Pacific navigation

Where can I find information about Pacific navigation?

Image: Waka by Joanne on Flickr.

Entry last updated: 21/08/19


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, the modes of transportation, 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.

Tips: We like sites that are from government or other reputable organisations, because we can trust the information. You can sometimes tell these sites by their web address – they might have .govt or .edu in their address – or by looking at their About this site or Contact pages.


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.

  • First use search words ‘explorers’ to find out about the people who discovered New Zealand.
  • Select European explorers and Polynesian explorers to read how and why they came to New Zealand.
Tips: Search words, or keywords, are the most important words in our question. Usually it’s better to leave out small words like ‘the’, ‘a’ and ‘of’ and just choose the main ones, e.g [topic word]. We can always change our keywords or add more if we need to.

Bridget Williams Books

The Bridget Williams Books (BWB) is a collection of digitised books on EPIC which is a collection of reliable databases covering lots of different topics. It’s put together especially for New Zealand school students and helps to answer questions like this.

Tips: To get to the EPIC resources you will need a password from your school librarian first. Or you can chat with one of our AnyQuestions librarians between 1 and 6pm Monday to Friday and they will help you online. Some EPIC databases may also be available through your public library.

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: 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!

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. It’s an easy way of searching online resources from New Zealand libraries, museums, universities and government sites all at once, and has lots of primary sources. The results are grouped by the type of information, like images, videos, newspapers, articles and research papers.

  • We suggest you use search words like ‘Polynesian navigators’, ‘Captain Cook’ and ‘Abel Tasman’ to find information related to this topic.
  • This database is good source of primary sources such as images of tools used, maps 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 screen heritage.

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 website 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 talks about how early Pacific navigators used the sun, stars, ocean swells, clouds and birds as navigation tools.

Taylor & Francis Online

This British company allows you to explore millions of quality articles on various subjects such as science, geography, law, mathematics, medicine, and social sciences etc.


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.

SCIS no: 1886877

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