Hōkūleʻa & Miloliʻi ~ 1985 Voyage of Rediscovery

On July 10th 1985 Hōkūleʻa departed the fishing village of Miloliʻi on the South Kona coast for Tahiti on its Voyage of Rediscovery. Hundreds came from all over Hawaiʻi Island to celebrate the event and witness the departure of the famous voyaging canoe that only five years earlier had successfully navigated to Tahiti and back with the first native hawaiian in centuries, Nainoa Thompson, as itʻs navigator. The departure of Hōkūleʻa that day is only half the story because Hōkūleʻa was meant to leave Hawaiʻi and sail two weeks earlier. The two week delay of Hōkūleaʻs escort boat the Dorcas meant that Hōkūleʻa would remain moored at the Miloliʻi wharf and its crew would become “honorary” Miloliʻi residents for two weeks. Two weeks of evening partyʻs, kanikapila late night jam sessions, and days spent fishing, diving and relaxing for the crew would ensue.

MAIN PHOTO #1Micronesian master navigator Pius Mau Piailug from the Carolinian Island of Satawal would spend his dayʻs teaching the village residents the basicʻs of celestial navigation and at night he would orient them to the stars above Miloliʻi. When Mau would have his impromptu class under the old Miloliʻi halau everyone gathered and listened. On one of the dayʻs, Mau hand drew the “star map” in his native tongue and he used a single coconut frond to create a waʻa (canoe) to serve as the directional bearing on the map. (This star map is the basis for the hawaiian navigational compass created by Nainoa Thompson of the Polynesian Voyaging Society). It was a magical two weeks in the fishing village of Miloliʻi, filled with memories and stories that only those that were there would know.

Main PHOTO #2On July 10th 1985 a traditional Hawaiian ceremony took place at the Miloliʻi wharf which was attended by dignitaries, civic leaders, Hawaiʻi Island residents, curious onlookers and the entire Miloliʻi village community who had adopted Hōkūleaʻs crew over the last two weeks as their own. Moments before Mau Piailug stepped off the Miloliʻi wharf onto Hōkūleʻa, Paʻa Ponoʻs President at the time, Gilbert Kahele, gave Mau a Paʻa Pono Miloliʻi t-shirt to take with him on the voyage as something to remember his dayʻs spent in Miloliʻi. Little did Gilbert know the shirt would become famous 30 days later as on August 11th 1985 Hōkūleʻa would arrive in Papeʻete, Tahiti to a crowd of thousands on its shores.

Pius “Papa Mau” Piailug, the Satawal master navigator who had sparked a cultural renaissance by breaking sacred secret tradition to teach deep blue water non instrument navigation, extinct to Hawaiiʻs seafarers, prepared to step off Hōkūleʻa onto Tahitiʻs shore.

With cameraʻs rolling, beaming the footage back to Hawaiʻi and into the TV setʻs in Miloliʻi, Mau stepped onto the beach in Tahiti wearing the Paʻa Pono Miloliʻi t-shirt to the shocked surprise of the Miloliʻi village residents causing everyone to erupt in cheers and joy. It was the culmination of a special journey for the village which would bind Miloliʻi and Hōkūleʻa forever. Even till this day, 29 years later, it is still talked about and remembered in Miloliʻi by the village kupuna..

The July 10th 1985 Hōkūleʻa Miloliʻi to Tahiti Crew

Navigator: Nainoa Thompson, Captain Milton “Shorty” Bertelmann, Crew: Clay Bertelmann, Dennis Chun, Richard Tai Crouch, Harry Ho, Dr. Larry Magnussen, Buddy McGuire, Mau Piailug, Thomas Reity, James Shizuru, Tava Taupu

Hokulea Big Island

Why Miloliʻi?

It has been widely theorized that the ancient polynesian voyagers first made contact with the Hawaiian Islandʻs at Ka Lae, (South Point) on Hawaiʻi Island. Revered as a sacred site in ancient Hawaiian culture & chantʻs, Ka Lae is the geographical southernmost tip of the Hawaiian Islands, is a direct gateway to the South Pacific and is almost directly north of Tahitiʻs location. The ancient waʻa moorings still exist at Ka Lae and some of the ancient hawaiian settlements just north of Ka Lae towards Miloliʻi feature ancient caves, petroglyphs, house sites, brackish watering holes, a hōlua slide, heiau and ancient trails that document historic existence. The fishing village of Miloliʻi, just 20 miles north of Ka Lae is believed to be an ancient polynesian settlement that has existed for centuries and survived off its rich, bountiful nearshore fishery. Today, Miloliʻi is a thriving village rich in cultural history and native hawaiian traditions. It is unofficially known as the “Last Fishing Village in the State of Hawaiʻi” and the majority of its residents are 100% native Hawaiian. Its geographic location makes Miloliʻi the closest native hawaiian settlement to Tahiti from the Hawaiian Islandʻs.

Hōkūleʻa, “Star of Gladness”, Uncle Boogie, Bruddah IZ & Miloliʻi

In 1995 the late Israel Kamakawiwoʻole and his band traveled to Miloliʻi to hold a free jam session for the village and its residents. The event took place on the Kaupiko property, fronting the Miloliʻi Awa (wharf). One of the songs Bruddah IZ played was Hōkūleʻa, “Star of Gladness” written by George “Boogie” Kalama, an original crew member of the 1976 voyage to Tahiti. The jam session was videotaped and is one of Bruddah IZʻs most famous video recordings available on DVD. The music video of Bruddah IZ singing Hōkūleʻa has over 2.2 million views on You Tube alone.


The Hōkūleʻa is a full scale replica of a waʻa kaulua (polynesian double hulled canoe). Spearheaded in 1973 by the Polynesian Voyaging Society and designed by Herb Kawainui Kane, she launched on March 8th 1975. It was named after the bright star Arcturus which passes directly over Hawaiʻi and is named Hōkūleʻa (star of gladness). Using ancient navigation techniques of the rising and setting points of the stars supplemented by keen observations of the sun, moon, ocean swells, bird migratory patterns, wind patterns and cloud formations, Hōkūleʻa successfully navigated from Hawaiʻi to Tahiti in 1976 with no use of modern day navigational instruments. This historic voyage dispelled the widely publicized scientific theory that the Hawaiian Islandʻs were “found” by accident due to passive drifting from the Americaʻs.


The 1976 voyage ignited a cultural renaissance and immense pride among all of polynesiaʻs people who finally were validated with what they knew all along, that the ancient polynesian voyagers, their ancestors, were brilliant navigators who could construct sailing vessels that were up to the task of planned, long distance voyaging. Today hundreds of Hawaiians and other Polynesians have sailed on Hōkūleʻa and there are now 5 “pwo” master navigators in Hawaiʻi with a few dozen apprentice navigators in training. Inspired by Hawaiʻi astronaut Charles Lacy Veach who in 1992 viewed the Hawaiian Islandʻs through a small window 200 miles above Earth in the space shuttle orbiter, Hōkūleʻa and her escort vessel the Hikianalia are embarking on a three year voyage named “Malama Honua” (to care for our Earth). The history making voyage will circumnavigate the globe leaving Hilo on May 24th 2014 and with hundreds of crew members taking part, will not return to Hawaiʻi until 2017.

Hawaiiʻs five “pwo” (a satawalese word meaning “master”) navigators are: Nainoa Thompson, Bruce Blankenfeld, Kalepa Baybayan, Milton “Shorty” Bertelmann and Chadd Onohi Paishon.


To track Hōkūleaʻs historic voyage click here: