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The chocolate waka arrives in New Zealand

Wednesday 21 October 2015 | Published in Regional


NEW PLYMOUTH – A meeting with legendary Bougainville cocoa bean grower James Rutana has lead to an ambitious sea voyage that hit land in New Plymouth, New Zealand, on Monday.

Sailing waka Uto ni Yalo, arrived at Port Taranaki with a cargo of more than one tonne of cocoa beans, having sailed thousands of kilometres over four months from Bougainville.

The waka is destined for Wellington where Wellington Chocolate Factory owners, Gabe Davidson and Rochelle Harrison, will turn its cargo into 12,000 chocolate bars.

They hatched the idea to transport beans directly from the source after meeting legendary Bougainville cocoa bean grower Rutana and said they wanted to find a sustainable way of transporting the beans from the Pacific.

The waka stopped at Port Taranaki to have it’s cargo cleared by customs and to give the crew a well deserved rest.

Uto ni Yalo cleared Port Taranaki customs on Monday morning but was unable to sail into the nearby marina due to choppy seas and high winds.

Docking at Ngamotu beach the crew were welcomed with a mihi performed by Ngati te Whiti spokesman, Jack Cassidy, who said it was part of their custom to welcome waka onto the shore.

Most of the crew spent the night on shore before the waka was welcomed with a Powhiri at New Plymouth Marina on Tuesday.

Davidson said the company is all about finding rare and interesting beans but there are no direct trade routes from Bougainville to New Zealand.

“It started out as a bit of a joke between James and I, and then just sort of blossomed from there,” he said. “What we really intended to do was to see if it was possible to sustainably ship goods throughout the Pacific.”

“We never intended it to be financially viable, we’ve proven it’s possible to pick up beans in a wind powered boat and deliver them to New Zealand.”

“This is the first time in 250 years that a waka has done this voyage.”

Davidson started a $30,000 Kickstarter campaign last year to help Rutana, sometimes called Bougainville’s ‘Mr Cocoa’, upgrade his bean drying facilities, part of the proceeds also went to funding the sailing trip.

Davidson said the 500 donors would be sent a chocolate bar made from the Bougainville cocoa beans.

“One of my favourite comments on the page said ‘I’m not paying $20 for a chocolate bar so a bunch of hipsters can have a sailing holiday’,” he said.

“At the time we were looking at quite a plush boat but this waka is pretty much the opposite of that.”

“Its been the single hardest mission I’ve ever done in my life.”

Battling 40 knot winds, six metre swells and tearing a sail are just some of the challenges Davidson and the crew faced in transporting the beans.

“It has been quite the classic adventure I guess, but we had some real boring days just sitting there with no wind,” he said.

“We’ll start some strategic planning on how we can do this again sustainably and make it financially viable.”

Uto ni Yalo’s captain, Angelo Smith, said the boat was built to keep alive some of the traditional sailing navigation techniques used by his Fijian ancestors.

“The last leg from Honiara was the hardest,” he said.

“We had a mixed crew in terms of experience, but everyone held up well.”

Uto ni Yalo will head to Wellington to drop off its cargo of cocoa beans before heading north again to Napier, Tauranga, Auckland and then back home to Fiji.

The Wellington Chocolate Factory make organic fairly traded chocolate where people can watch the whole chocolate manufacture process from bean to bar. - PNC/Stuff