Born in Auckland, New Zealand, the eldest of five, whom according to Tua are a “fruit salad” of rich, mixed Polynesian blood, Cook Island-Tahitian on his mother’s side and New Zealand Maori-Cook Islands on his fathers side. Tua’s family relocated to Rarotonga when he was five years old. In 1985 Hokulea visited Rarotonga. During the hurricane season that year, Hokulea was left in the hands of Tua and his brothers to keep her safe. When the vaka began voyaging again they invited an indigenous person from each stop along the way and Tua was asked to join. After his first voyage he swore never to go back to sea again. But when the invitation to join the crew from Rangiroa to Hawaii came up, he went. On board was Micronesian Master Navigator Mau Pialug.
In 1992 the Prime Minister of the Cook Islands sent out a challenge to all canoes in the region to sail to Rarotonga for the Pacific Arts Festival using non-instrument navigation. Accepting the challenge, the Polynesian Voyaging Society from Hawaii said they would come under one condition, that Cook Island voyagers must learn to navigate their own canoe. On his second trip to Aitutaki onboard Hokulea, Mau handpicked Tua to join Nainoa Thompson and six of his fellow countrymen to learn this ancient tradition. Two decades later and thousands of miles of voyaging, Tua was bestowed the title of PWO or master navigator by Mau Pialug in Micronesian in 2008, As a thank you to Nainoa and Mau, Tua made a lifelong promise to teach others and continue to nurture this tradition.
On July 20th 1995 the Cook Islands Government and Parliament unanimously endorsed sending a traditional vaka to Mururoa Atoll to protest at the resumption of French nuclear testing in the South Pacific. Prime Minister at the time Sir Geoffrey Henry told a Greenpeace delegation at an official reception that the vaka would best symbolise the opposition of Polynesians to nuclear tests. Vaka Te Au O Tonga, was captained by Tua. They sailed to meet the fleet in Mururoa, representing the Cook Islands and Pacific Island Nations at the protest.
Throughout the 2010-2012 Te Mana O Te Moana Voyage PWO navigators Tua, Peia and Jacko Thatcher took turns on each of the 7 vaka, working with the new crop of young navigators. The navigator has to memorise up to 200 stars in the sky, differences in the constellation, and understand where they are rising from on the star compass.
Tua says if you look after the vaka, the vaka will look after you. The vaka can be used as a metaphor for our earth, if we look after our earth, the earth will look after you.
Tua now works full time as expedition guide on Expedition ships travelling the world sharing his knowledge on voyaging and traditional navigation.