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A sea of opportunity: Mitiaro native sails on voyage of self-discovery

Saturday 11 May 2024 | Written by Melina Etches | Published in Art, Features

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A sea of opportunity:  Mitiaro native sails on voyage of self-discovery
Antony “Ant” Sean Tekau-Ariki Vavia loves being a part of Vaka voyaging. He is one of 16 crew members who departed on Vaka Marumaru Atua yesterday for Hawaii. MELINA ETCHES/24050901 or 0902

A Cook Islander living in New Zealand has joined the crew of Vaka Marumaru Atua on its 25-day voyage to Hawaii to participate in the Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture and learn from master navigator Captain Peia Patai.

With a rich maritime history and close connection to Te Moana-Nui-O-Kiva, the Cook Islands share a cultural and ancestral bond with the sea.

Antony “Ant” Sean Tekau-Ariki Vavia will have the opportunity to explore this bond as one of the crew sailing on Vaka Marumaru Atua, which departed Avarua wharf for Hawai’i yesterday morning.

The Cook Islands traditional canoe is heading to Hawaii for the 13th Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture to be held from June 6–16 in Honolulu.

While no stranger to vaka voyaging, this journey presents a unique opportunity for Vavia, as it will be his longest period spent at sea, spanning an impressive 25 days.

“I love being a part of the vaka,” says Vavia, who is based in Aotearoa New Zealand.

Vavia, who hails from Mitiaro, didn’t anticipate being a part of the voyage but as things slowly unfolded there were discussions around it and he felt “something calling me back home”.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity but at the same time I was prepared that crew spaces are limited so it has been a real blessing being asked to come onboard, especially after the studies I’ve done for the last few years, it’s a fantastic break.”

Out on the vast ocean, Vavia plans to spend quiet moments thinking, reflecting, and learning from master navigator and Captain Peia Patai.

“Not just in how to sail and improving our skills, but the gems he might drop out of traditional star navigation and how he reads the sea, which is really interesting to me personally so I’m really looking forward to that.”


Kōrero O Te `Ōrau, an environmental NGO, put their heart into a pe’e to farewell Marumaru Atua and her crew. MELINA ETCHES/24051070.

He’s particularly interested in the purpose of this voyage – to celebrate the 13th Festival of Pacific Arts and Culture in Honolulu.

“So having that opportunity arise again, is beautiful,” he says.

With the help of satellite-based Starlink internet service onboard, Vavia will be documenting the crew’s voyage from Rarotonga to Hawaii.

He hopes to share daily updates, photos, and videos, but says their ability to share updates is limited by how much internet they can use, as internet access is expensive with only 50GB available.

Vavia says the crew can update friends and family back here in the Cook Islands and across the world on their journey.

“I want to try and bring our audience into our crew so that they feel that they are a part of the voyage as well, and of course those daily reminders, indications of safety, ensuring that our families know that we are okay we are safe … weather may have been tough but here we are talking to everyone and reaching out.”

Sailing on a voyage requires a lot of discipline.


Marumaru Atua heads towards the big blue out from the Avarua Wharf passage led by Captain Peia Patai. MELINA ETCHES/24051076

Vavia says the crew are trained to be mindful of preserving water. On this voyage, the vaka is carrying 26 x 25 litres of water, and the crew will also rely on rainwater and desalination.

“(Captain) Peia has drilled that into us on previous voyages,” Vavia shares.

“Water is the number one thing on board – we do not waste that. Even things like washing your hands are a no-no because that’s a valuable resource for consumption. It’s (water) gold on board.”

Vavia is excited to take on the challenge of the voyage and looks forward to more young people taking an interest in keeping the knowledge of traditional navigation thriving.

“I think it will be fantastic, I hope this voyage inspires more of our younger generation both men and women to be involved in the vaka.

“It’s an act of cultural resilience, through practice and Reo, and with people like our Captain Peia and other old sailors who hold this wealth of knowledge, we don’t want that to slip away. So extending that education to our next generation would be really good through the Cook Islands Voyaging Society and Te Puna Marama Foundation.
Vavia’s maiden voyage on Marumaru Atua was in 2019, sailing from Aotearoa NZ to Rarotonga. He has sailed many times since then throughout the Cook Islands.

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