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Chatham Islands

Travel Guide Oceania Polynesia New Zealand Chatham Islands

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Introduction

The Chatham Islands, named Rekohu in the local Moriori language, is an archipelago located about 850 kilometres east of Christchurch and have been part of New Zealand since 1842. Far less visited than the main islands of the country, this group of 10 islands is a great place for people looking for pure solitude. It's not a tropical hideaway though and the islands can have autumn-ish weather for weeks or even months on end.

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Geography

The islands cover around 966 square kilometres, nearly all of which consists of the two main islands: Chatham Island and Pitt Island. The islands are actually the only part of a rise below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, named the Chatham Rise, which starts near the South Island and is not deeper than about 1,000 metres. The islands are hilly with rocky cliffs, lagoons, beaches and sand dunes forming the coastline. The highest point is a mere 299 metres above sea level and is on the southern edge of Pitt Island. There are no real rivers, only a few small streams like Te Awainanga and Tuku. Only Chatham Island and Pitt Island are populated and the other islands are partly restricted or can only be visited with special permission.

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Cities

The main settlement is Waitangi with around 300 inhabitants, out of a total of just around 750 people living on the two main islands, Chatham and Pitt. The other islands have beautiful names like South East Island, The Fort, Little Mangere, Star Keys, The Sisters and The Forty-Fours, the latter being the easternmost part of New Zealand.

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Sights and Activities

  • 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 hour 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.
  • Kaingaroa Quaint fishing village - 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.
  • Chatham Islands local 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.
  • A trip to remote 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.
  • Enjoying the fantastic scenery of this remote archipelago by just wandering around or taking the bike
  • Te Wanga 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.
  • Enjoy the freshest seafood ever, including crayfish, the local specialty
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • Beachlife Chatham style, meaning beachcombing, fishing and walking -
  • 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.

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.

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 and bird life - Too numerous to list.
  • 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.

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Weather

Weather here rarely is warm. Average temperatures are not particularly low either though, with daily highs in the coldest month, July, around 5-10 °C and possibly a few degrees below zero at night during some occasions. The difference between nights and days are generally very small though. Summers are mild but temperatures rarely rise to more than 20-22 °C during the warmest days.

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Getting There

By Plane

Air Chathams has flights from Auckland, Wellington, Napier and Christchurch, taking around 2 hours. There are about 5 days with at least one flights, but not from every city every day. Napier has just seasonal flights (summermonths). It's wise to book ahead as seats are limited. The airport is located around 20 kilometres from Waitangi and if you booked accommodation you can be picked up if calling ahead. Prices are around NZ$650 for a return trip.

By Boat

There are cargo ships serving the islands, but they hardly take any travellers. Prices are high and the going is slow, so it's better to fly there.

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Getting Around

By Plane

Air Chathams flies between Chatham Island and Pitt Island for around NZ$140 return.

By Car and Bike

There are few roads outside of Waitangi, but if you like you can rent cars from a few hotels and Chatham Motors. Quadbikes are also for rental and you can also rent a car plus driver. Otherwise, taking the bike is the best options. Roads are generally unpaved.
Otherwise try one of the Tour Options offered by the Chatham Lodge.

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Eat

Some of the main lodges, like Chatham Lodge and Hotel Chathams offer food. Otherwise try the Waitangi cafe or Lakeside cafe. The latter is 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.

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.

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Sleep

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.

  • Chatham Lodge
  • Ultimate Hideaway
  • Beach House
  • Black Robin Homestays
  • Hotel Chathams
  • Hakepa Homestays
  • Awarakau Homestays
  • Chatham Motels

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This is version 2. Last edited at 13:14 on Jul 19, 17 by Utrecht. 2 articles link to this page.

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