A Kiwi environmentalist has been rescued by the Chilean Navy after a balsa wood raft she was floating on in the Pacific Ocean was swept up in strong currents.

Lisa Te Heuheu of Kuratau, near Taupo, is listed as a crew member on the website of the Kon-Tiki 1 and 2 rafts which set sail with 14 people aboard in early January from Chile's Easter Island, travelling towards the port city of Valparaiso, Chile.

However, strong currents pulled them off course. The Navy said in a statement that the rafts were about 1600km west of Puerto Montt in southern Chile. The Navy sent a merchant ship about 200 nautical miles away from the rafts plus a plane to track them. The group sent out a distress signal on Wednesday asking for assistance.

Chilean Navy begins rescue of Kon-Tiki balsa rafts off coast


In a self-penned biography, Te Heuheu describes herself as looking forward to the experience - which the group had been sailing to document climate change, pollution and marine life in the Pacific.

"My name is Lisa Te Heuheu, I am New Zealand Maori and descend from the indigenous peoples of New Zealand," she wrote.

The Chilean Navy rescues one of two rafts of the Kon-Tiki 2 expedition. Photo / Chile Navy
The Chilean Navy rescues one of two rafts of the Kon-Tiki 2 expedition. Photo / Chile Navy

"I grew up in Turangi and live in Kuratau, a small rural community on the southern shores of Lake Taupo. I love the outdoors, and have a wide range of interests. I am currently a team member for Access Water Ganges expedition to India 2015 and have been with "Your Expedition" since 2009.

"I currently do national and international work assisting indigenous peoples in their care for the environment. My passions of the outdoors, environmental protection and restoration, education and indigenous peoples work are all combined in this expedition and I am looking forward to the experience."

In a statement, expedition leader Torgeir Higraff said they were aborting the voyage for safety reasons.

"In a normal year, we would have reached South America by now," said Higraff. "Instead, we are still 1667km from land and the weather forecasts are not promising. The crew is in good health and spirit, and there is no emergency situation."

The crews include citizens of Norway, Peru, Mexico, New Zealand, Russia and Sweden.

The original Kon-Tiki set sail in 1947 from Peru. The expedition was led by Norwegian Thor Heyerdahl, who was seeking to prove his theory that winds and marine currents allowed for prehistoric sailing trips between South America and Polynesia.

After 101 days, Heyerdahl and five crew members reached the island of Raroia in the Tuamoto Archipelago. A book about the expedition was translated into dozens of languages. In 1951, Heyerdahl's film about the journey won an Oscar.