O le alia lena o le Gaualofa mai Samoa ua fausia i fausaga o alia sa folau ai tagata Polenisia i aso anamua. Ata: Naenae Productions

A gift from New Zealand to the people of Samoa of a million-dollar sailing canoe was an unexpected highlight of a ball held in Apia on Saturday night as part of the 50th anniversary independence celebration.

The vaka moana, or double-hulled ocean sailing canoe, is called Gaualofa and was one of seven built in Auckland by the Okeanos Foundation for the Sea.

The foundation was established in 2005 by Dieter Paulmann of Germany to focus attention on the wellbeing of the world's oceans.

Mr Paulmann initiated the "Pacific Voyagers" project to recreate early Polynesian migrations with seven vaka representing New Zealand, Samoa, Fiji, Cook Islands, Tonga, Vanuatu and Kiribati.

Built at Greenhithe, the seven vaka left Auckland in April last year sailing to San Francisco via the island groups. They arrived back in Apia last week, in time to join the 50th anniversary celebrations.

The announcement of the gift of Gaualofa by Cook Islander Tua Pittman, on behalf of the Pacific Voyagers, was as joyously welcomed as it was unexpected.

Samoa's Prime Minister Tuilaepa Aiono Sailele Malielegaoi said it would enable young Samoans to learn more of the sailing and navigation skills of their ancestors.

Editor's note:  Sailing on the Gaualofa is American Samoan Sala McGuire, daughter of Jim and Helen McGuire.  Sala joined the crew in California from where they sailed down the coast of Central America, to the Galapagos and on to French Polynesia and the Cook Islands.  From Samoa, the crew intends to go to Fiji, Vanuato and then on to the Solomons in time for the Pacific Arts Festival in July.


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