A pair of waka headed for Easter Island have left Auckland escorted by an impressive flotilla including two Navy ships.
The two double-hulled waka manned by 24 men and five women left Waitemata Harbour on a 10,000 nautical mile voyage to Rapanui (Easter Island) just before midday.
It is the final leg of waka builder Hector Busby's mission to sail to all the major islands in the Pacific triangle to retrace his ancestor's journeys.
The crew will use only the stars, wind and traditional techniques to guide them on their six to eight week journey.
Nainoa Thompson of the Polynesian Voyaging Society told ONE News the crew will be challenged.
"It's a long journey and the storm will come. But they will endure it because they have that kind of experience and quality on board," he said.
Skipper Stanley Conrad says now is best time of the year for the voyage.
"Summer's not a safe option because you get no wind and you get a lot more tropical storms coming out of the tropics pretty quick. So leaving this time of the year is ideal," he says.
Associate Minister of Tourism Chris Tremain said the departure was a historic moment for New Zealand.
"Witnessing Waka Tapu leave for Rapanui was really inspirational and testimony to the traditions and skills of tangata whenua," said Tremain.
"This voyage is a special addition to the wonderful stories of this country, and as Associate Minister of Tourism, I am honoured to be able to help and promote a greater understanding of our culture and heritage thorough this unique event," he said.
The Pacific triangle is defined as Hawaii in the north, New Zealand in the south, and Rapanui in the east.
Rapanui is a special territory of Chile, with much of the island protected in a national park.
Backed by the Chilean government and organised by the New Zealand Maori Arts and Crafts Institute (NZMACI), the Waka Tapu expedition will close the final corner of the triangle.
The director of NZMACI, Karl Johnstone, said the Chilean Government and indigenous leaders in Rapanui are "extremely excited".
"Rapanui views this voyage as a long-awaited reconnection - to say they are excited would be an understatement. We all feel an innate sense of responsibility - at times our conversations moved to complete silence as we collectively reflected on the significance of this project," said Johnstone.
Around 700 people farewelled the waka, including family and an
array of politicians and dignitaries.