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The 2012–2013 voyage of the Waka Tapu closed the Polynesian triangle. This confirmed that it is possible to successfully and deliberately travel great distances by canoe while navigating without instruments.

In these articles, navigator Jack Thatcher describes his waka hourua voyage from New Zealand to Rapanui (Easter Island) and back. Waka voyages had already traversed the Pacific from New Zealand to the northern and central areas of Polynesia, but it was this journey to the east and back that completed the triangle.

Navigating without instruments

Modern navigation is heavily reliant upon technology. Jack and his crew used traditional techniques to navigate the Waka Tapu. Traditional wayfinding involves observing and understanding nature.

Astronomical techniques involve knowledge of the night sky and are described in these articles:

Closer to home, navigators use these navigation aids:

  • Ocean swells, which are regular and stable waves that can be felt as well as seen.
  • Cloud formations that help navigators predict weather while out at sea.
  • Biological factors such as vegetation and seabird behaviour that indicate the proximity and direction of land even when it is not visible.

Reviving an ancient art

There has been renewed interest in the ancient art of wayfinding over the last 30–40 years. Read about the history and adventure behind this fascinating rediscovery with the articles Wayfinding revival and Waka revival, then learn about the modern construction and crewing of waka hourua.

Take up the challenge

Related student activities involve legends, compass skills and cloud observation:

Nature of science

Science, social science and cultural knowledge come together in these articles and activities. Navigational techniques of ancient voyagers are part of scientific explorations of the celestial sphere and the natural world of the navigator. Navigators use these techniques today, showing that successful and deliberate Polynesian migration was quite feasible.

Useful link

The Polynesian Voyaging Society’s website includes educational resources from around the world that support voyaging education. Our articles covering navigating without instruments have strong links to these resources and the Society’s stories about voyaging.

In this article from the Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand, Atholl Anderson discusses how perspectives of Māori voyaging technologies have changed since the 19th century, and current views and theories.

    Published 13 November 2014, Updated 2 May 2015 Referencing Hub articles