The Journey to Aotearoa



from Hawaiki to Hawaiki

Hawaiki, the legendary homeland of the Maori peoples of Aotearoa/New Zealand, from whence we migrated to this land about 1000 years ago. Where is Hawaiki? Many have speculated that it lies somewhere in the Pacific, somewhere in Polynesia.

Modern scholars tell us that more than 15,000 years ago we lived on the land now called China, and that from there we travelled via Taiwan and the Philippines to Indonesia. About 6,000 to 9,000 years ago we moved on through Melanesia and reached Fiji about 3,500 years ago. From there to Samoa and on to the Marquesas 2,500 years ago. Perhaps that was the limit of our eastern migration for it seems that 1,700 years ago we turned South West to Tahiti, thence to the Cook Islands and to Aotearoa/New Zealand. Where then is the legendary homeland of Hawaiki?

Our tribal stories tell us that at the death of our bodies our spirits live on and journey back to Hawaiki; to the meeting place of the spirits at Great Hawaiki, Long Hawaiki, Hawaiki Far Away. Life then is a journey from Hawaiki to Hawaiki, the spiritual homeland of the Maori. And Hawaiki is with us always, carried in our hearts through thousands of generations, and thousands of years of migration; carried also through the lifetime of a single heart wherever it may journey.


from Hawaiki to Aotearoa

Our ancestors gradually settled this land of Aotearoa/New Zealand in many sea-going canoes called waka. My own ancestors came in two waka called Takitimu and Kurahaupo, about 30 generations ago. My tribes which descend from those ancestors are Ngai Tara, Ngati Rangitane, Ngati Kahungunu and Ngai Te Whatuiapiti.

Our history and legends tell us many stories of the journey to Aotearoa, for each waka and each tribe has its own history. Early non-Maori recorders of these many histories wrongly tried to meld them all into a single story. Thus the myth of the great migration of a fleet of waka to these shores was born.

Some non-maori chroniclers also postulated the theory that our migration was entirely by chance, by island wanderers blown off course. They also claimed that these journeys were one-way only, and that there were no return journeys back into the Pacific. This denies the reality of the scientific basis of sea journeying by all Pacific peoples, and the sohisticated ancient knowledge of the stars and ocean currents. The knowledge of the stars is passed down to us to this day in the tukutuku weaving which adorns the walls of our carved and embellished whare (houses). Many of these tukutuku panels descend from the star charts carried by ancient navigators.

And even if the very first migrants didn't know where exactly they were going, they had the sure and safe knowledge of the migratory birds (such as the kuaka or godwit), and of the migratory whales to guide them, and the certainty of their faith in their fellow creatures.

Indeed one sea-faring tradition does tell of journeys where the kuaka was the guide into and from the Pacific, on its annual journeys between Aotearoa and Alaska.

Another of the traditions tells us that Paikea came on the back of a whale, or even that our ancestor Paikea was the whale. While this may seem too fabulous to be believed, it should be remembered that this legendary journey replicates exactly the annual migration of the whale from out in the Pacific Ocean to the breeding and feeding grounds of Aotearoa/New Zealand.

I have been told of first-hand experience by an expert observer how a pod of migratory whales was seen journeying through rough seas. The lead was taken by the two biggest whales forging ahead side by side, crashing through the rough waters; and close behind them in the safety of the much smoother seas created by the lead pair, travelled the rest of the pod including the young.

Is this example by our cousin whale the origin of the design of the great sea-going double-hull waka used by our ancestors to reach these shores?

Sceptics have asserted, and continue to assert, that our human ancestors could not have had foreknowledge of the existence and location of Aotearoa/New Zealand before they set out. Perhaps so, but who can deny that our fellow creatures did not have that knowledge, and that it is from them that we learned of Aotearoa.

Consider also, the close affinity of our ancestors with the whole of the Creation; their relationship with the Earth and the skies, the lands and the seas, as well as with all the creatures of the Earth. A people living in and with Nature, rather than against Nature, as we do in these modern times. Who is to say that they did not also learn of far-away Aotearoa from the whispering of the winds, and the murmuring of the tides; from the voices of the Earth herself.

A Map of Polynesia
Wayfinding / Navigation
Polynesian Voyaging Society
The Settlement of Polynesia, Part1 by Dennis Kawaharada
The Settlement of Polynesia, Part 2 by Dennis Kawaharada

Maori People