"He waka eke noa" – we are all in this canoe together. Reporter Kristin Edge joins the crew aboard Ngahiraka Mai Tawhiti waka and sails Northland's east coast, as part of the flotilla making its way around New Zealand for the Tuia 250 Commemorations.
The orange glow of the rising sun casts a warm hue across the distinctive outline of Mount Manaia as three waka sail towards the Whangarei Harbour entrance.
It's a magical start to a four-day sailing adventure that will take the traditional waka hourua and three tall ships from Whangarei to Waitangi in the Bay of Islands on the northern leg of the Tuia 250 Commemorations journey — a 75-day voyage around New Zealand.
The waka hourua, double hull, are Ngahiraka mai Rawhiti and Haunui, and Fa'afaite from the Tahiti Voyaging Society.
The tall ships are a replica of Captain Cook's Endeavour, The Spirit of New Zealand, and Northland's own R Tucker Thompson.
It's a hive of activity on deck of the waka as the experienced crew of Ngahiraka Mai Tawhiti teach the sailing newbies how to hoist the triangular sails up the masts.
It's physical work and requires co-ordinated and quick action to get the large sails in position. The trainees use their body weight and go hand over hand on the white rope with the billowing sail finally becoming taut and making the most of very little wind.
There are 11 of us on board this traditional double hulled waka that was built here in Northland and it is a privilege to be sailing as part of Tuia 250.
Those organising Tuia 250 say the commemorations are about people and place, what brought us together, what challenges us still, and how we are weaving our differing cultures and values into a future we will be proud to leave for our grandchildren.
The event recognises and commemorates two extraordinary voyaging traditions and cultures, the exceptional feats of Pacific voyagers, their non-instrument navigation prowess and their decision to settle in Aotearoa many generations ago.
It also commemorates the feats of European explorers, the technology they developed and their first encounters with the people of this place when James Cook and his crew arrived on the HM Bark Endeavour in October 1769.
Ngahiraka Mai Tawhiti, a 16.5m kauri waka, was created and built by Sir Hekenukumai "Hec'" Busby, a master waka builder and celestial navigator. It is one of 52 waka be built before he died earlier this year.
In the early 1990s, the former engineer built the waka hourua (double-hulled canoe) Te Aurere. It sailed more than 30,000 nautical miles, visiting Hawaii, French Polynesia, the Cook Islands, New Caledonia and Norfolk Island, as well as making three circumnavigations of the North Island.
In December 2012, Te Aurere and Ngahiraka Mai Tawhiti reached Rapa Nui (Easter Island) after a 5000-nautical-mile, four-month voyage from New Zealand.
The two waka then made the return journey to New Zealand, landing at Aurere Beach in Doubtless Bay in May 2013.
Busby named Ngahiraka Mai Tawhiti after his beloved second wife, Hilda, who died while they were still planning the epic voyage to Rapa Nui together.
Ngahiraka Mai Tawhiti was completed in 2000.
sails into the open ocean with trainee and waka convert Ella Weehuizen, from Russell, keeping her on course.
Weehuizen has her feet firmly planted on the deck, has her hands around the hoe and takes most of the weight of the hoe by resting on her hip.
The hoe tere, steering blade, is huge but in these light winds only incremental movements are needed to keep the waka on course for the Poor Knights Islands.
Despite the calm sea it's surprising how much power is needed to hold the hoe that feels every shift in the water and surge of the ocean.
Our captain, Mahara Nicholas, reads the winds and instructs the crew on what sails to set and quietly helps Weehuizen keep her line.
Nicholas, a humble and calm man, is just the kind of person you would need holding the hoe when the moana unleashed its power and waves became higher than the mast.
He's a master at reading the ocean winds and currents, having travelled thousands of kilometres on traditional waka across open oceans, guided only by the stars and the moon just like the first Polynesian navigators over 750 years ago.
"I've been on Ngahiraka since 2011 and before that on Te Aurere from 2003," he says, reluctantly revealing his waka experience.
He was also part of the crew that spent months at sea sailing the return trip to Rapa Nui.
It's then the distinctive whiz of the fishing reel has everyone on high alert.
Kawiti Waetford, a Tuia 250 ambassador for the Northland leg of the journey, quickly grabs the bending rod and starts reeling in the fish.
As the outline of the fish reaches the surface, the fishing experts identify it as a yellow fin tuna. Just as the net is readied the fish breaks off and swims away, much to the disappointment of everyone wanting fresh fish for lunch.
As the waka glides through an ocean resembling a large sapphire silk sheet, we sail past Sugar Loaf, the Pinnacles and finally reach the Poor Knights Islands.
It's here that all the vessels in the flotilla come together, with the Endeavour, under sail, making an impressive sight. It's easy to see how imposing these tall ships were when they first reached Aotearoa 250 years ago.
Waetford, linked to all the vessels by the marine radio, outlines the history of the islands and the Māori stories that go with it, pointing out the distinctive Poor Knights lilies clinging to the rock above the entrance to Rikoriko cave. Throughout the trip along the coast he reveals how places were named and their significance to Northland.
For a lucky few there is a quick trip into the cave where opera singer Waetford sings Mama Son Tanto. He is of Ngati Hine, Ngati Wai and Ngapuhi descent and is now based in Whāngārei, mentoring Māori youth with a special focus on the revitalisation of te reo.
Back on board the wind has whipped up and for the first time, and the only time, in the trip the 40hp Yamaha outboard motor can be turned off.
There is no cabin with a warm double bed on the 14th storey, like on a cruise ship, where you can seek protection when the sea roughs up.
Here the water rushes over the deck as the bow plunges up and down through the waves whipped up by the strong ocean wind.
There is no dining room with a buffet full of food.
Here it's hands on with peeling potatoes, slicing cabbage and creating sweet and sour pork, cooking on a double ring gas burner on the foredeck.
But the crew have full bellies by the time we reach our destination of Ngahau Bay, near Mimiwhangata, where we anchor up over night.
There are only five bunks on board so we are divided into watches with the first team sleeping from 10pm until 2am with the next watch covering from 2am to 6am.
It's cold as a breeze blows down the deck at 2am but with the billy on the boil it's not long before a hot drink warms our spirits. Hushed talk, so as not to wake our sleeping mates, has us learning about each other and a team bond building.
next morning we are greeted with another beautiful sunrise before continuing north, where a pod of five mature bottlenose dolphins join us just past Whangaruru Harbour.
They gracefully glide through the water at the front of the waka, rolling over on their backs to see us better.
They swim ahead, leap from the water and put on an athletic display.
The Ngātiwai people, who used to live on the Poor Knights, Great Barrier and Little Barrier, believed that dolphins acted as messengers in times of need, bearing news from the islands to the mainland.
As they ride the bow wake of the R Tucker Thompson, to our port side, they stay with us and also act as our guides as we motor into Whangamumu Bay.
After a swim and lunch we up anchor and head round the northern tip of Cape Brett — Rakaumangamanga — getting a close up look at the hole in the rock — Motu Kōkako.
The flotilla anchors in Oke Bay and from the ridgeline above the sheltered bay it's an impressive sight.
Some of the most significant interactions between Cook, his Tahitian interpreter, Tupaia, and Māori took place on Moturarohia Island near Russell, hence the Bay of Islands focus during the Tuia 250 voyage.
The next morning the fleet was welcomed with a pōwhiri at Rawhiti Marae.
From there the fleet anchored of Mangahawea Bay, on Moturua Island, where the sailors took part in the blessing of a carved pou marking one of New Zealand's most significant archaeological sites.
The honour of unveiling a special pou went to a sailor from the Tahitian waka, Fa'afaite, who hails from the very islands where Māori are thought to have begun their migration some seven centuries ago.
Crew member Hinerapa Rupuha, 20, who grew up in Auckland, loves waka life and is proud of her Māori heritage.
To be able to share this waka experience with others is rewarding and what Tuia 250 is about, creating a connection across cultures and creating an understanding.
"The sea and waka life is incredible. You think you see it all on TV, but when you get out there, in real life, it's so much more. And the stars ... the best view is on the water."
She aspires to become a celestial navigator.
For Waetford, sharing the korero of his ancestors while out on the water is an amazing opportunity and a privilege.
"It's about the different threads and also the threads that bind us together and this event makes us think and talk about our origins. This whole voyage is about getting the different stories out there and into the public consciousness. It's important to hear about the past ... the good and the bad.
"There's nothing like being out on the water, feeling, tasting and smelling. Feeling the energy of the rain, the wind and the sea takes you out of the boxes we live in. "
final day of our voyage is overcast but the welcome by the ceremonial waka from Waitangi is anything but.
The great waka Ngātokimatawhaorua is an impressive sight with its 100-plus paddlers, their blades dipping in the water in unison and their chants drifting across the water.
Other waka, usually in the water on Waitangi Day, also venture out into the choppy water to welcome the fleet. The three waka hourua are able to glide up the beach at Waitangi while tender boats are used to ferry the crews from the three tall ships for the welcome at Te Tii Marae and a series of powerful challenges.
But before we leave our waka and crew we gather on the deck in a circle, arms wrapped around each other. There are tears. That's how much emotion is invoked by connecting with a waka and the crew.
It's been a privilege and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to voyage similar to how people sailed on their discovery of New Zealand.
There is something magical about being on a waka so close to the water that you can reach over the bow and feel the salty water on your hand. You can smell the freshness of the ocean and hear the cry of the gulls as they ride the air currents.
That closeness gives you a real connection to the sea.
And to make the waka run smoothly it's about working together, no matter your background.
Your strengths and weaknesses are exposed. Your trust in others grows.
The Tuia 250 journey felt like a joint celebration of two ocean voyaging traditions — one by sailing ship, the other starting centuries earlier by waka hourua.
I think this event marks the arrival at a juncture in our history where New Zealanders' dual heritage can be used to lay down a foundation for a shared future.
As the Maori proverb says: "He waka eke noa" – essentially meaning, we are all in this canoe together – and it's up to us all to determine what can be taken from Tuia 250 and used for future generations.