The Chatham Islands (Rekohu in the indigenous Moriori language) 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 jogs 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. Air Chathams fly 4 days a week (6 days a week in summer), from either Christchurch, Auckland or Wellington. 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 once there 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.
However, when you get off that aeroplane, if you haven't pre-organised transport, you will have to walk, and it is 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 if the need arises. 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 and he or she will organise that.
There are several businesses on Chatham Island that will rent you a vehicle. Do not expect the flashest and latest in rental cars though. The cars "will" be warranted and safe, but they won't be exceptionally "flash".
Chatham Motors have a range of nice rental vans available as well and they provide pretty good service for both visitors and locals.
- Some of the world's most rare and endangered birds, plants and insects.
- Unique tree carvings done by the peaceful Moriori people hundreds of years ago.
- 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.
- Hapupu National Historic Scenic Reserve. One of only two National Historic Scenic Reserves in New Zealand (the other is the Waitangi Treaty Grounds), Hapupu is a special place, and somewhere that you will want to tell others about. 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 views on why they did these carvings, but whatever the reason, you will find them a very special attraction.
- Port Hutt. One of the most scenicly attractive ports in the whole of New Zealand, Port Hutt boasts an incredibly sheltered little harbour, with picturesque views and safe anchorage in all weather. Historically important and economically crucial for these islands today, Port Hutt is the ideal location for a short browse around and a mecca for those photography buffs .
- Kopinga Marae. If you could define a place that will remind you of your visit to the Chathams, 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 wonderful national treasure for hosting visiting school groups.
- 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. Come and have a look at this statue, erected in 1985 to commemorate his passing. Come and see Manakau, the property of his descendants, located on the eastern corner of Rekohu and blessed with the sun's first rays as they rise above the sea each day.
- 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.
- 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 miss it and don't forget to have a look through some of the books there.
- 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.... or is it the other way round? Either way, visitors are often surprised by the quality of works and many are 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.
- 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.
- Scenery. There's no charge for this particular attraction. It's too hard to charge for something that is everywhere! It doesn't really matter what your particular scenery fetish is, there is something for everyone, from 'mountains' (well... biggish hills anyway) to cliff, sandy beaches to swampland, lakes and rivers to ocean vistas, it's covered.
- Plant life. Too numerous to list.
- Bird Life. Too numerous to list them all today.
- Seafood. Do you like crayfish (lobster), paua (abalone) or fish? Well you're coming to the right place then, because there's lots of it here and its all fresh and its all very tasty.
- 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 as well. 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 "ethnicity" and a community that has learned to rely on each other and deal with whatever is thrown their way, usually with a grin and a great deal of determination. Kiwi ingenuity has nothing on Chatham Island know-how.
- Beaches. 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.
- Basalt columns. 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.
- 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.
- 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, assorted shellfish and relatively shallow, despite its size, Te Whanga, which contains both fresh and saltwater is a fantastic place to have a fossick around. Its shores are adorned with limestone cliff, sandy beaches and wetland habitats.
There is plenty to do on the Chatham Islands. The Chathams has some of the most spectacular scenery in all of New Zealand. Rugged coastlines with towering cliffs, boulder strewn beaches and wide sandy expansive beaches.
- Beachcombing: Every beach is different
- Bushwalking: There is a multitude of reserves on the islands
- Guided tours
- Fishing: 13 species of fish were caught off the wharf in town in just two days.
- 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.
- The Lakeside cafe, between Te One and Waitangi, overlooking Lake Huro. The brand new purpose-built cafe has replaced the old piecart caravan. It will fill the gap, with "man-sized" meals and friendly service.
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.
- Ultimate Hideaway, Kaingaroa. (An hour from town.), ☎ .
- Beach House Backpackers (near Hotel Chatham).
- Black Robin Homestays, Upper Hospital Road Waitangi, ☎ .