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Can you find your way without a compass?

A majestic waka tour reaches incredible destinations using science, technology and mātauranga Māori (traditional knowledge).

How can the Sun, Moon and stars help you find your way across vast oceans? How are stones from a hāngi pit like a compass? What art is hidden in aruhe (fern root)?

Māori and Pacific rangatahi find the answers while the Waka Haunui travels from Auckland, around the Coromandel, down to Tauranga and back again.

image of the waka Haunui

The school holiday programme, called He Waka He Tangata: the coastal marae tour of Haunui, is run by the Haunui Te Toki Trust Waka community, SMART (Society for Māori Astronomy Research and Traditions) and Victoria University’s Te Rōpu Āwhina, along with Otago University and the Tauranga REAP (Rural Education Activities Programme) team.

Pauline Harris (Ngāti Kahungunu, Ngāti Rongomaiwahine), chair of SMART and Lecturer at Victoria University, says that what they do helps to show Māori and Pacific kids how studying subjects like science, technology and architecture can be relevant to them and their cultural heritage.

“It’s really important for our Māori and Pacific youth to know that anything is possible and that they can do anything. We want them to be able to realise their potential,” Pauline says.

From waka to marae

image of waka crew

Experienced navigator Hoturoa Barclay-Kerr (Tainui) leads the Haunui Te Toki Trust waka community. He uses solely mātauranga Māori and Polynesian navigation knowledge to guide the waka on long voyages, including a return trip to the North Pacific that took 18 months.

“For me, it’s about seeing the kids happy and excited about what they’re doing, and it also helps to give them a better idea of what’s out there for them to do after school,” he says.

Neha Karaka is one of the more experienced rangatahi on the waka, where he is helping others to learn the ropes. He says his most memorable waka journey was spending nearly six weeks on a return trip to Rarotonga.

“We were just so happy to make it to the island! And a bit relieved actually because we couldn’t confirm if we’d got it right using anything except the signs from nature,” Neha says.

“Only one person has access to the waka’s GPS unit and a clock in case of emergencies, but they’re not allowed to tell us what they know from these. The rest of us have to figure out where we’re going and how to get there using signs like the winds, the waves and the Sun, Moon and stars.”

From marae to tech

image of students with a robot moon buggy

A few of the marae activities accompanying the waka tour include controlling robots around a ‘Moon maze’ to find Rona, finding out how heating hāngi stones takes a ‘snapshot’ of the Earth’s changing magnetic field, and recreating the night sky – with Māori star and planet names – in a popup star dome.

This holiday programme started on Saturday 24 September and will run until Thursday 6 October – everyone is welcome.

Keeti Rawiri, one of the rangatahi who went to Saturday and Sunday’s events, tells us, “When we were learning about the magnetic fields and the hāngi stones I found it a bit confusing at first, but once I got it I really liked it! This was actually my favourite part of all the things we did.”

Student Te Ohomauri Rapana, adds, “If I had to pick one I’d do again, it’d be the Moon robots ‘cause it’s fun being able to control robots! But it’s really hard to pick a favourite – I liked everything!”

Putting culture back into science

image of kids around a table full of scientific equipment

Pauline says that SMART – which was set up in 2009 – has been doing outreach for the last five years where they have been sharing scientific knowledge with the next generation in a culturally relevant way. But until now it has been limited by a very tight budget.

“We’re so happy that we have the Curious Minds grant because now we’re able to fulfil a huge objective of ours, and it’s surpassing our expectations.”

She also points out that making learning fun is at the heart of what they do, and not just for the kids:

“What was awesome were the questions the kids asked me, like ‘who’s your biggest influence in your life?’ and ‘what’s the main idea you want us to take away when this is finished?’ – they were incredibly smart and enthusiastic,” she says.

“Working with the waka voyagers and the kids was amazing and a privilege. I had a great time running the dome but it was awesome hanging out with the kids and sharing our knowledge together.”

Follow the waka Haunui on its coastal marae tour or check SMART's schedule on their Facebook page

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About the programme

SMART logo

The SMART component of the He Waka He Tangata tour is funded by the Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund.

You can find out about other projects funded through the Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund here.

beach scene

Unlocking Curious Minds contestable fund

Unlocking Curious Minds supports innovative projects nationwide that excite and engage New Zealanders. It has a focus on young people who have fewer opportunities to be involved with science and technology.    Read more

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