It was a packed house late last month in the Bishop Museum's planetarium, where I'd joined the 1:30 p.m. screening of "Wayfinders," a video that offers visitors an excellent introduction to Hawaiian ocean navigation.

A fisheye-lens view of the Hokulea, a replica of an ancient voyaging canoe, in “Wayfinders.”
A fisheye-lens view of the Hokulea, a replica of an ancient voyaging canoe, in “Wayfinders.”

The unmistakable star of the show is the Hokulea, a 62-foot, double-hulled replica of an ancient Polynesian voyaging canoe first launched off the windward coast of Oahu in 1975 and named for the Hawaiian star of gladness, a guiding zenith star perhaps better known to Westerners as Arcturus.

"Wayfinders" features all sorts of stunning footage shot onboard the canoe while at sea along with gorgeous underwater imagery, while introducing the remarkable 2,000-year history of Polynesian migration eastward from Asia across the South Pacific. The film also examines Hokulea's fundamental role in the renaissance of the Hawaiian culture following its first successful sailing to Tahiti in 1976, made entirely without modern navigational instruments and using simply the stars, wind and ocean currents for direction.

But there is more to the show than just beautiful images and a compelling story. "Wayfinders" offers viewers a chance to learn how Hawaiians used the stars to navigate with a handful of introductory live presentations interspersed throughout the film, making use of the Bishop Museum's planetarium star machine. On my recent visit, guests who packed the facility seemed to really enjoy the highly informative, interactive sessions, as both adults and children were measuring star movements with outstretched arms and lots of laughter while the show's director introduced a range of key constellations.

"Whether it's local groups or tourists, they equally want to learn about navigation," said Mike Shanahan, the Bishop Museum's planetarium director, noting that "Wayfinders" typically draws a 50-50 mix of visitors and residents.

"And visitors actually learn about how the night sky is different here in Hawaii than it might be if you're from a different part of the country," he said. "But they'll also see how you can use these stars to find your way across the Pacific."

According to Shanahan, the museum's planetarium was actually used as a classroom for Hokulea's navigators in the 1970s, providing crew members with a place to not only memorize hundreds of key navigational stars but also predict their movement across the night sky. Hokulea is currently on an around-the-world journey, hoping to raise awareness about global environmental concerns and spread a message of sustainability. Late last month, the canoe began its most recent sailing segment from Darwin, Australia, to Bali, and organizers expect to complete the circumnavigation effort sometime toward the end of 2017.

Follow the Hokulea's progress at www.hokulea.com.

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