© Kon-Tiki Museum,
A plaited bamboo cabin provided refuge for the six crewmen that sailed the boat through the Pacific Ocean: Thor Heyerdahl as Expedition leader, Erik Hesselberg as navigator, Bengt Danielsson as steward in charge of supplies, Knut Haugland as radio expert, Torstein Raaby in charge of radio transmissions and Herman Watzinger as meteorological and hydrographical data collector.
The Kon-Tiki carried 250 litres of water in bamboo tubes. For food they took 200 coconuts, sweet potatoes, bottle gourds and other assorted fruit and roots. The U.S. Army Quartermaster Corps provided field rations, tinned food and survival equipment. In return, the Kon-Tiki explorers reported on the quality and utility of the provisions. They also caught plentiful numbers of fish, particularly flying fish, "dolphin fish", yellowfin tuna, bonito and shark.
Heyerdahl believed that people from South America could have settled Polynesia in pre-Columbian times. His aim in mounting the Kon-Tiki expedition was to show, by using only the materials and technologies available to those people at the time, that there were no technical reasons to prevent them from having done so. (Although the expedition carried some modern equipment, such as a radio, watches, charts, sextant, and metal knives, Heyerdahl argued they were incidental to the purpose of proving that the raft itself could make the journey.)
The Kon-Tiki expedition was funded by private loans, along with donations of equipment from the United States Army. Heyerdahl and a small team went to Peru, where, with the help of dockyard facilities provided by the Peruvian authorities, they constructed the raft out of balsa logs and other native materials in an indigenous style as recorded in illustrations by Spanish conquistadores. The trip began on April 28, 1947, at Callao, Peru, and after 101 days and over 6.980 km across the Pacific Ocean, they arrived at Raroia in the Tuamotu Islands on August 7. They had mainly followed the Humboldt Current. The crew's first sight of land was the atoll of Puka-Puka on July 30. They made brief contact with the inhabitants of Angatau Island on August 4, but were unable to land safely. Incidentally, the Angatau atoll was reached after 97 days of travel, the calculated absolute minimum navigational time to reach Polynesia. Three days later, on August 7, the raft struck a reef and was eventually beached on an uninhabited islet off Raroia Island in the Tuamotu group. The team had travelled a distance of around 3,770 nautical miles at an average speed of 1.5 knots. After spending a number of days alone on the tiny islet, the crew were greeted by men from a village on a nearby island who arrived in canoes, having seen washed-up flotsam from the raft. The crew were taken back to the native village, where they were feted with traditional dances and other festivities. Finally the crew were taken off Raroia to Tahiti by the French schooner Tamara, with the salvaged Kon-Tiki in tow.
Thor Heyerdahl's book about his experience became a bestseller. It was published in 1950 as The Kon-Tiki Expedition: By Raft Across the South Seas, later reprinted as Kon-Tiki: Across the Pacific in a Raft.
A documentary motion picture about the expedition, also called Kon-Tiki was produced from a write-up and expansion of the crew's filmstrip notes and won an Academy Award in 1951.
The original Kon-Tiki boat is now on display in the Kon-Tiki Museum in Oslo.