Master carver and waka builder Sir Ta Hekenukumai Busby has died, aged 86.

Busby was a world renowned master of waka-building, sailing and navigation from Aurere, in Northland, and was invested as a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in February.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has farewelled Busby following news of his death.

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A statement from Ardern said she was honoured to be at the investiture for Sir Hek at Waitangi earlier this year.

"I will never forget the passion and love on display for him.

"He gave so much to the next generation, and in turn, they honoured him," Ardern said.

Māori Crown Relations: Te Arawhiti Minister Kelvin Davis echoed Ardern's sentiment.

"It is with a heavy heart that I acknowledge the passing of Ta Hekenukumai Busby," Davis said.

"An esteemed kaumatua of Tai Tokerau, a master carver and waka builder. A navigator with a curious mind, a story for every occasion, and now a legacy that will not be forgotten."

Davis said his thoughts, and those of the wider Government, were with Sir Hekenukumai's family.

Hekenukumai Puhipi (Busby) was made a Knight Companion of the New Zealand Order of Merit in February in a powerful, tribute-filled ceremony at Te Whare Rūnanga, at the Waitangi Treaty Grounds.


Many hundreds of people crowded around the whare as Governor-General Dame Patsy Reddy tapped him on each shoulder with a ceremonial sword.

Sir Hek, as he is affectionately known, was knighted in recognition of his role in reviving Māori traditions of waka hourua (double-hulled voyaging canoes) and celestial navigation, in which stars, currents and wildlife are used to navigate across vast expanses of ocean.

He left school at the age of 15 and established a bridge-building business.

It was an encounter after this first business venture, with the Hawaiian waka hourua Hokole'a, that changed his life.

He subsequently built 52 waka, and founded a school of traditional navigation at Aurere to pass on his knowledge.