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Raoul Island

The Kermadec Islands are somewhat grandly named.

Raoul, 8 km across at its broadest point, is by far the largest in the chain; and the only one with water. It is mostly rugged and steep. It has rocky beaches facing North and South-West, but no safe anchorage. Anyone visiting in a sailing boat would not choose to linger.

The next largest is Macauley Island. It is 100km to the South-South-West, just over a kilometre across, and barren. There are no trees there, and no water.

The remainder of ‘islands’ in the chain are just rocks; the largest being 100 metres across.

The people of the Kurahaupo had managed to find Rangitahua, Raoul to us, a tiny speck 2,000 km’s away from their point of departure. They had found the only piece of ground that could sustain them between Rarotonga and New Zealand.

Here they could rest, recuperate… and work out what to do next.

Diary: Rangitahua

Land. May the Gods be praised.

There was a wild scramble as we hit the shore. This island is a hard place to land, the coast is mostly cliffs, but we managed to find a broad rough beach on it’s North end.

Though the men tried hard with both sail and paddle, they had little control of the Kurahaupo; she was too heavy to turn, and mostly moved at the will of the waves. We landed roughly, but it was the best we could do. Everyone rushed to save what we could, racing in and out of the tide with load after load. Much of what we have was completely soaked, but we managed to get everything off her.

With everything we owned on the shore the Kurahaupo sat a little higher. We dragged her above the tide line, and took stock of where we were.

There is plenty of good water here. We all drank our fill and washed the sweat and salt from our bodies. It was good to be clean again after so long on the ocean.

Whilst there is water here, the land gives us little more; the birds are small, and the men have found no sign of any other animals. Inshore it is mountainous and hard. The sea however is bountiful, with plenty of shellfish, crabs, fish and seals. The island might be small, but we will not starve here… at least while we are few. However, pleasant as this island is, it cannot sustain many people.

The men have built some shelters (it’s a lot colder here than at home), and inspected the Kurahaupo. There is damage to the hulls, but they can replace the smashed parts. She also needs re-binding on all the hull pieces. At sea we couldn’t do anything about the shifting haumi, we had nothing spare to bind them with, and we still don’t. To complete the repairs we need rope. We are hoping that somewhere here we will find a source of good fibre, and then we can set about making new cord.

For the moment we are all well. But we are also stranded. Our destination lies far to the South-West, but for now, we have no means of reaching it.

The people of the Kurahaupo settled in at Raoul, ‘Rangitahua’ as they called it. The vessel seemed repairable, and they had with them the same tools and skills as they used to build her. They could make her seaworthy again but only if they could find suitable resources locally.

The critical item for them was rope. The bindings on the haumi had come loose. Perhaps they had worked loose, or had frayed, we don’t know. Either way, they needed replacing and strengthening.

When Cook was in Tahiti he noted how rope was made:

“This Island produceth 2 or 3 sorts of plants, of which they make the rope they use in rigging their Canoes, etc.; the finest sort, such as fishing lines, saine twine, etc., is made of the Bark of a Tree, and some from the Kind of Silk grass.”

Whether or not the people of the Kurahaoupo found “silk grass” or the right sort of tree to take the bark from isn’t known. Perhaps they had to improvise and use a local substitute for fibre. What is known, is that after a remarkable occurrence, the Kurahaupo was subsequently repaired, re-floated, and continued her voyage.

Diary: Visitors!.

In the last few days we have had the greatest of surprises; visitors!

Two big wakas; the Aotea and the Mataatua are sitting at anchor off the beach. They too are on their way to Kupe’s land, and have stopped here for water.

They came ashore, built altars, and made their oblations. Then we showed them what we knew of the island; where to find the best water and fish were to be had.

They understood out predicament, and have said they can take a few of our people onward with them.

We were greatly divided about who should go and who should stay.

It was finally decided.

Te Moungaroa, Akuramatapu, Tukapua, Turn and their women joined the Mataatua, and Hatonga, Haupipi and their women joined the Aotea.

“After the Aotea and the Mataatua sailed we found good fibre, and we could make rope from it. The men worked on the bindings as fast as we could weave the cord.

Repairs to the Kurahaupo went well, and the men say the she is seaworthy again… and this time the bindings will hold. We will soon be back on the ocean again; but our trepidation is now greatly diminished.

Diary: On the Ocean again.

We set out this time much reassured.

The other two boats were also on their way to Kupe’s land, and they too had come to Rangitahua on their way. We were at the right place, and on the right course. Not only were we on the right course… we had survived the most dangerous part of the voyage. We were over half way there.

The Gods, and Rangitahua, have been kind to us… may our fortune hold.”



And so they slipped away from Rangitahua, bound for New Zealand. Between them and their destination was another open expanse of ocean, 1,000 km across.

That is, it’s 1,000 km to the nearest land, and they still had to find it.

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