From Kon-Tiki to Hokulea – South Pacific Ocean Adventures


Hokulea Arrives in Honolulu from Tahiti (1976). Photo by Phil Uhl [CC BY-SA 3.0]



When I was a kid I came across a book titled Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft by Thor Heyerdahl.  In the book, Heyerdahl tells the tale of his 1947 adventure setting off from South America with a small crew on a balsa raft headed toward Polynesia.

The idea was to ride the Humbolt Current from Peru and show that it was, at least, possible that natives in Polynesia came from South America.  The demonstration was a success when Heyerdahl and crew ran aground on a reef at Raroia in the Tuamotu Islands.  Today there is a much larger adventure underway.


Hokulea ( Hōkūleʻa) is the Polynesian name for the star Arcturus as well as the name of  a full-scale replica of a Polynesian, double-hulled, voyaging canoe, shown in the photo at the top of this page and below.  The canoe hit the water in 1975 and has had several great adventures since then including:

  • Hokulea,2009

    Hokulea in 2009
    Photo by HongKongHuey [CC BY 2.0]

    a 1976 voyage from Hawaiʻi to Tahiti.
  • nine voyages to Micronesia, Polynesia, Japan, Canada, and the United States.
  • a 2007, voyage from Hawaiʻi to southern Japan.

That 1976 voyage was intended to show that adventurers from Asia could have used their navigational and sailing skills to reach Polynesia without simply floating along on currents.  It wasn’t until 2008 that DNA analysis showed that the theory behind that trip was correct and Heyerdahl was wrong.   Science marches on.

Malama Honua

Hokulea in Yokohama Bay 2007

Hokulea in Yokohama Bay 2007

In May of 2014, Hokulea left Oahu heading west, starting a three-year circumnavigation of the earth called “Malama Honua” (taking care of our island earth). The journey has many stops and hundreds of different crew members have participated in different legs of the journey. As of November of 2015, the craft had arrived at Cape Town, South Africa after safely navigating around the southern tip of Africa.  Preparations were underway to continue the trip to South America.

The point of the trip is to share Hawaiian culture with the work and build connections with the people at every stop.  The Associated Press quoted navigator Nainoa Thompson as saying from South Africa: “We’re finding the definitions of caring, compassion and aloha from many of the places that we go.  We’re just very blessed and very fortunate to be witness to it among all the stories of rage and anger.”  He added, “We didn’t know how to connect until our children danced, then their children danced.  We had a chance today to witness what world peace looks like and sounds like.”

When complete, the adventure will have covered 60,000 miles without navigation instruments.  Crews are using only the sun, moon, and stars. According to the voyage’s website, when clouds and storms make it impossible to use the sky, wave patterns, currents, and animal behavior give a navigator directional clues to find tiny islands in the vast ocean.

Learn More

Learn more about the voyage and its purpose in this video and on the supporting website.

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