Pacific navigation

Where can I find information about Pacific navigation?

Image: Waka by Joanne on Flickr.

Entry last updated: 13/01/21


In the early 13th to 17th century Māori, Polynesian and European voyagers did not have maps or tools to guide them to New Zealand. They used double-hulled canoes, ships and environmental guides such as stars, birds, clouds, ocean swells, and fish to guide them on their way.

New Zealand websites

These New Zealand websites will provide you with the best information on Kupe's legendary journey, the different people who sailed to Aotearoa via the Pacific, types of ocean transport, and navigation tools that were used.

Te Ara: The Encyclopedia of New Zealand

Te Ara is an excellent starting point for all questions about New Zealand Aotearoa. If we scroll down to the bottom of the page we can see that the website belongs to the Ministry for Culture & Heritage, so the information is well-researched and reliable.


NZHistory is a great website for information about New Zealand Aotearoa. If we go all the way down the page we can see that the website belongs to the Ministry for Culture & Heritage, so the information is well-researched and reliable.

Tips: Search words, or keywords, are the most important words in our question, eg explorers, or Pacific navigation. We can always change our keywords or add more if we need to.

Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

Museum of New New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa is New Zealand’s national museum located in Wellington. The collections cover Arts, History, Taonga Māori, Pacific Cultures, and Natural History.

Tips: A website’s address (URL) can give you a hint about how reliable it is. Look for addresses in the results that include .govt or .edu in the URL. These are quality sites from government or educational organisations.

Pictures and videos

These are also New Zealand sites, but they have lots of different types of information, like pictures, videos, and primary sources.

Topic Explorer

Topic Explorer is an online tool from the National Library of New Zealand. It contains a wide range of quality resources for students in a range of formats (eg articles, books, images, videos, primary sources, sets, websites) on a variety of topics.

Tips: These resources have been selected from reliable national and international sources to inspire and support inquiry.


DigitalNZ is a search site that focuses on New Zealand history and brings together results from lots of different websites. The results are grouped by the type of information, like images, videos, newspapers, articles and research papers.

  • We suggest you use search words like ‘Pacific navigation’, ‘Captain Cook’ and ‘Abel Tasman’ to find information related to this topic.
  • This database is a good source of primary sources such as images of tools and maps used, or stories of navigation in the Pacific Ocean.
Tips: This website is reliable as it is run by the National Library of New Zealand.

NZ On Screen

NZ On Screen showcases NZ television, videos and web series. It is a reliable source of New Zealand history, culture and society.

Tips: Websites that have .com or .co in the address can have good information, but you need to assess how reliable it is. Check the About us link on the website, if you can find one. That can tell you what the company’s mission and values are.

General websites

These websites provide a broader and general overview of early navigation in the Pacific Ocean.


This website is about learning and sharing of information and animated videos for students and teachers.

  • The keywords ‘Pacific navigation’ brings up the video How did Polynesian wayfinders navigate the Pacific Ocean?
  • Even though this video is not about navigating to New Zealand, it covers how early Pacific navigators used the sun, stars, ocean swells, clouds and birds as navigation tools.

Polynesian Voyaging Society

The Polynesian Voyaging Society is about promoting the art and science of traditional Polynesian voyaging, while caring for natural environments.

  • Go the tab called Learning Centre and find the link called Polynesian Navigation.
  • Explore Polynesian Wayfinding and The Star Compass to read about modern and traditional methods of navigation.
  • Select Resources to visit articles, images, films and videos on this topic.
Tips: Many web pages have links to further information or to other recommended sites. Following these links is a great way to find out more. This searching method is called “pearl growing” because you are picking up pieces of sand to make a beautiful pearl!


There are a number of books and stories that have been written about navigation in the Pacific Ocean — check out your local public or school library to see what they have there.

Here are some titles to begin with:

SCIS no: 1886877

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