Hokulea and Hikianalia have arrived in Tahiti!
They reached land just 15 days after leaving Hilo on the first leg of their Worldwide Voyage, "Malama Honua" -- making it the second fastest journey for a Polynesian voyaging canoe traveling without the use of modern-day instruments. Tahiti's own wa'a, Faafaite, completed the journey in 14 days.
A total of 29 crew members are onboard the two canoes. They range in age -- from 20 to 72 years old -- and experience -- from seasoned voyagers to apprentice navigators.
"It was amazing!" exclaimed apprentice navigator Kala Baybayan, who spoke to Hawaii News Now via satellite upon their arrival.
"All of our studying, all of our hard work -- it all paid off. The whole crew working together to hold the course, we all did it together. Definitely an amazing, amazing feeling," said Baybayan, who is the daughter of Pwo navigator Kalepa Baybayan.
"Two days prior to spotting land, we were starting to see the signs. We were seeing the manu o'ku (white Fairy Terns) which can fly as far as 200 miles out. We knew we were getting close we just didn't know how close we were," Baybayan said.
The canoes made landfall Monday at an atoll in French Polynesia in the Tuamotus, according to the Polynesian Voyaging Society. From there crew members made their way to Rangiroa, where most of the island turned out to welcome them.
"Really a warm welcome," Baybayan described, adding that a canoe filled with people escorted them through the channel and as they got closer to land more boats surrounded Hokule'a and Hikianalia to greet the crew.
"The whole community was out there -- the keiki, the kupuna -- it was such an amazing reception. We were just filled with lei -- just like when you come home from a long trip and your 'ohana is there to greet you -- it was just like that. I can't speak Tahitian very well but I felt I could understand what they were saying," Baybayan explained.
They're still about 200 miles from Pape'ete.
The mission of "Malama Honua," which means to care for our Earth, is to create global relationships and explore best practices for caring for our oceans and planet. The 36-month journey will cover a total of 47,000 nautical miles with stops at 85 ports in 26 different countries.
The first leg from Hawai'i to Tahiti is dedicated in honor of our ancestors, as Hokule'a retraces its 1976 sail to Pape'ete. That maiden voyage was crucial to the resurgence of traditional navigation practices, as Hawaiian voyagers proved to the world our ancestors intended to settle in the islands and didn't drift here by accident.
There are more than 300 crew members from all over the state who will be sailing on Hokule'a and Hikianalia. They all come from within the 'Ohana Wa'a, which comprises of several other voyaging canoes -- Makali'i, Hokualaka'i, Mo'okiha, Namahoe and Hawaiʻi Loa.
You can track Hoku'lea & Hikianalia's voyage every step along the way, by visiting: hokulea.com.