The stunning double-hulled vaka is to be used as a training vessel for young Cook Islands sailors, residing permanently in Aitutaki.
Mike Henry, captain of the 72-foot vessel, said Te Au o Tonga is nearing the end of a long refurbishment which has resulted in a new hull, decks, and spars.
An inboard engine on its way from New Zealand will make the vaka ready for full-time use.
Henry said Te Au o Tonga is currently out on the water only occasionally for special events.
“The reason she’s not used at the moment is because operating here on our lagoon she needs to have an engine. When you’re coming into dock and to berth, or coming into the harbour, you have to navigate though coral and without an engine it’s quite challenging.”
New Zealand High Commissioner Joanna Kempkers, herself a keen sailor, has donated $14,000 out of the Head of Mission Fund to pay for the new 30-horsepower Volvo diesel engine.
Te Au o Tonga was built by the Cook Islands Voyaging Society in 1994, under the leadership of Sir Thomas Davis.
Over the past two decades, the vaka has completed voyages to French Polynesia, Hawaii, Samoa, Tonga, Aotearoa and New Caledonia.
Henry said she will now remain in Aitutaki and be used to give youngsters the chance to learn about traditional Cook Islands sailing techniques.
“Her next stage of life now is that she’s permanently going to be operating inside the lagoon as a training vessel for Cook Islands youth. It’s a new thing for her to be used predominantly as a training vessel.”
She will also be used for tourism-based lagoon activities, which will provide a much-needed source of funding.
One excursion will take place every week, carrying up to 15 tourists who will each pay $100 for the experience.
“The focus of our lagoon cruise is going to be on our history,” Henry said. “To keep her going is very expensive.”
Marumaru Atua – modelled on Te Au o Tonga and launched in 2009 – will be used as the main vessel for international voyages, he said.
Finances for the $95,000 refurbishment have come from the Cook Islands Tourism Corporation and fund-raising events run by people in Aitutaki.
The Voyaging Society is waiting for the new engine to arrive and hopes to have Te Au o Tonga on the water by late August or early September.