A bond formed almost 30 years ago between two Pacific peoples has been renewed by the arrival of two voyaging canoes from Hawaii.

The double-hulled waka Hokole'a and Hikianalia were formally welcomed at Waitangi on Saturday, one year into a four-year round-the-world voyage raising awareness of climate change and other threats to our oceans.

For many of those gathered on Tii Beach, however, the arrival meant more than any environmental campaign. Many were old enough to remember the Hokole'a's first visit in 1985, when it was the first waka of modern times to retrace the ocean routes of their Polynesian forefathers, using ancient navigation techniques based on the stars, sun and currents.

The Hawaiians' Voyage of Rediscovery sparked the Maori revival of traditional ocean voyaging, and inspired Doubtless Bay's Hekenukumai Busby to build the waka hourua (double-hulled canoes) that have now sailed every side of the Polynesian Triangle formed by New Zealand, Hawaii and Rapanui (Easter Island).

The crew of the Hikianalia blow a greeting on conch shells and traditional trumpets.
The crew of the Hikianalia blow a greeting on conch shells and traditional trumpets.

The Hokole'a's arrival in 1985 also inspired the late Sir James Henare to proclaim the Hawaiians "the sixth tribe of Te Tai Tokerau". The waka - or wa'a in Hawaiian - were escorted to Waitangi on Saturday afternoon by the great waka Ngatokimatawhaorua paddled by 80 men. The crew of the Hokole'a anchored offshore and boarded Ngatokimatawhaorua to be taken the last few hundred metres to Tii Beach, where Maori warriors carried them above the waves to dry land.

Among the hundreds waiting to welcome them on the beach were Hawaiian TV crews and 23 students and teachers from Kamehameha Schools, the state's leading native Hawaiian educational institute.

The visitors were welcomed to Waitangi's Te Tii Marae with a series of challenges, speeches, songs and haka that continued into the evening. The Hawaiians responded with hula, chants and presentations paying tribute to Sir James Henare, the late marae chairman Tupi Puriri, and the Maori master navigator Hekenukumai Busby.

Mr Busby said the Hawaiians' first visit in 1985 inspired Maori to start building their own double-hulled waka and venture back into the Pacific.

"Sir James Henare said the day he welcomed the Hawaiians here was one of the happiest days of his life. Their landing here proved our ancestors had come the same way. He said he hoped that some day in the near future we would build a canoe and go back to Hawaii on our own Voyage of Rediscovery. When he died in 1989 I made up my mind to do what his wishes were. We got to Hawaii in 1995," he said.

The Hawaiian and Maori delegations face each other across Tii Beach in a re-run of the Hokole'a's historic arrival almost 30 years ago.
The Hawaiian and Maori delegations face each other across Tii Beach in a re-run of the Hokole'a's historic arrival almost 30 years ago.

Mr Busby is currently building a school for traditional navigation, the Kupe Waka Centre, at Aurere in Doubtless Bay. He plans to open it in time for the Hawaiians' departure to Australia in May, after the cyclone season.

Hokole'a crew member and newspaper reporter Marcel Honore, of Oahu, said the voyage had attracted huge interest at home. The Hokole'a was a powerful symbol of the re-awakening of native Hawaiian culture which began in the 1970s.

One of the key messages of the global circumnavigation was becoming better environmental stewards in the face of climate change and other threats to the world's oceans by reconnecting with ancestral ways.

Kamehameha Schools vice-president of Hawaiian cultural affairs, Randie Fong, said his students had travelled to New Zealand so they could carry on the stories of their people. They also came out of kinship and a sense of duty as the sixth tribe of Te Tai Tokerau.
While in Northland they would continue their exchanges with Paihia School and Bay of Islands College.

Among the speakers at the welcome was former Northland-based MP Shane Jones, now economic ambassador to the Pacific.

He thanked the Hawaiian sailors for "strengthening our resolve to recover the taonga of our tupuna (ancestors)". He also paid tribute to "the greatest navigator of the Pacific", the late Mau Piailug of Micronesia, who passed his knowledge on to Mr Busby and Hawaii's Nainoa Thompson.

"Without a doubt, the Maori revival of ocean-going waka followed on from the efforts of the Hawaiians, and both our peoples are indebted to Mau Piailug, who was traditional Pacific knowledge in the flesh."

Mr Thompson, who captained the Hokole'a on its first journey to New Zealand, was also present on Saturday.

The Hawaiian waka first arrived last week Tuesday, clearing Customs at Opua ahead of Saturday's formal welcome. They started their journey in Hawaii last year and left their last port, Pago Pago in American Samoa, on October 16. They plan to sail 87,000km and call in to 85 ports in 26 countries before returning home in 2017.