Tag Archives: Rangitahua


Kurahaupo banner


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.

Rarotonga to Rangitahua

Abel Tasman banner


Rarotonga and the Cook Islands

All boats bound for New Zealand went via Rarotonga; this was how the Polynesians negotiated their way around the Pacific. Directions to destinations were known from a small number of ‘hubs’. From these hubs it was known how to get to the individual islands.

To find your island of choice, you first went to the hub that it could be reached from.

Diary: Rarotonga

We didn’t stay long in Rarotonga, just long enough to re-stock our water and food and take the advice of their navigator tohunga. Some of us had relatives there, so there were hello’s to make, and then again more painful partings.

The people at Avura were friendly, but they wanted us to move on; they have enough of their own people to feed without having to look after us as well. They were pleased to help us, but also wanted us to be on our way. We were not the only ones who have stopped here on the way to Kupe’s land.

While in Rarotonga we needed to confirm our intended course. What we had heard was the words of Kupe, who had said “Kinsmen, I discovered a land at the setting place of the sun”. That meant south-west… but how far? The ocean is big, and land is small; we needed a better description if there was one to be had.

Our men spent a long time talking to the old tohunga, and he confirmed that our intention was correct. He had never made the journey himself, but he had learned the course from his tohunga, who in turn had learned it from his.

The old man told them there was another island on the way where we could get water. ‘Rangitahua’, was about three weeks away from here in fair conditions. From there we should follow the same course for another week or so, and we would find Kupe’s big and misty land.

The old man gave them the directions that had been given to him, and our men repeated it until it was firmly remembered; ‘lay the bows of the waka to the cloud pillar that lies to the south west. At nightfall steer towards the star Atua-tahi. Hold to the left of Mango-roa and at day break continue towards the cloud pillar’.

These were the exact words of Kupe.

Though we got little more than basic provisions, the Gods smiled on us in Rarotonga. We are now joined by another; Te Awe, a local navigator. He will be our guide to New Zealand.

So we set out on the ocean again, but this time we do so with a new emotion; trepidation.

We now know where we were going, but it is a very long way. We have never met anyone that has done this before. None of us has ever been South-West of Rarotonga… there is nothing South-West of Rarotonga unless you go really, really far.

None of us has ever been on a voyage so long, and none of the men has held ever a single course for so long.

As Rarotonga disappears into the haze, we forever leave behind all that we have ever known, and for the first time we fear for what will become of us.

May the gods be with us.”



The famous Polynesian navigator Kupe had said “Kinsmen, I discovered a land at the setting place of the sun “.

If the crew of the Kurahaupo had applied that instruction “the place of the setting sun” to their departure point, Raiatea, then the next land they would have encountered would have been very white, and very very cold. In Polynesian navigation, the point of departure was crucial.

When Kupe spoke his instructions, he was in Rarotonga, so to get to New Zealand, you sailed from Rarotonga.

Whilst nothing is remembered of the leg to Rarotonga, what happened after they left is recorded in multiple independent tribal histories.

The Kurahaupo became remembered as ‘Te Waka Pakaru ki te moana’… ‘the waka broken at sea’.

Diary: Rangitahua bound.

“We were on the sea for many days. We were still a long, long way from Kupe’s land… we couldn’t be close to that yet, but we could be close to Rangitahua… we had to be.

The Kurahaupo was in trouble, and so were we. The bindings holding the hulls together were loosening, and water was gushing in. We were bailing constantly, but the steersmen still urged us to try harder, they could barely keep her facing the right direction, and with all the extra weight of the water we were scarcely moving forward at all.

Whilst we had plenty of food; the Gods were kind, our catches were good, we had nearly no water left. We were conserving what we had, staying in the shelter out of the, and drinking as little as we could. We still had to drink something every day, but our needs were secondary. The men on the steering oars, standing out in the sun, had to have water… everything depended on them.

We didn’t talk about it, but we all knew how precarious our position had become. We had to find land (water) soon… or perish.

From dawn to dusk, but especially at dusk, we scanned the ocean and the sky looking for the land signs. Then, miraculously they were seen; bird and cloud, twig, branch and seal.

We turned, directed by the signs… and land came into sight.

May the Gods be praised.”

beyond rarotonga

Beyond Rarotonga

As the Kurahaupo was on the most hazardous stretch of their passage, they met with near disaster.

The ocean going waka’s were over twenty metres long. This meant that the hulls couldn’t be made from a single trunk.

The longest piece they could find was used as the keel and formed centre hull. To this they added ‘haumi’… extension pieces. On the Kurahaupo, the ties binding these haumi worked loose.

Ocean-going waka’s always leaked, and bailing was a continuous and normal activity, but on the Kurahaupo the water was rushing in, and the hulls flooded. This made her extremely heavy to steer, and very slow through the water, and speed was a critical factor for their survival. They could not stay on the ocean forever; they would die of thirst.

They had to reach land to find water.

The scale of their endeavour was incredible. From Rarotonga, already a thousand kilometres from home, they were sailing to New Zealand, 3,000 km away. 3,000 km is the distance from London to Rome… and back again.

Between Rarotonga and New Zealand is virtually uninterrupted ocean. The only possible respite is ‘Rangitahua’, or Raoul Island as we know it… and that is 2,000 km away.



They left Rarotonga seeking their target; a tiny island, 6km wide by 8km long… and approximately 20 sailing days distant.

Incredibly, they found it.