• NZ Booklovers

Interview: Kingsley Smith talks about Navigation: Kupe and Cook


Kingsley Smith, originally from Oamaru, now living in Te Puke, completed a B.Ag.Sci at Lincoln University and completed a PhD in Poultry Science at Sydney University.

Now in retirement in New Zealand, he has written books on the histories of poultry breeding companies. Kingsley became interested in navigation while living in Whitianga. The town’s full name is Te Whitianga-o-Kupe, Kupe’s Crossing Place. Kupe landed there after leaving Rarotonga and Cook had his first peaceful meeting there with Ngāti Hei Māori and visited their marae after observing the Transit of Mercury with Tupaia. Kinglsey Smith talks to NZ Booklovers.


Tell readers a little about the book.

The book traces the development of boat use in rivers and for crossing large stretches of sea from the beginning of mankind i.e. Homo erectus a million years ago crossed the sea between Bali and Lombok. I then traced the geographic origins of the Taiwanese the people who migrated across the Pacific and their interactions with islanders they encountered in the journey eastwards. Next I explored the development of navigation aids from books (portolans) to charts and maps the earliest of which was about 2400 years ago.. The value and enhancement of memory for navigation is important as is the brain’s location. While researching the development of navigation in literary and orality societies I discovered two methods of Pacific navigation not previously described one of which shows the Pacific people were able to navigate by longitude without the need for a clock.


What inspired you to write this book?

The book stems from my proposal to Mercury Bay Community Board in 2011 that they adopt a Navigation Theme for Whitianga. It was accepted. The research I did to prepare the proposal opened the door to a realm quite foreign to me as a former biological scientist. Then with this new knowledge I wrote a blog on navigation with emphasis on methods used by Pacific navigators, mercuryandmaia.blogspot.

During this time I visited sites relevant to Captain Cook’s voyages in Gisborne and Cooktown, Australia, and attended conferences where Joan Druett was speaking about Tupaia. In 2016 I decided to write a book about it all since there seemed to be a gap in knowledge to explore and explain.


What research was involved?

Enough to write a PhD. I had to establish a library of books (real and online), papers and articles relating to navigation and memory - 60 + books and 500 papers.


What was your routine or process when writing?

Every day I explored the current topic, made notes by hand, and then arranged them in developing or chronological order. These were then added to the relevant chapter. As I discovered relevant diagrams and photos to enhance the text I needed to obtain permission to use the illustration and then pay relevant use fee.


Did you have a typical writing day?

Not particularly, the chapters unfolded and new if directions appeared to charge down and uncover new facts. Generally I work in daylight hours, ride my bike once or twice a week, more if an event is looming. Garden maintenance takes precedence!


Where do you write?

At a computer desk, standing.


What did you enjoy most about writing this book?

Find hitherto less known aspects of navigation and watching each chapter flower.


What was the most challenging aspect?

Keeping a lid on diversions into less relevant subjects and sticking to my writing style. Checking grammar, keeping track of references used and including them in the text while writing.


What kind of books do you like reading for enjoyment.

Non-fiction history or sciences


Do you read physical or electronic books?

Almost exclusively physical.


What do you do when you’re not writing?

Cycling, walking, reading, travelling to visit historical sites.