Star Voyager

March 19, 2014 | By Jason Genegabus

Hokule’a‘s around-the-world journey will begin this year, traveling the oceans just as the ancient Polynesians did—by stars, skies and swells.

Before turn-by-turn directions on your smartphone, before GPS devices that could be installed on your car dashboard, even before travelers used maps to get from point A to point B, ancient Polynesians relied on the stars and sea swells to guide them across great swaths of the Pacific Ocean.

Thousands of years ago, the first explorers from Southeast Asia and New Guinea made their way to Fiji, Samoa and Tonga, later moving eastward toward the Marquesas Islands and Tahiti. Polynesians eventually settled in New Zealand and Hawai’i as well, gliding across ocean swells in double-hulled canoes carved from wood logs that were sometimes more than 50 feet in length.

Carrying food, plants, livestock and other supplies on a platform lashed to the twin hulls, these ancient voyaging canoes were built for sea exploration and migration to newly discovered lands. But despite their apparent ability to traverse distances of more than 2,500 miles with little help other than the skies above and flight patterns of passing migratory birds, many Western researchers throughout the 20th century doubted the Polynesians were really able to make the discoveries they did.



In 1973, the Polynesian Voyaging Society was launched to test the theory of long-distance canoe travel between islands in the Pacific. Using nothing but traditional methods of navigation, the group’s inaugural round-trip voyage from Hawai’i to Tahiti under the direction of master navigator Mau Piailug in 1976 was designed to prove it could be done.

Piailug made the trip to Tahiti aboard the Hokule’a, which along with sister ship Hawai’iloa (built in the 1990s) have completed trips over the last 35 years to Aotearoa, Rarotonga, Nukuhiva, Rapa Nui and the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands in addition to the west coast of the United States, Alaska and Japan. Under the direction of current PVS navigator Nainoa Thompson, the Hokule’a has spent the last few years preparing for a worldwide voyage set to commence in 2014.

According to the Society, taking the Hokule’a around the globe will allow for sharing of “values and practices for caring for our islands” and “navigate toward a sustainable future.” Thompson, along with Kalepa Baybayan, Milton “Shorty” Bertelmann, Bruce Blankenfeld and ‘Onohi Paishon began planning for the voyage in 2007, setting sail for Palmyra Atoll in 2009 and embarking on an interisland tour of Hawai’i, with a stop right off Waikiki Beach, last year.

Starting in May 2014, the Hokule’a will depart for the South Pacific leg of its worldwide voyage with sister ship Hikianalia, spending two years heading west past Indonesia and on to the eastern side of Africa. By 2016, the canoes are expected to be in the Atlantic Ocean and on their way to the east coast of the United States before heading south to the Panama Canal and back to the South Pacific and Hawai’i. Approximately 400 crew members from 16 nations will be involved in the voyage, which is expected to total about 47,000 miles and visit more than 80 ports in nearly 30 different countries.

The ambitious four-year journey is estimated to cost $30 million to complete, and supporters worldwide have stepped up to help make sure the trip is funded. Here in Hawai’i, a number of local businesses are making contributions, including two of Waikiki’s largest hotel operations.

Outrigger Enterprises Group launched a strategic partnership with the Polynesian Voyaging Society earlier this year, offering more than $500,000 in fundraising and marketing efforts in addition to hosting crew accommodations at properties in Fiji, Australia, Bali and Mauritius. The Outrigger Reef on the Beach also stepped up to serve as caretaker of the Hawai’iloa’s steering blade during a recent restoration of the canoe, returning it to the Society during a special ceremony held in November.

Starwood Hotels & Resorts Hawaii and Kyo-ya Hotels & Resorts LP also announced their support of the Hokule’a and Hikianalia, presenting the Polynesian Voyaging Society with a $250,000 cash contribution in November and announcing plans for another $250,000 in fundraising and marketing support. Guests at Starwood’s 11 Hawai’i properties will also have access to educational programs and materials to learn more about the Society’s mission as well as the global voyage.

To learn more about the Hokule’a and its sister ship the Hikianalia, see a map of the entire worldwide voyage and donate money in support of the Polynesian Voyaging Society and its mission to educate and culturally enrich future generations, visit