Reuben Tipoki, with the 4-person sailing waka he is building alongside Featherston man Brenden Saayman. PHOTO/HAYLEY GASTMEIER
By Hayley Gastmeier
A South Wairarapa man is heading to Hawaii to learn about waka building as he sets his sights on sailing the region to cleaner waterways.
Reuben Tipoki is an experienced Pacific sailor and is building his own waka as the prototype for a waka club, which he hopes to use to educate Wairarapa people about their waterways.
Mr Tipoki has been in the “waka world” for seven years now.
“I’ve sailed well over 40,000 miles around the pacific to many different nations – as far as San Francisco in the northeast, Palau in the northwest, to Mexico and Costa Rica in the southeast, to Australia in the southwest and many places in between.”
After his world travels in 2015, he returned home to manage his family’s business, Lake Ferry Holiday Park, where he regularly accompanies park visitors onto Lake Onoke either by kayak, paddleboard or waka.
“It just so happens that in the whole of Wairarapa in my opinion, we have three of the best waterways for waka – them being Lake Wairarapa, the Ruamahanga River, and Lake Onoke.”
Mr Tipoki and Featherston youth group leader and sailor Brenden Saayman are partway through building their own waka, or sailing canoe, from which they have developed a prototype the proposed club could use for future builds.
The pair are building the four-person waka out of marine plywood, using a stitch and glue process.
They still need to glue on the hulls and the cross beams, or kiato, and complete the decking and rigging.
In May this year, Mr Tipoki intends to travel to Hawaii for a two-week waka festival to hone his building skills.
“I want to see how they’re making them because there has been a big voyaging/sailing waka renaissance in the Pacific over the last three to four decades.
“And it started with the Hawaiians. The Hawaiians are leading the charge in reviving our old sailing traditions.”
He will also be gleaning ideas from some of their established children’s sailing programmes.
The “sailing or voyaging club”, which will enable Mr Tipoki to share his navigational skills, could suit schools, rugby clubs or marae groups, and already has some community support.
“It might just simply be getting a few kids from different schools out on the water once or twice a year, or it could be getting two or three teams to the nationals in a year’s time.”
Mr Tipoki, who also has an ecology degree, wants to help people connect with the waterways and learn how human intervention has affected them.
“It’s the connection to nature which is the best thing, and that’s essentially what I’d like to do here on the lake because we’ve got some pretty big ecological issues with our fresh water in Wairarapa.
“You only see the river if you cross the bridge, and you only see the lake if you go down Western Lake Rd – people don’t connect with these waterways anymore.”
Mr Tipoki said the Ruamahanga River is in the top 10 most polluted rivers nationwide.
“Most people in Wairarapa don’t realise that the Ruamahanga originally flowed into Lake Wairarapa, and then from there it flowed into Onoke.”
In the 1970s, the river was diverted away from Lake Wairarapa as part of the lower valley flood protection scheme, he said.
“It is now becoming stagnant because there’s not much flushing, which is exacerbated by the fact that Featherston township doesn’t have a very good sewer system.
“And our lake, Lake Onoke, is receiving sediment from pretty much all of the Wairarapa catchment… I’d like to raise awareness and educate on both those things.”
Places like Kahatara and surrounding area have farms that irrigate, in place of what used to be lake and swampland, Mr Tipoki said.
“After everything I’ve learned, from the places that I’ve been and the experiences I ‘ve had, the absolute main thing is to change the worldview, change the mindset [away] from expecting nature to fit in with how we want to live on this planet.
“It’s high time we start fitting in with how nature wants to be.”