The Chatham Islands (Rekohu in the indigenous Moriori language and Wharekauri in Māori) are the eastern-most settled islands in New Zealand. The islands lie 860 km east of Christchurch, in the middle of the "Roaring Forties". Steeped in culture and history, these islands are on the very edge of civilisation.
The Chatham Islands consist of the main island, Chatham Island, with a population of 600, the smaller Pitt Island with about 40 inhabitants, and a number of rocky outcrops. Volcanic in origin, they form a unique and sensitive habitat that supports many rare and endangered species, especially birds, making it an interesting destination for birdwatching and for seeing flora that you won't encounter in the wild anywhere else in the world.
The Chatham Islands have been described as being like mainland New Zealand was 30-40 years ago. This is a positive reflection on the way the locals take an interest in each other and in visitors to the islands — perhaps no surprise given the size and remoteness of the Chatham Islands. The archipelago is home to three cultures – Moriori, Maori and Pakeha (European) – and there are attractions related to each of these, from rock carvings to fishing harbours.
Lying far out in the ocean, the islands are in their own time zone, 45 minutes ahead of New Zealand Time; the International Date Line zigzags eastward to place them on the same calendar day as the rest of New Zealand.
|Climate chart (explanation)|
The Chatham Islands are at about the same latitude as Christchurch, but the weather is significantly cooler in summer and does not get as cold in winter. The air is always humid, with an average humidity of 84%.
Electricity on the Chatham Islands comes from a mix of diesel generators and wind turbines. Power is considerably more expensive than on mainland New Zealand.
There is a small primary school on Pitt Island and two small primary schools on Chatham Island. The largest is at Te One, with 52 students, and this has a community swimming pool. Most children go away to a secondary boarding school.
Local government is run by the Chatham Islands Council, with a few things run from Canterbury. The MP for central Wellington also represents the islands.
The original people of the islands are the Moriori, who were descended from the Maori of mainland New Zealand, but who developed their own culture and variant of the language. The Moriori first came to the island around 1500, and historians had thought that they had come directly from Polynesia. The Moriori had a pacifist culture and are known for their carvings of rocks and trees.
The first recorded European visit to the islands was in 1791, when the islands were claimed for Britain. They were named after the First Lord of the Admiralty, John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham, but it's probably no coincidence that these visitors' ship was HMS Chatham, with a Thomas Pitt aboard.
In 1835 Maori settlers from the mainland arrived, and massacred and enslaved the Moriori. They remained enslaved until the 1860s. German settlers arrived in 1865, after an earlier failed attempt in the 1840s.
The only way for visitors to get to the Chathams is via scheduled or chartered air service to 1 Tuuta Airport. Air Chathams fly 4 days a week (6 days a week in summer), from either Christchurch, Auckland (weekly on Th, 2hr 15min, $385 one way) or Wellington (1hr 30min, from $385 one way) (May 2018). The plane is based in the Chathams and flies to mainland New Zealand in the morning, then back to the Chathams in the afternoon. As it's part of New Zealand, there are no passport or visa requirements and no border controls on arrival from the mainland.
You should book or ensure accommodation before you board a flight for the Chathams, as during the popular months of the tourism season (October to April) accommodation can be severely limited. There are no same-day return flights, so you have to stay at least one night.
Although flying to the Chathams and back is not cheap, it is worth it. Even the mainland school groups that fly there for school camps and stay at Kopinga Marae get value for money by chartering a flight one way. Anyway, you don't have a choice on how you get there, unless you happen to own an aeroplane.
If you haven't organised land transport for your arrival you will have to walk, and it's a long way into town.
There are freight shipping services to the Chatham Islands, but no passenger service.
Vessels can call at the Chathams and there are a number of safe harbours for shelter. Remember to notify the local policeman, or Ministry of Fisheries officer, if you are entering New Zealand via the Chathams. If you want a wharf berthage then call the local harbour master as you approach the Chathams.
There is no bus or taxi service. You can probably arrange for your accommodation provider to pick you up at the airport.
There are several businesses on Chatham Island that will rent you a vehicle. Do not expect the flashiest and latest, although they will be warranted and safe.
- Hotel Chathams. Offers a number of rental SUVs for their guests.
- Chatham Automotive and Marine, Waitangi Wharf, Owenga Rd, ☎ . M-F 8AM–5PM. Car and van rental.
- Pitt Island is accessible by air from Chatham Island. See its listing in the See section below for details. It may also be possible to arrange a trip by boat – ask locally.
The Chathams have some of the world's most rare and endangered birds, plants and insects. Scenery ranges from mountains (well... biggish hills anyway) to cliffs, sandy beaches to swampland, lakes and rivers to ocean vistas.
- 1 Basalt columns (get a key from Hotel Chathams to open the gate). These are one of the many natural wonders of Rekohu. Formed by a process of cooling with salt water, these hexagonal columns of basalt are spectacular, as is the location and scenery around them.
- 2 Hapupu National Historic Scenic Reserve (only open to guided tours). One of only two National Historic Scenic Reserves in New Zealand. Spiritually and culturally important to Moriori, it holds the last known concentration of momori-rakau, or tree carvings, done by the ancestral Moriori. There are many opinions about why these carvings were made.
- 3 Nunuku's Cave. Legend has it that this cave, which contains authentic and ancient rock carvings, was the home of the legendary Nunuku, the Moriori chief who outlawed killing among his people. The pacifist law lasted for hundreds of years, even in the face of unwanted aggression.
- 4 Pitt Island. No trip to the Chathams would be complete without taking a day trip to Pitt Island. Air Chathams flies there, via a very scenic route, and Bernie and Brent of Flowerpot Adventures will drive you around Pitt Island and give you a running commentary and a home style lunch with one of the locals.
- 5 Point Munning seal colony (go through the Murchison farm and park at the fence marking the entrance to the Point Munning Conservation Covenant). A short bush walk will take you down to the beach with a large seal colony. Be quiet and don't get too close.
- 6 Te Whanga Lagoon. This large body of water provides a source of food and a venue for leisure and a means of access to various corners of the island. Abundant in whitebait, eel and assorted shellfish it is relatively shallow, despite its size. Contains both fresh and saltwater, and is a fantastic place to have a fossick around. Its shores are bordered by a limestone cliff, sandy beaches and wetland habitats.
Flora and fauna
Situated far out in the ocean, there are several animal and plant species on the Chatham Islands that you can find nowhere else in the world in the wild.
There are 388 plant species, of which 47 are endemic, and the islands make up its own floristic province within the Antarctic Floristic Kingdom. Myosotidium hortensia (Chatham Islands forget-me-not), Olearea traversiorum (Chatham Island tree daisy), Astelia chathamica (Chatham Islands kakaha) and rautini (Chatham Island Christmas tree) are some examples. The landscape is made up of fern, pasture and forest.
You can see many different seabird species here, many of which are threatened. Particularly rare birds are the Magenta petrel (regarded as the world's rarest seabird), the Chatham albatross, breeding only on the tiny islet of The Pyramid south of Pitt Island, and the shore plover. Other endemic birds are the black robin, Chatham oystercatcher, Chatham gerygone, Chatham pigeon, Chatham parakeet, Chatham snipe, Chatham shag and Pitt shag.
Marine mammals you can encounter on the beaches and in the waters around the islands are sea lions and different seals and whales.
- 7 Tuku Valley Nursery, Tuku Road, Waitangi, ☎ , e-mail: email@example.com. Liz and Bruce Tuanui run a nursery at their home in the Tuku valley on the south west coast of the Chathams. They offer full day guided walks (for groups of 3 or more) of the Tuku Area, visiting Kauaeroa Point, Taiko Camp, Lights Site, Blyths, Sweetwater and the Awatotara creek. Tour $80.
There are three cultures on the Chathams islands: Moriori, Maori and Chatham Islands culture. Kopinga Marae is the base for Te Imi Moriori and is adorned with carvings and artworks from contemporary Moriori artists. The revival of Moriori culture and language is facilitated from there. Maori have a marae (ceremonial meeting place) and the local iwi (tribe), Ngati Mutunga o Wharekauri, have an office building here. Maori culture is very strong on the Chathams. The Chathams culture is a blend of all three ethnicities and has been shaped by the environment, the lifestyle, the contributions from each group.
- 8 Tommy Solomon Statue. Tame Horomona Rehe was the last known full-blooded Moriori and he passed away in 1933. He was however, not the last Moriori. His own descendants and the descendants of other Moriori live on today. This statue was erected in 1985 to commemorate his passing. Visit Manakau, the property of his descendants, on the eastern corner of Rekohu, which is blessed with the sun's first rays of the day.
- 9 Kopinga Marae, Owenga Road, ☎ . Tours Wednesdays at 10AM. If you could define a place that will remind you of your visit, then this very special place will be at the top of your list. Opened in 2005, Kopinga is the official meeting place of Te Imi Moriori. Adorned with contemporary Moriori carvings and traditional taonga (treasures), the marae is a magnificent, tasteful and contemporary testament to the ancestors of Te Imi Moriori. Enjoy a guided tour of this beautiful and peaceful building. School camps at Kopinga Marae also utilise this national treasure by hosting groups.
- 10 Stone Cottage, Waitangi West Road (Go through the gate and drive to the cottage; say hello to Helen who will give you a tour of her house), ☎ . The stone cottage was built with local wood and timber and mortar made of pipi shells. In addition to the striking rock face, there is also a magnificent beach with shell banks backed by high sand dunes.
- 11 Sunderland NZ4111 (In a shed on the Murchison farm.). See the remains of the NZ4111 Sunderland plane which was damaged on takeoff from Te Whanga Lagoon on 4 November 1959.
- 12 Art Gallery. The Chathams harbour many artists, both budding and well known. Most usually exhibit one or two pieces at the local art gallery, which is housed in the courthouse, with many sold during the tourist season.
- 13 Museum. One of the best kept secrets of the Chathams is the local museum. Full of interesting items, photographs and books, the museum holds a treasure trove of information about the Chathams. Don't forget to have a look through some of the books.
Ports and fishing
- 14 Port Hutt. One of the most attractive ports in New Zealand, Port Hutt has a well-sheltered harbour, with picturesque views and safe anchorage in all weather. Historically important, and remains economically crucial.
- 15 Kaingaroa. This bustling little fishing village on the northern corner of Rekohu is often described as quaint. The residents often prepare a meal for tourists on Saturday evenings at the local Kaingaroa Club and it is, without a doubt, one of the highlights of a trip to the Chathams. The food is superb and the company is fantastic.
- 16 Whangaroa Seafoods Factory. Arrangements are under way to enable visitors to watch this factory in action. Because the hygiene regulations are so strict in processing facilities, visitors are unable to enter the factory floor, but will be able to view it from a dry viewing room adjacent. Watch the whole process, from unloading, grading, filleting to packaging freezing and shipping.
- 17 Mission Bay. The Murchison farm also houses the ruins of German missionary and American sealer houses.
There is plenty to do on the Chatham Islands, and the islands have some of the most spectacular scenery in New Zealand. There are rugged coastlines with towering cliffs, boulder strewn beaches and wide sandy expansive beaches that visitors can walk or beach-comb on. Find yourself a 40-million-year-old shark tooth, thankfully without a shark attached to it. Most of the time you will have the beach to yourself.
Other activities include fishing, hunting (pig hunting is a popular pastime here) and watching or participating in farming. There is also a multitude of reserves on the islands, listed below, which are great for bushwalking. If you are into rare plants and birds, then this is the place for you. Shoot as many pictures as you like, the scenery is endless!
- 1 Ocean Mail Scenic Reserve. This reserve includes a number of walks: Wetland walk, 15-min loop; Aster walk, 20-min return; and Lake walk, 2hr-30min loop. There is also a nice picnic area on the beach.
- 2 Nikau Bush Conservation Area. This small conservation area includes two loop walks which takes approximately 1 hour.
- 3 Tikitiki Hill Conservation Area. This 10-min return walk will give you great views of the Waitangi wharf, township and harbour.
- 4 Norman Kirk Memorial Reserve. Sports ground, hall and memorial garden. This reserve is named after the late labour prime minister Normal Kirk (1923 – 1974) who often visited the Chatham Islands. An annual festival is held here in March.
- 5 Caravan Bush (Ellen Elizabeth Preece Conservation Covenant), Pitt Island (Restricted to guided tours from Flowerpot Lodge.). There are two short walks contained within this cat-proof fence. Abundant native birds.
Do you like crayfish (lobster), paua (abalone) or fish? Well you're coming to the right place, because there's lots of it and it's all fresh and tasty. Weka are a protected species elsewhere in New Zealand, but are sufficiently common that you might see them on the menu here.
- 1 Waitangi Cafe.
- 2 Hotel Chatham Restaurant. At Hotel Chatham, specializing in fish and seafood.
- 3 Kaingaroa Sports and Social Club. Every Saturday (November to February) serves a seafood buffet.
If you prefer to be self-catered, there are two shops on the island that sell groceries:
You need to arrange accommodation before you arrive. The plane is based in the Chathams and flies to mainland New Zealand in the morning, then back to the Chathams in the afternoon. So if you get off the plane and find all the accommodation is full, you're stuck for the night. Most of the accommodation does get fully booked during the summer months, so make sure to book ahead.
- 1 Hotel Chatham, Wharf Rd, Waitangi, ☎ . Accommodation, restaurant, public bar, fishing charters, package tours. Central, but can be noisy with locals and traffic. Single $125, double $250.
- 2 Chatham Hideaway, Kaingaroa, ☎ .
- 3 Lookout Backpackers (near Hotel Chatham). Along the main road heading south-west of the island, a 2-minute walk from the Hotel waterfront. The Lookout is a self-contained, shared cottage. Rooms and units can be booked separately or a group can book the entire cottage. Shared bathrooms with toilets and showers. Large balcony and lawn area for barbecue dinner. Sea view. Self-catering. $100 per person single, double or triple, some units with kitchenettes.
- 4 Black Robin Homestays, Upper Hospital Rd, Waitangi, ☎ .
- 5 Awarakau Farmstays. Beautiful, away from town, great views.
- 6 Chatham Rise Motel, Waitangi Tuku Rd (5 minutes walk from central Waitangi). 7-unit motel run by Hotel Chatham. From $150.
- 7 Traveller's Rest. 5-room cottage run by Hotel Chatham. From $250.
- 8 Henga Lodge. Adjacent to the magnificent Henga Scenic Reserve. Guests of the lodge can meander around either a short easy walk, or take the longer 2 hr return walk out onto the spectacular beach. Access to the reserve is free to Lodge guests. The lodge has 11 rooms and some glamping containers at Marakapia Lookout. From $185.
- There is no mobile phone service at all on the Chatham Islands.
- WiFi is available from Hotel Chathams (for a fee) and at the airport (for free). It is however quite slow since it relies on a satellite uplink.
- Radio Weka broadcasts at 92.1 MHz FM, with a mixture of local volunteer content and relays of Radio New Zealand. New Zealand television is also broadcast.
- 1 Hospital, Waitangi, ☎ . Hospital and medical centre with a doctor and nurses. More serious cases will require evacuation to a mainland New Zealand hospital.
- Police Station, ☎ .
- If you've arrived by your own vessel, you might have other options.
- Fly back to mainland New Zealand, with a choice of 3 destinations:
- Although you won't go directly from here, you may be interested in visiting other islands: