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Riding the crest of waves

LtoR , Fealofani Bruun and Schannel van Dijken, crew members of The Samoan Voyaging Society. [Photo / Michael Craig]

Surrounded by the launches, ocean-going yachts and catamarans moored at Orakei Marina, one of the Pacific's most valuable boats is almost camouflaged from view.

She is Va'a Gaualofa, Samoa's traditionally-inspired 22-metre, twin-hulled voyaging canoe (waka hourua in te reo), which sails across oceans crewed by 16 sailors and powered almost exclusively by wind and sun. Since 2009, when she was gifted by the Okeanos Foundation for the Sea to the Aiga Folau o Samoa - the Samoan Voyaging Society (SVS), Gaualofa has sailed more than 40,000 nautical miles.

Her value lies in the knowledge and purpose of her crew of eco and cultural activists who weave together environmental, cultural and historical traditions and advocacy. Many of Gaualofa's miles have been clocked up inspiring new generations to learn about voyaging and the risks that human activity and climate change pose to the oceans.

Last year they used Disney's hit film Moana to help in their education message. SVS president Schannel van Dijken says Moana's themes of ocean conservation and the importance of Pacific culture resonate with both children and adults.

"There's a lot they didn't know that Moana exposed to them and now they're asking questions and they're singing the songs. We want to showcase Moana in a way that will reach some of the people that may have not seen it. We see it as a wonderful tool."

Even more apt, Gaualofa is captained by Fealofani Brunn, a young woman who, in 2015, became the first Samoan to receive a yachtmaster Captain qualification. Is she a modern-day Moana?

Brunn smiles, obviously adept at answering that question: "I don't see myself as a modern-day Moana because it's too much of a square box to fit into. She was very young, able to go out and voyage and be a bit of a rebel. With our voyages, we are much more focused on the safety aspects and the work."

Brunn and the crew have spent around a month at Orakei Marina ensuring Gaualofa is in the best possible shape to take part in this weekend's Tamaki Herenga Waka Festival in Auckland. They'll then sail to Waitangi and, weather permitting, around Cape Reinga down the west coast to Wellington to for the capital's largest ever waka event, A Waka Odyssey.

Read more at NZ Herald