Voyage To Rapanui: 5,000 Miles Down With No GPS, Maps Or Compass

waka tapu voyage to rapanuiHow would you feel about sailing 10,000 nautical miles from Auckland, New Zealand, to Easter Island and back on a double-hulled canoe with no GPS or navigational equipment? In August, after reading a story my colleague wrote on the Waku Tapu Voyage to Rapanui Expedition, I resolved to check back on these intrepid explorers to see if they made it to Rapanui (Easter Island) in one piece.

I’m happy to report that 22 male and female New Zealanders did indeed complete the first half of their epic journey, arriving in Rapanui safe and sound on December 5. Traveling on two traditional waka (double-hulled sailing canoes) they retraced a historic route across the Pacific Ocean using only the stars, sun, moon, ocean currents, birds and other marine life to guide them, just as their Maori ancestors did. They are now en route back to New Zealand and are due to arrive home in late March. The goal of the journey was to “close the final corner of the Polynesian Triangle defined by Hawaii in the North, New Zealand in the South and Rapanui in the East.”
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I caught up with Karl Johnstone, Director of the New Zealand Maori Arts & Crafts Institute, which organized the expedition, to find out more about this remarkable journey.

Tell us a little about this historic voyage?

It landed on the 5th of December in Rapanui (Easter Island) and they left Auckland on the 17th of August. There were two stopovers, one in Tubuai, one of the Austral Islands in French Polynesia, and then one in Mangareva, to the east of French Polynesia. We had about 22 people on board at any one time, 11 per waka (canoe). These are traditional double-hulled sailing canoes.





waka tapuThe two traditional elements of the voyage are the waka themselves, which are made of indigenous trees from New Zealand and have traditional composition modern rigging and traditional, non-instrument navigation, using environmental tools, habits of the sun, moon and stars and so on.

So there was no GPS or other type of navigational equipment used?

That’s right. This hasn’t been done in modern day times. There are GPS locators on board, and they had a satellite phone, which emits a GPS signal every half an hour back to our waka tracker, so we knew where they were at all times. And we looked at where they were all the time versus their sail plan and the navigators were never really more than 50 nautical miles off the course line they had set. They did really, really well.


You say this hasn’t been done. Has anyone tried it?

It’s never been tried in modern times.

What were some of the hardships the crew faced along the way?

The weather, number one. We had significant storms on our way out to Tubuai, four of them in fact. A lot of the crew, 50% at least were new to open-ocean voyaging, so they had to develop a trust in their vessel. Sickness as well. We had two cases of hypothermia – that’s to be expected when you’re out at the tail end of winter here. Some got boils as well, which is also common. They have to be treated seriously. A few guys had toothaches, infections.

A couple guys had to be taken off because of coral cuts because we couldn’t risk them getting infections out on the open ocean. Another one got burnt – most of the injuries happened on land, not out on the ocean. But we had a well-stocked medicine cabinet, so everyone was treated quite quickly.


Did everyone who started finish?

One had to come off as a result of an injury in Mangareva, but we took him to be there when the waka arrived in Rapanui because he’d made it through the hardest part of the voyage and we couldn’t bear for him not to be there at the end.

Tell me about the crewmembers. Did they all take time off from careers to do this?

waka tapuWe had teachers, people with Ph.D.’s, engineers, people who work for their tribes. It was a broad range of professions, in most cases, they had to walk away from their employment to do this voyage. Some were very senior; one in particular was a very senior official in the Ministry of Education here in New Zealand. A lot of these people walked away from everything you’d consider mandatory in the modern day world to undertake this voyage with no guarantee of success.

And the voyage was unpaid. They got some support along the way but we didn’t pay them or help with their mortgages or anything else, so they had to have a real commitment to this project.

How were they selected for this voyage?

It was through a training program, and they had to volunteer. We had a nine-month training program. There was some natural attrition, we had about 50 who volunteered, and the cream rose to the top.

[Photo credit: Waka Tapu]

Win A Trip To South America With Richard Bangs

Travel to South America with Richard BangsSouth America is a land of diverse cultures, stunning scenery and breathtaking adventure. Travelers can climb to the highest peaks of the Andes, experience unique wildlife, explore the biodiversity of the Amazon and indulge in a variety of wonderful cuisines. The continent truly does have something to offer nearly every kind of traveler and now television personality Richard Bangs wants to take you there on an adventure of your own choosing.

Bangs, who hosts the PBS travel show “Adventures with Purpose,” has teamed up with LAN to bring us the Only In South America sweepstakes. The contest, which runs through January 18, will allow one lucky winner to select one of four destinations as their dream trip to South America. Those destinations include Machu Picchu in Peru, the Galapagos Islands of Ecuador, Iguazu Falls along the border of Brazil and Argentina or the remote Easter Island off the coast of Chile. While on their excursion, the winner will be joined for dinner and a private tour with Bangs, who will share in their adventure. The prize includes airfare, ground transportation, guides and accommodations for two.

To enter the contest, simply click here and fill out the online form. You’ll provide basic contact information, answer a few demographic questions and select the destination that you prefer. With any luck, your name will be drawn in January and you’ll be whisked off on an unforgettable adventure to South America.

And if you’re having any trouble deciding which of the four trips you would prefer, the site provides excellent videos, like the one below, to help you choose. They’re all very well done, however, and viewing them may actually end up making the decision even more difficult.

[Photo Credit: Martin St-Amant via WikiMedia]


Discovery Adventures Announces New Tours For 2013

Discovery Adventures offers new options for 2013The calendar may still say 2012, and I know we all have a busy holiday season to navigate yet, but it is never too early to start planning our trips for the new year ahead. To help us out with that process, Discovery Adventures has announced a host of new tours and destinations, adding even more depth to an existing line-up of stellar itineraries.

For 2013, Discovery has unveiled 13 new tours to 11 new countries, offering diverse and unique experiences in some of the most amazing places on the planet. Those new destinations include Malaysia, Bhutan, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary, Iceland, Colombia, Chile, Israel and Singapore. The trips are designed to immerse travelers in the local culture and provide opportunities that aren’t easily found anywhere else. For instance, on the new Moroccan Dreams itinerary, visitors will camp in the desert and explore remote mountain villages, while the Malaysia & Borneo Adventure will provide contrasts between the bustling urban settings of Kuala Lumpur with the tranquil and serene rainforest. Other options include a visit to Iceland‘s lava fields, learning to cook in India and searching for the Big Five on safari in Kenya and Tanzania.

As the travel arm for the very popular Discovery Channel, Discovery Adventures feels that it has an outstanding reputation to live up to. That’s why the company is so selective about the destinations and tours that it offers. These new additions to their catalog bring the total number of trips to just 34, which is in sharp contrast to some other companies that offer dozens of options.

Their commitment to providing high quality tours for their guests doesn’t end there, however, as the company has also announced a new policy that guarantees that 100% of its trips will depart as scheduled. The new policy begins in January of next year and ensures that clients will be able to both book, and travel, with confidence.

[Photo Credit: Discovery Adventures]

Video Of The Day: A Trip To Chiloé Island


Upon learning that LAN Airlines launched service to Chiloé Island in Chile, I became immediately curious about what the remote island has to offer. I sought out to find a video that gave an overview of the place, and luckily, Vimeo user Benito Larraín Súnico delivered. This three-minute vignette was taken during a family trip to the island earlier this year, and it shows Chiloé’s colorful houses, remarkable wooden churches, natural beauty and drool-enducing seafood. Most of all, I like how the video captures the friendly people who live and work on the island.

Has anyone out there ever visited Chiloé Island, and if so, would you recommend it for a trip?

LAN Becomes First Airline To Service Chile’s Chiloé Island

Late last week, LAN Airlines became the first airline to regularly service Chiloé Island off the coast of Chile. Four weekly flights are now available to the island from Santiago via Puerto Montt. Previously, the island was only accessible by ferry.

Chiloé Island, the largest island of the Chiloé Archipelago in the Pacific Ocean, evolved independently from mainland Chile after the Spanish came to country. Mostly isolated until the mid-19th century, the island has its own history and culture. It’s known for its stilted houses (pictured above), fish and shellfish dishes, and its collection of more than 150 wooden churches, 16 of which are on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

“Today is a very special day for us, a solid step forward in our challenge of contributing toward the development of Chile and its regions,” said Enrique Elsaca, LAN CEO for Chile, in a press release.

Gadling’s own Laurel Miller visited the islands not long ago. To read about her experience and get a recipe from a local family, click here.

[Photo Credit: Flickr user MiguelVleira]