Sun dipping low, Kupe’s eyes follow a strange bird winging its way to land. Keeping still, he watches as it comes to rest on a rock a short distance away.
Where has this fellow flown from? How long was the flight? The bird squats, eyes closed. It must have been very long as he is too tired even to seek a morsel of fish. He is free to fly from who-knows-where and return if he chooses. I wish I were a bird, free to go and return at will.
Kupe slowly turns, leaving the dream spot he frequents to seek solitude or solution for troubles. Island born, as his fathers before him as far as memory serves, perhaps forever, Kupe feels chained to the island. That would be fine, supremely so if he could live here in peace, but no longer. Raids, pillage, rapes and even killings by other tribes have become more frequent. The weight of responsibility for his wife and others is great. She is expecting their firstborn and Kupe cannot take the risk of remaining. He fears for Hine-te-aparangi and their unborn child.
On soft, silent tread of bare feet, Kupe enters his hut. “Wife, we will leave. We have no choice with the treacherous ones returning at will. Yes, all our fathers lived and died here but my mind is made up and we must go, searching a new homeland! I will tell the others; some may join us.”
Hine-te-aparangi asks, “How soon, my husband?”
“Tomorrow.” Kupe gently pats her belly. “Early, my flower petal, I fear danger’s close.”
While Kupe speaks with other tribesmen, his wife readies food, water and supplies for the journey, as much as the canoes will carry besides their weight. Returning late, he surveys the provisions Hine-te-aparangi assembled. He is satisfied and slips beneath the skins covering his wife’s sleeping form. She wakes just enough to sense his presence and snuggles into the curve of his body, secure under the wrap of his arm.
At pre-dawn, occupants of 12 huts eat sparingly for an early start to a journey destined to be long if it is to bring them to safety. Silently sliding canoes into the water they push off toward a horizon holding promise of a new day, a new life.
Dawn, full now and bathing all it touches in a warm golden glow, sees the cortege pass the last familiar point at the inlet’s edge. Responsibility weighs heavily on Kupe’s shoulders, his thoughts awhirl. Will this water carry us to a future of peace, or are we doomed to fall off its edge? Yet, he is comforted at the memory of the bird that made its journey from some faraway place, and Kupe resolves that he and the band with him can surely do at least as good as a bird.
Pressing on to the open, they leave the smooth waters they have known. Fatigue and hunger make their demands; crews lash their crafts together amid bobbing waves lest the flotilla should drift apart and be lost. Fresh water is collected as frequent as the skies give rain.
At the fourth sunrise they meet their greatest challenge. Strong winds and current the likes of never known before, hold them captive, seeming to laugh as the canoes can do nothing but circle. With great effort some break away, gathering at a safe distance to see what fate holds for those remaining in the current’s grip.
Kupe is one of the less fortunate. Though highly skilled, this current tests all of his strength. Occasionally he glimpses Hine-te-aparangi’s face, reflecting his own fear that they would perish here. How foolish to think I could follow by water the path taken by a bird in flight!
As the last canoe breaks free, a loud chorus of cheering erupts. Though hours of travel are lost, a well-deserved rest is in order.
With the next sunrise, Kupe sees they are nearing land and brings attention to a peculiar cloud hanging over it. “Surely is a point of land!”
“He ao! He ao!” (a cloud! a cloud!), Hine-te-aparangi calls.
Later Kupe decided to call the land after his wife's greeting to it, and the cloud that welcomed them: Aotearoa.
Author’s Note: Aotearoa, the Maori name for long white cloud is better known today as New Zealand! Contrast these characters of Maori legend with modern day kayakers: The kayak Lot 41 was designed for the trans-Tasman crossing by Rob Feloy, who had designed the kayak for Peter Bray´s Trans-Atlantic Crossing approximately six years earlier. In 2007 the crew of Lot 41 was James Castrission and Justin Jones, two Australians. The design includes two cockpits, a cabin at the stern of the craft, a large water tank and storage for over 60 days of food for the two kayakers. An array of solar panels was incorporated into the design in order to charge the batteries used to power communication systems, bilge pumps and a water desalination unit. The fiberglass kayak was built in Australia in 2005 and fitted with support systems including emergency beacons, satellite phone, global tracking system, and GPS. (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crossing_the_Ditch)
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