Image The vaka (outrigger canoe) Tauhunu

TLF ID R8525

This is a vaka (outrigger canoe) called Tauhunu from the atoll of Manihiki in the northern Cook Islands. It was made around 1900 from sections of wood stitched together with coconut fibre. The hull is immaculately finished with a tapered bow and distinctive, rectangular stern. It is inlaid with carefully cut pieces of pearl shell. ‘Tauhunu’ is the name of the main village on Manihiki and is spelled out in shell inlay on the bow. The atoll name, ‘Manihiki’, is inlaid into the stern. Five supports are built across the body of the vaka. Tauhunu measures 8.86 metres long by 43 centimetres wide and weighs 480 kilograms.

Educational details

Educational value
  • The asset shows a significant treasure – one of only three full-size vaka from Manihiki that survive in museums worldwide. One of these vaka is in the British Museum, and another is in an unidentified museum in Britain. Although canoe building continued in Manihiki until recently, modern examples do not match the quality of workmanship of Tauhunu.
  • It shows a vaka that was exhibited at the New Zealand International Exhibition of Arts and Industries in Christchurch in 1906. It was sent there by Lieutenant-Colonel Gudgeon (1841–1920), a New Zealander who was Resident Commissioner in the Cook Islands at the time. The hundredth anniversary of the arrival of Tauhunu in New Zealand was in 2006. At the celebrations, the Manihiki community presented the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa with a pearl necklace to commemorate the occasion.
  • It shows a vaka that was bought for the Dominion Museum (a predecessor of Te Papa) in 1907. In the 1990s, the vaka was restored by Te Papa conservation staff. Members of the Manihiki community advised on aspects of its care and future access.
  • It depicts a vaka that originally had an outrigger attached to one side for stability. Mostly, the vaka would have been paddled, but it could also have been sailed, mainly inside the lagoon. The outrigger was probably removed when Tauhunu was brought to New Zealand. The museum holds the outrigger in its collection but does not have the attachment.
  • It points to the fact that the peoples of the Pacific designed a wide range of canoes for fishing, local transport, and long-distance voyaging. Racing of outrigger canoes is still popular as a sport. However, many indigenous forms of canoes have now been replaced with commercial craft, such as aluminium dinghies with outboard motors.
  • It shows a vaka built by Pacific peoples whose ancestors were remarkable explorers and navigators. They ventured across vast distances of sea at a time when sailors elsewhere in the world were still hugging the coast. They used the seas, skies, and sea life to guide them. Their success rested on their familiarity with the ocean environment and the seaworthiness of their craft.
  • It shows a vaka from the Cook Islands – two groups of widely scattered islands in the southern Pacific Ocean. Cook Islanders are culturally and linguistically related to New Zealand Māori. Around 20,000 people live on the Cook Islands. Double that number of Cook Islanders live in New Zealand and Australia.
Topics Canoes

Other details

  • Contributor
  • Name: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Organization: Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa
  • Description: Content provider
  • Address: Wellington, NEW ZEALAND
  • URL:
  • Name: Education Services Australia
  • Organization: Education Services Australia
  • Description: Data manager
  • Publisher
  • Name: Curriculum Corporation\; The Le@rning Federation
  • Organization: Curriculum Corporation\; The Le@rning Federation
  • Description: Publisher
  • Address: VIC, AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
  • Resource metadata contributed by
  • Name: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Organisation: Education Services Australia Ltd
  • Address: AUSTRALIA
  • URL:
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Learning Resource Type
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  • © Ministry of Education New Zealand, 2008, except where indicated under Acknowledgements