The Chatham Islands (Rekohu in the indigenous Moriori language and Wharekauri in Māori) are the eastern-most settled islands in New Zealand. The islands are in their own time zone, 45 minutes ahead of New Zealand time; the International Date Line jumps eastward to keep them on the same calendar day as the rest of 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 itself, with a population of 600, smaller Pitt Island with about 40 inhabitants, and a number of rocky outcrops. The islands are volcanic in origin and have a unique and sensitive habitat that supports many rare and endangered species.
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. In 1835 Maori settlers from the mainland arrived, massacred and enslaved the Moriori.
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, between October and 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 pre-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 currently 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 near the Chathams.
There are several businesses on Chatham Island that will rent you a vehicle. Do not expect the flashest and latest, although they will be warranted and safe
- Chatham Motors have a range of nice rental vans available and they provide good service.
- Hotel Chathams offers a number of rental SUVs for their guests.
The Chathams have some of the world's most rare and endangered birds, plants and insects. Scenery range from 'mountains' (well... biggish hills anyway) to cliff, sandy beaches to swampland, lakes and rivers to ocean vistas.
- 1 Basalt columns (Grab a key to open the gate from Hotel Chathams.). 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, the other is the Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Spiritually and culturally important to Moriori, it holds the last known concentration of momori-rakau, or tree carvings done by the ancestors of today's 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 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.
- 5 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, located on the eastern corner of Rekohu and blessed with the sun's first rays of the day.
- 6 Kopinga Marae. 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.
- 7 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.
- 8 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.
- 9 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.
- 10 Stone Cottage (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 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.
- 12 Mission Bay. The Murchison farm also houses the ruins of German missionary and American sealer houses.
- 13 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.
- 14 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 borders by a limestone cliff, sandy beaches and wetland habitats.
- Henga Scenic Reserve. Set adjacent to Henga Lodge is 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 is free to Lodge guests.
- 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.
- Tuku Valley Nursery. Liz and Bruce Tuanui run a nursery at their home in the Tuku valley on the south west coast of the Chathams. They offer guided walks of their nursery and gardens and you will be pleasantly amazed at the variety of plants and how well things grow in this litle subantarctic environment.
- 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.
- Culture. 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 and the local iwi, 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.
There is plenty to do on the Chatham Islands. The Chathams has some of the most spectacular scenery in New Zealand. Rugged coastlines with towering cliffs, boulder strewn beaches and wide sandy expansive beaches.
- 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, 2h30 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 Caravan Bush (Ellen Elizabeth Preece Conservation Covenant) (Restricted to guided tours from Flowerpot Lodge.). There are two short walks contained within this cat-proof fence. Abundant native birds.
- Beachcombing: There are a wide range of beaches on the islands that visitors can walk or beach-comb on. Most of the time you will have the beach to yourself.
- Bushwalking: There is a multitude of reserves on the islands
- Farming: Watch or participate
- Fossicking: Find yourself a 40 million year old shark tooth, thankfully without a shark attached to it.
- Hunting: Pig hunting is a popular pastime here
- Photography: Shoot as many pictures as you like, the scenery is endless
- Plants/birds: If you are into rare plants and birds, then this is the place for you.
Do you like crayfish (lobster), paua (abalone) or fish? Well you're coming to the right place, because there's lots of it and its all fresh and tasty.
- 1 Waitangi Cafe.
- 2 Hotel Chatham Restaurant.
- 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, ☎ .
- Beach House 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.
- 3 Black Robin Homestays, Upper Hospital Road Waitangi, ☎ .
- 4 Hakepa Homestays, North Head Farm, Pitt Island. The only accommodation on Pitt Island.
- 5 Awarakau Farmstays. Beautiful, away from town, great views.
- 6 Chatham Rise Motel.
- 7 Traveller's Rest.
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.