In November 2020, 11 year old Dominik Maao made his sailing debut as the youngest crew member to travel on the traditional voyaging Vaka Marumaru Atua.
He learned the ropes under the guidance of his grand Uncle, Navigator Tetini Pekepo on the voyage from Aitutaki to Rarotonga, which took them just over a day (about 27 hours to complete).
Almost a year later, his father Arerau Maao followed in his young sons footsteps, when he joined the crew for the first time, sailing back to Rarotonga from the Maao's home island of Aitutaki.
He shared his experience with us here.
Arerau who was born and raised on the island of Aitutaki holds the traditional title Kiikoro (Kiikoro ite Maru o te ao) and is the Pūtokotoko (right hand man) of Tamatoa Ariki.
For the 32 year old father of four, sailing on a traditional vaka had been on his bucket list since he was a young boy, when he'd first seen the vaka Hokule'a, Te Au o Tonga and Takitumu sail in to the Aitutaki harbour in the 1990s.
When the opportunity to join the crew came up, he jumped at the chance.
"I thought to myself, you know what? You might only get to do this once in your life time so you may as well do it" said Arerau (also known as Alistar or Ali for short)
The stars seemed to align in more ways than one for Ali who would normally be busy with his 9-5 as Cruise Director for the Air Rarotonga lagoon cruise.
However, with the borders closed to tourists again due to the Covid pandemic he found himself with some time on his hands.
The vaka had been in Aitutaki for the Bi-centennial Arrival of Christianity celebrations where the crew had been hosted for meals in the village of Arutanga and was set to sail back to Rarotonga.
A conversation over dinner with a crew member led to Ali asking renowned traditional navigator (and captain of the Marumaru Atua) Peia Patai permission to join them for the sail back.
Peia agreed and although Ali had not had any training or sailed on the open sea before, he was comfortable with the challenge because he was on the water every day with his job.
"Going out on the ocean (on the Marumaru Atua) was a whole new experience for me. I was getting connected with our tupuna, our ancestors and how they used to sail the sea with no technology.
Reading the stars, the waves, the current, the wind, where the sun rises, where the sun sets, where the moon rises. All of this was real" - said Ali
One particular highlight for him was learning to steer with the tuoe (pictured below)
"The first time I touched the tuoe I was a bit nervous to be honest, the 2nd time I had started to get the hang of it and then the 3rd time I didn't want to get off - I got more confident of how to steer, where to steer.
Then it was really good because when we got closer to Rarotonga, I jumped on the tuoe and sailed it into the harbour. Never did any training and here I am sailing it in" he laughed.
"One of the crew jumped up to help me as we came through though"
Due to a South Easterly wind, they'd had to sail north of Aitutaki for nearly 7 hours before heading south to Rarotonga. The total trip took nearly 40 hours, where the voyage would normally take between 22 - 24 hours.
Being out on the open water with large waves may have made some people nervous but Ali remained unfazed even when things got a little rough. He said he didn't get sea sick and wasn't worried about getting to their destination, he just wanted to soak in every minute of the experience.
There were 14 crew including Ali and they'd all take shifts on watch for 3 hours and then rest for 6 hours, passing the time eating, hanging out, talking, watching the sunrise and sunset.
On both sides of the hull there are sleeping bunks so when crew had finished their 3 hour watch it was up to them whether they stayed up on deck or went for a rest.
At night the captain turned the GPS and compass off and Ali had his first encounter with sailing using the stars as a guide.
"That experience was like Wow! It was a whole new level - I was holding on to the tuoe and the crew were pointing out which star to follow and it made me think of our ancestors back in the day - they had nothing - no technology, just the stars and they made it from island to island, continent to continent. That was pretty amazing man"
"At the beginning of the night the stars were really clear and then towards the early hours of the morning, the horizon was a bit cloudy but the Captain was explaining what they do when there's no stars or clouds. It was really good" he added.
Ali's son Dominik also loved the adventure of getting to sail on the vaka last year and Ali said he'd be happy to let him go again but wants him to focus on his school work first.
He hopes that more Cook Islanders will experience sailing on a traditional vaka if opportunity knocks
"If you're Polynesian you'll know that it's in your DNA, our ancestors were sailors, they were way finders and if it's in you, you'll know deep in your heart that you have to do it. You only live once" he says.
"It may be a once in a lifetime opportunity that you come across and my advice is - do it, do it for your culture"
Click here to watch highlights from the Marumaru Atua crew sailing from Aitutaki back to Rarotonga then check out how to sail like your ancestors in this video:
Take a look back at the time in May 2015 when five traditional Polynesian voyaging canoes arrived at Aitutaki from Rarotonga.
Very strong winds and currents meant the canoes needed to be towed through the passage to the harbour where a crowd of Aitutakians were waiting to welcome the visitors with dance, song and of course kai.