paddler) Albert Cash leads the procession up the hill to Sir Hek's final resting place. Photo / Michael Cunningham

Other speakers told funny anecdotes, recalled his favourite expressions and fondness for electronic devices, noted his skill in kapa haka, and talked about his love for his mokopuna and especially his wife Hilda, who was ''the wind to his sail, the rudder to his canoe''.

The service, which lasted more than two hours, was held on marae atea in front of the wharenui.

Advertisement

After a rousing haka Sir Hek's casket was to be placed on one of his first waka, Te Ika-a-Maui or Mokopuna, and towed to his final resting place at Te Rangihaukaha Urupā on a nearby hilltop.

However, members of the haukainga (home people) wanted his casket carried up the hill instead.

The waka, decorated with nikau fronds and toetoe, was parked across Kaitaia-Awaroa Rd by the road to the hilltop cemetery but the casket-bearers bypassed it, cutting through a ditch and continuing on foot as tempers flared.

A family spokesman said it was not a disagreement but a sign of respect for Sir Hek because everyone wanted to play a part in the ceremony.

A procession hundreds of metres long followed his casket up the hill where mourners were greeted by another powerful haka, this time by students from Far North schools including Te Rangi Aniwaniwa and Kaitaia College.

Sir Hek was buried with his beloved Hilda, who died 23 years earlier.