Six Boats: An Introduction

Video: Introduction to Six Boats Video posted by Six Boats on Thursday, April 30, 2015

I’d often heard people saying how wonderful these e-book reader things were, and I felt a bit silly that I hadn’t used one. So about a year ago I loaded an e-book reader onto my iPad and searched around for a free book to install. Scrolling through lists of books looking for something interesting, my attention was grabbed by a particular volume, which I downloaded, and dived straight into. I had come across James Cook’s journal of his first voyage across the Pacific. In no time at all I was transported to 1769 and shared his daily experience of his landing in New Zealand, progress around its coastline, and his meetings with the local people; the Maori.

On that visit, James Cook circumnavigated both the North and South Islands… and an idea began to form. Wouldn’t it be interesting to follow his journey, going to the all places he did, except doing it from the land?

The idea began to take hold. I started to think about the practicalities of doing it; where would I need to get to? what type of vehicle would I need? … and I started to think about writing it up as a book as I went.

Studying Cook’s journal further it became obvious that he already knew of the existence of New Zealand. He was not only aware that Abel Tasman had visited it (indeed, he had named it), but he quite clearly had a copy, not only of Tasman’s chart (I didn’t know any such existed), but also of his journal (this was also news to me). I soon realised that any book about Cook’s ‘discovery’ of New Zealand would also need to include a section about Abel Tasman, and I began researching his journal. I soon found an English translation of the journal, and also a copy of his chart…

Abel Tasman's chart of New Zealand

The chart of New Zealand included in the Hague copy of Abel Tasman’s journal.

I became absorbed by Tasman’s voyage, and as I read further into it I found that I was increasingly picturing his voyage, not just from the landward position, but also from the viewpoint of the people occupying that land.

Tasman's journal for the day Dec 13th 1642.

Tasman’s journal page for the day Dec 13th 1642.

Abel Tasman saw the West Coast of New Zealand, 13th December 1642, around halfway up the South Island. From there he followed the coast to its northern extremity, and then departed, sailing onward to discover Fiji and Tonga. As he passed, he was seen by, and had encounters with, the local Maori population… but these people too, like Tasman, were not ‘native’… they were immigrants. So what was their story? Where had they come from? And how had they come to be in the place where they could see him go past?

Abel Tasman discovered New Zealand, for the Europeans, in 1642. However, the Polynesians had discovered it at least seven centuries earlier, and had settled the country in a wave of deliberate migration around the 1300’s. The stories of the journeys of these Polynesians was just as compelling as the journey of Tasman, and as I began to plan a trip along Abel Tasman’s path, I realised that I should also understand how the populations that could have seen him go past had come to be there… and that was the seed of this blog.

I am going on a journey. I am going to follow Abel Tasman’s voyage, day by day, through his journal and his chart; except I am going to follow him from the landward position.

Shoot locations

Places I am going to visit. Abel Tasman’s course is in light blue. The movements of the Kurahaupo people is in purple, Tainui in green, Mahuhu in ochre, and Matawhaorua in red.

As I travel to the places and features that he reports, I am going to also tell the stories of the people that could have observed him… their journeys over ocean and land, from their Polynesian origins, to the places from which that they could have seen him pass.

Abel Tasman had two ships, the Heemskerck and the Zeehaen. All of the Maori that could have seen Tasman pass, could trace their origins back to just four Polynesian voyaging vessels; the Kurahaupo, the Tainui, the Mataatua and the Matawhaorua. These are the Six Boats of the title of this blog.

This blog is the journal of my journey as I follow the movements of these six boats, their occupants and descendants, to the places that their journeys coincide.

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