The Beautiful Chatham Islands

The Chatham Islands, a group of 25 scattered islands, lie 536 miles east of Port Lyttelton in latitude 43 degrees south. Together they cover 966 square k's with the two largest islands being Chatham Island, of 90,000 hectares, and Pitt Island of 6,300 hectares.

The first European visitor was Captain Broughton on the armed tender Chatham in 1790. He named the largest island, about 31 miles long, after his ship.

A combination of experiences await a visitor to the Chatham Islands that are available nowhere else in the world, incl:

  • This is where the sun rises first on the planet.
  • a rich cultural heritage second to none.
  • varied and spectacular natural scenery, including rocky coastlines, volcanic peaks, majestic cliffs, rolling hills, flat swamplands, lagoons and sandy beaches.
  • solitude and remoteness to bring you back to sanity.
  • rare bird and plant life.
  • fishing, diving and abundant seafood.
  • spectacular skies at night....No pollution to block the stars.
  • bushwalking and bird watching tours
  • diving with the sharks
  • Incredible natural heritage

The best time to visit is between October and April when temperatures are warmer.

The native name of the large island was Rekohu, which means "cloudy sky" and refers to the mist which often clings to the land there, but the Maori invaders of 1835-36 gave it the name of Wharekauri which Shand pointed out was due to the following mistake.

Two Maori named Ropata Tamaihengia and Pakiwhara visited the Chatham islands on a whaling ship and Ropata stayed at a village named Wharekauri which name, owing to his misunderstanding of the Moriori dialect, he took to be that of the island.

On their return to Wellington, Pakiwhara told the Ngati Mutunga and Ngati Tama tribes there about the rich supply of fish, shell fish, and preserved birds on the island of Wharekauri. Influenced by the rich food supplies, these tribes invaded the Chatham and naturally called it Wharekauri.

The Maori name replaced the original Moriori name of Rekohu but the change definitely took place after 1835.

The Moriori people are included here with the first settlers of the Chatham Islands, because traditional and genealogical evidence points to their having left New Zealand before the arrival of the Fleet in 1350. If the Toi expedition of 1150 had arrived before they left, it is more than probable that it had no effect upon the culture of the emigrants.

Hence the Moriori may be regarded as the pure descendants of the tangata whenua, first settlers who from their isolation did not share in the legends, stories, and cultural changes introduced and developed in New Zealand after their departure.

The native flora included the braken fern (eruhe, Pterisaquilina), native flax (Phormium tenax), tree fern (mamaku, Cyathea medullaris), and karaka (Corynocarpus laevigata), all of which were present in New Zealand and used for the same purposes.

The native trees were small, the largest being the karaka the wood of which was unsuitable for making canoes. Owing to the absence of suitable timber on the Chatham Islands, the people resorted to making rafts of the dry flower stalks (korari) of the native flax. The loss of the craft of canoe building was not due to degeneration but to the lack of suitable raw material.

The waters of a large lagoon and the surrounding sea provided a rich supply of fish. The shores of the Chathams yielded quantities of shell fish which included the paua (Haliotis sp.). The neighbouring islets were utilized as rookeries by the albatross (toroa) and other sea birds.

The Moriori made risky voyages in their flax-stalk rafts to obtain young albatross in the breeding season, and these were preserved in their own fat.

Checkout this link for stunning images from the Chatham Islands

Download the official visitors guide that has maps - scenic reserves and walking tracks - airport info - real estate - farmstay, homestay, marae, motel, lodge accommodation - shops and services - airport and car hire - banking and eftpos - phone numbers for schools, churches, emergency, department of conservation, tourism, etc.


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