A Waka Odyssey

Our ancestors are coming home

04 February 2018

In Day Four of our digital Waka Odyssey, find out how the only North Pacific waka are planning to bring their ‘A’ game to the New Zealand Festival's epic celebration of our Pacific past and future, starting 23 February.

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Gaualofa for Waka Odyssey credit Ru Camilo Watch video

Ru Camilo

Powered by the wind and sun, Gaualofa – a 22-metre waka or va'a (Samoan twin-hulled voyaging canoe) – is among the fleet of mighty waka making their way to Whanganui-A-Tara, Wellington Harbour to participate in the 2018 New Zealand Festival's A Waka Odyssey, starting with the opening night theatrical extravaganza Kupe, on Friday 23 February.

Crewed by 16 sailors and captained by Fealofani Brunn, a young woman who, in 2015, became the first Samoan to receive a yachtmaster Captain qualification, the va'a is currently sailing to Waitangi and, weather permitting, around Cape Reinga, before heading down the west coast to Wellington.

“I’ve always been interested in canoes and in how our tupuna came to the islands,” says Fealofani Brunn. “Now I train crews how to voyage.”

Gaualofa has sailed more than 40,000 nautical miles since it was gifted by the Okeanos Foundation to the Sea to the Aiga Folau o Samoa – the Samoa Voyaging Society in 2009. The Samoa Voyaging Society is a non-profit Samoan organisation that is reviving the heritage of traditional ocean voyaging and environmental stewardship.

Lavatai Lauaki Afifimailagi, a long-time crew member, says being on the ocean is a spiritual experience for him. “I’ve seen wonders, wonderful things out there in the ocean”.

When you look at the waka they signify this ambition, this exploration, like building our own rockets.

Schannel van Dijken

For crew member Schannel van Dijken, the waka represent the incredible courage, wisdom and vision of his ancestors. “When you look at the waka they signify this ambition, this exploration, like building our own rockets, it’s the equivalent of that.”

Participating in A Waka Odyssey as the only North Pacific waka is a daunting if exciting experience for the team. “With thousands of people watching we have to bring our ‘A’ game to such an arena. At the same time we are there to share,” says Captain Fealofani Brun.

“It was important to us [to come] because we look up to the voyaging societies, and how the revival of those aspects have been going here in Aotearoa”  says Schannel van Dijken.

He sums it up when he says; “These canoes have just a special power for people, when you come into communities it’s like they see their ancestors coming home.”

Make sure you check out A Waka Odyssey's interactive tracking map, and follow the va’a Gaualofa's journey online.


Each day, starting  1 February 2018, we will share new videos and stories online so you too can join the journey in the lead up to the start of A Waka Odyssey, 23 Feb – 4 March 2018. Be part of the story via our website festival.co.nz/waka, on the New Zealand Festival's Facebook and Instagram pages, or using the hashtags #NZWaka and #NZFestival. 


Join in A Waka Odyssey celebrations at the spectacular theatrical extravaganza KupeFestival opening night set on Wellington's waterfront; the Kupe Landing: Petone Family Day – a fun beach party for all the whānau; and the Kupe Dreaming series of waka-themed community events and activities. 

Haere mai - Come on board. 

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