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Chatham Islands

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If you head east from New Zealand into the Pacific Ocean after 800 kilometres of travel you will come acrossan isolated group of ten small islands. Two of these are inhabited: Chatham Island, the largest of the group, and Pitt Island.

The Chatham Islands are Southern Pacific Ocean 44o, 800 km due east of Christchurch, New Zealand. They are the South Pacific archipelago. Home to rare birds and unique plant species. Centre of major fishing grounds and home to 750 islanders (New Zealand's eastern-most community) Total ocean area: 500 sq km

Made up of two main islands: Chatham: area 90 sq km, 700 people and Pitt: 6.2 sq km, 50 people. The climate is moist with summer tempretures around 15-24o Celsius and winter tempretures around 6-10o Celsius. The economic base is fishing, pastoral farming, tourism (especially eco-tours) Visitor attractions include eco-tourism - unique and rare species, Island eco-systems. The scenery is changeable, spectacular and moody.


The first human habitation of the Chathams involved migrating Polynesian tribes who settled the islands about 1500 CE, and in their isolation became the Moriori people. The exact origins of these people remains a matter of some dispute. The Moriori population of the islands numbered about 2000. They lived as hunter-gatherers, taking food from the sea and from native flora. The society lived peacefully, resolving disputes through consensus rather than warfare. The name "Chatham Islands" comes from the ship HMS Chatham, whose captain William R. Broughton landed on November 29, 1791, claimed possession for Great Britain and named the islands after the political head of the British Navy (coincidentally also named Chatham). Sealers and whalers soon made the islands a centre of their activities. Ten to 20 percent of the native population soon died from imported diseases. Fishing activities continue to contribute significantly to the economy, although the sealing and whaling industries ceased activities about 1861. On November 19, 1835, a ship carrying 500 Maori armed with guns, clubs and axes arrived, followed by another ship with 400 more Maori arriving on December 5, 1835. They proceeded to enslave and kill the Moriori. A Moriori survivor recalled : "The Maori commenced to kill us like sheep.... We were terrified, fled to the bush, concealed ourselves in holes underground, and in any place to escape our enemies. It was of no avail; we were discovered and killed - men, women and children indiscriminately." A Maori conqueror explained, "We took possession... in accordance with our customs and we caught all the people. Not one escaped..... The invading Maori from New Zealand as well as European whalers  inter-married with the local indigenous population. Today, some island families still continue a Moriori lineage, and the Moriori culture continues to recover. Moriori have recently established a national marae and united under the Hokotehi Trust. A party of German Lutheran missionaries arrived in 1843. They were all men, but women followed three years later. Many of the present population can trace their ancestry to German roots via the missionary families. Renowned fishing area with lobster, abalone (paua), cod, groper (hapuka), kingfish and many other. Traditional Chatham Island hosting of visitors is personal and generous. The language is English and is the currency: New Zealand dollar. Best time to visit is between September and March (spring/summer). Another interesting fact is that the Chatham Islands were the first inhabited land in the world to greet the first dawn. The Millennium event at 4.00 am (NZST) January 1, year 2000, was celebrated with a major international ceremony linking all the nations of the world, as well as other exciting events.

How to get to the Chathams.

Visitors to the Chathams usually arrive by air from Christchurch, Auckland or Wellington (around 1.5 - 2 hours from Christchurch on a Convair 580). While freight generally arrives by ship (4 - 5 days' sailing time), the sea journey takes too long for many passengers, and is not always available. Although the Chathams are part of New Zealand, and there are no border controls or formalities on arrival, visitors are required to have prearranged their accommodation on the islands before arriving. Transport operators may refuse to carry passengers without accommodation bookings. Also, there are no scheduled public transport services on the island but accommodation providers are normally able to arrange transport as well.

For many years a Bristol Freighter served the islands, a slow and noisy freight aircraft converted for carrying passengers by installing a passenger container equipped with airline seats and a toilet in part of the cargo hold. The air service primarily served to ship out high-value export crayfish products.

The grass landing-field at Hapupu, at the northern end of the Island, proved a limiting factor, as few aircraft apart from the Bristol Freighter had both the range to fly to the islands and the ruggedness to land on the grass airstrip. Although other aircraft did use the landing field occasionally, they would often require repairs to fix damage resulting from the rough landing. In 1991, after many years of requests by locals and the imminent demise of the aging Bristol Freighter aircraft, the construction of a sealed runway at Karewa allowed more modern aircraft to land safely. The Chathams' own airline, Air Chathams, now operates services to Auckland on Thursdays, Wellington on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and Christchurch on Tuesdays. The timetable varies seasonally, but generally planes depart the Chathams around 10.30 am (Chathams Time) and arrive in the mainland around noon. Then they refuel and reload, depart again at around 1 pm, back to the Chathams. Air Chathams operates twin turboprop Convair 580 aircraft in combi (freight and passenger) configurations and Fairchild Metroliners.

Reef Shipping operates shipping services from Auckland and Napier, and Black Robin Freighters operates shipping services from Timaru and Napier.

Visitors to the islands should pre-arrange their accommodation before arrival with The Ultimate Hideaway, Chatham Lodge, Waitangi Hotel, Chathams Motel, or local homestays. The islands have rental vehicles, but no taxis or public transport.

Driving in the Chathams is fun. There is a small section of tar sealed road between Waitangi and Te One but the majority of the island's roads are gravel. A good map should be purchased on the mainland as it is easy for visitors to get lost if they miss a signpost. Extra care is required when driving at night because of cows and sheep on the roads, and oncoming vehicles with or without lights!

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