During special programs at Imiloa Astronomy Center, visitors learn how ancient Polynesians steered canoes using only natural elements. // © 2014 Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii
Feature image (above): Visitors can ride on replicas of ancient sailing canoes with companies like Island Sails on Kauai. // © 2014 Sea Light Studios
The earliest Hawaiians explored Polynesia in sailing canoes, charting their course by reading the stars, waves, winds and birds. Today’s travelers can tap into that same wayfaring spirit at canoe tours, talks and exhibits around the Hawaiian Islands.
A variety of Hawaii attractions and activities have been inspired by Hokulea, a famous replica of an ancient double-hulled voyaging vessel. Hokulea recently set sail on its latest map-free voyage, a three-year maritime journey with stops at 85 ports in 26 countries.
Here are five options for Hawaii visitors to witness the magic and meaning of traditional sailing canoes.
Start in the museum’s planetarium. There, the daily 45-minute Wayfinders: Waves, Winds and Stars program takes audiences on a virtual ride on Hokulea as it navigates from Tahiti to Hawaii. Afterward, check out the attraction’s two-story Pacific Hall, where artifacts, images and recordings of native islanders offer insights into Pacific migration. Bishop Museum is located on Oahu.
Imiloa Astronomy Center of Hawaii
Imiloa dazzles clients with interactive exhibits, planetarium shows and presentations by navigation experts. Together they tell the story of how early voyagers used only the natural elements to reach their new home of Hawaii. At Imiloa’s outdoor native garden, visitors can see the canoe plants that the ancients carried with them to their ultimate destination. Imiloa is located in Hilo on Hawaii Island.
This windward Oahu attraction features Moku Kahai, a double-hulled flat bottom boat modeled after Hokulea. During Kualoa’s Ocean Voyaging Tour, guests board Moku Kahai for passage across a culturally significant ancient fishpond. Along the way, they can gain greater understanding of Polynesian sailing techniques. The tour continues with an ocean catamaran ride that presents views of the beach where Hokulea was first launched.
Polynesian Cultural Center (PCC)
This north shore Oahu attraction showcases Iosepa, a 60-foot double-hulled voyaging canoe that made its debut in 2004. Built as an educational tool, Iosepa has completed several interisland sails. In PCC’s Hawaii Village, visitors can view the vessel in a halau wa’a (canoe house). There, islanders talk about their seafaring ancestors who embarked on courageous voyages using celestial navigation.
Visitors can learn the ropes of ancient sailing firsthand during splashy ocean excursions. While riding in an island-style canoe, guides tell guests about Polynesian maritime history and traditions. Among the companies offering this distinct opportunity are Hawaiian Ocean Adventures on Oahu, Hawaiian Sailing Canoe Adventures on Maui, Island Sails on Kauai and Kona Boys on Hawaii, the Big Island.