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Ice floes in the Southern Ocean

Ui-te-Rangiora or Hui Te Rangiora is believed to have been a 7th-century navigator from the island of Rarotonga in Polynesia. According to a 19th-century interpretation by Stephenson Percy Smith of Rarotongan legend, Ui-te-Rangiora sailed south and encountered ice floes and icebergs in the Southern Ocean.[1][2] He identified this area of southern ocean as Tai-uka-a-pia ("sea foaming like arrowroot") due to the ice floes being similar to arrowroot powder (referring to Tacca leontopetaloides, Polynesian arrowroot).[2] It is also claimed by some[who?] that Ui-te-Rangiora reached the Ross Ice Shelf, though he did not land on it. The veracity of Ui-te-Rangiora reaching Antarctic waters has been questioned.[3][4]

Tongan canoes, with sails and cabins, and two Tongan men paddling a smaller canoe from "Boats of the Friendly Isles" a record of Cook's visit to Tonga, 1773-4

Subantarctic islands[edit]

Powdered pia (Polynesian arrowroot), to which the ice floes were compared

It has been claimed that in 1886 Lapita pottery shards were discovered on the Antipodes Islands, indicating that Polynesians did reach that far south.[5] However, the claim has not been substantiated; indeed, no archaeological evidence of human visitation prior to European discovery of the islands has been found.[6]

Enderby Island, considerably south of the Antipodes Islands, has been found to have proof of 13th- or 14th-century Māori use.[7] Similarly, a craft of 'ancient design' was found in 1810 on the subantarctic Macquarie Island, considerably south and west of the Auckland Islands. It has been suggested that the craft was burnt for fuel that year in the ensuing penguin and seal oil fires, and that it was possibly a Polynesian vessel. However, in the same year, Captain Smith described in more detail what is presumably the same wreck: 'several pieces of wreck of a large vessel on this Island, apparently very old and high up in the grass, probably the remains of the ship of the unfortunate De la Perouse.'[8]

Possible discovery of Antarctica[edit]

Very little is known about Ui-te-Rangiora, or about early Polynesia for that matter, but it is told in Māori legends[9] that, around the year 650, Ui-te-Rangiora led a fleet of waka tīwai southwards in the Southern Ocean until they reached "rocks that grow out of the sea, in the space beyond Rapa".[1]


  1. ^ a b Smith, Stephenson Percy (1899). Hawaiki: the whence of the Maori, being an introduction to Rarotongan history: Part III. The Journal of the Polynesian Society, Volume 8. pp. 10–11.
  2. ^ a b Wehi, Priscilla M.; Scott, Nigel J.; Beckwith, Jacinta; Pryor Rodgers, Rata; Gillies, Tasman; Van Uitregt, Vincent; Krushil, Watene (2021). "A short scan of Māori journeys to Antarctica". Journal of the Royal Society of New Zealand: 1–12. doi:10.1080/03036758.2021.1917633.
  3. ^ Mulvaney,Kieran. 2001. At the Ends of the Earth: A History of the Polar Regions
  4. ^ Hīroa, Te Rangi (1964). Vikings of the Sunrise. Whitcombe and Tombs Limited. pp. 116–117.
  5. ^ Te Ao Hou The Maori Magazine, no. 59 (June 1967), p. 43
  6. ^ "Captain Fairchild to the Secretary, Marine Department, Wellington". Appendix to the Journals of the House of Representatives, 1886 Session I, H-24. Wellington: Marine Department. p. 6. Retrieved 9 July 2012. The Museum in which the shard is said to be housed has not been able to locate such an item in its collection, and the original reference to the object in the Museum's collection documentation indicates no reference to Polynesian influences.
  7. ^ Anderson, Atholl (2005). "Subpolar settlement in South Polynesia". Antiquity. Antiquity Publications. 79 (306): 791–800. doi:10.1017/S0003598X00114930. Retrieved 17 November 2018.
  8. ^ McNab, Robert (1909). Murihiku: A History of the South Island of New Zealand and the Islands Adjacent and Lying to the South, from 1642 to 1835. Wellington: Whitcombe and Tombs Limited. p. 176.
  9. ^ "Antarctica" Encyclopædia Britannica