In 1973 the Polynesian Voyaging Society (PVS) was founded in Hawai’i by nautical anthropologist Ben Finney, sailor Charles Tommy Holmes and Hawai’ian artist Herb Kawainui Kane. The three wanted to show that it was possible for ancient Polynesians to have purposely settled the Pasific using traditional forms of navigation. The first PVS project was to build a replica of a double hulled voyaging canoe, that waka was launched in 1975 and called the Hokule'a. In 1976 the Hokule'a sailed from Hawaii to Tahiti with the help of Micronesian master navigator Mau Piailug. Mau passed much of his knowledge onto Hawai’ian Nainoa Thompson who has become a major influence in the history of Polynesian navigation and voyaging.
1985 was a significant year in Aotearoa for waka voyaging, in December two waka hourua from very different backgrounds arrived on our shores. The waka hourua Hawaikinui built by Francis Cowan and Matahi Brightwell arrived from Tahiti. The Hokule'a also arrived at Waitangi in the Bay of Islands after a 16 day journey from Rarotonga as part of the ‘Voyage of Rediscovery’. The purpose of this journey was to install pride back into the people of Polynesia by promoting traditional voyaging and navigation techniques. Ngatokimatawhaorua waka taua members Hekenukumai Busby and Stanley Conrad were both invited to participate as crew for various legs in the Voyage of Rediscovery.
Hekenukumai Ngaiwi Puhipi Busby was born at home at Pukepoto some 40 km from Aurere on the first of August 1932. He went to the local Native School where one of the highlights were visits to Waitangi. There he would sit in awe of the waka taua Ngatokimatawhaorua and wonder if he would ever see a waka like that in the water.
Hekenukumai left school at 15 years old to enter the workforce. His first job was in a bakery and he tried his hand at a number of things (including the gum fields) before starting a 40 year career in bridge building in 1951. The first major involvement with waka for Hekenukumai came in 1973 when, in response to an initiative of Prime Minister Norman Kirk who wanted to change Waitangi Day to New Zealand Day, it was decided to launch Ngatokimatawhaorua for the 1974 celebrations.
Hekenukumai learnt a great deal about waka building at that time from Taupuhi Eruera, it was him who told Hekenukumai that if any canoes were to be built in the north that he would be the one to build them. Two other people profoundly influenced Hekenukumai to work on waka hourua. The first was John Rangihau who, among many other things, introduced Hekenukumai to Nainoa Thompson of the Polynesian Voyaging Society. The second was Sir James Henare who, at the powhiri for the crew of the Hawai’ian canoe Hokule’a, held at Waitangi marae in December 1985, said that he had hoped that one day in the near future a waka would be built in the Tai Tokerau that would go back to where Maori came from. For Hekenukumai, his wife Ngahiraka (Hilda), and a small group around them this was the start of a special journey.
In 1991 construction of Te Aurere started and was completed a year later, it was named after the area where it was build near Hekenukumai’s property (Aurere). Other kaumatua who had a major influence with the building of Te Aurere were Simon Snowden, Wi Huata and Rua Kupa. The maiden voyage took place later that year to Rarotonga with the help of Micronesian navigator Mau Piailug.
Below are video clips from when Hekenukumais voyaged to Rai'atea on the Hokule'a which inspired him to start building the waka hourua Te Aurere.