“DELAYED” read the sign board at the airport, making my frantic morning racing around at work to get to the airport seem somewhat futile now. However the beers were taking the edge off my frazzled nerves and it was a taste of the Island time that we needed to get to grips with over the next week.
A group of seven friends and I were off on an adventure to the Chatham Islands. About 580 nautical miles directly off the coast from Lyttelton. We had briefly considered sailing over but quickly realized that with our busy working schedules, by the time we got there we would have to turn around and sail home. So we bit the bullet and paid $960 getting us a return ticket on a classic Convair 580 plane, to carry us two and a half hours east towards the most remote part of New Zealand, a tiny archipelago in the South Pacific Ocean’s notorious roaring 40’s.
There aren’t many places left in the world where you can simply leave your keys in the car at the airport and expect it to still be there when you come back to pick it up. But the cars we had rented were there waiting for us with keys in the ignition, covered in dirt and in various states of disrepair. However they worked and managed to fit us and all our mountain of gear in. So we set off down the shingle road in search of the house we had rented.
We threw our stuff in the door and went straight to the pub and ordered beer and 8 x blue cod & chips. Deeelicious!
Our guide for the day – Jo turned up early the next morning and we set off to explore and learn more about the islands chequred history.
The landscape resembles a slice of Swiss cheese. Mostly low lying undulating terrain, peppered with ‘holes’ which filled with water have become ponds and lakes and one huge shallow lagoon. Then on the northern side, pimple like volcanic cones rise up all over the place. The strong prevailing winds mean that the trees are all quite small and grow on a ridiculous angle. Chatham island is quite different from anything I have ever seen.
Our second stop was the old stone cottage which was built by some German missionaries back in the 1800’s. It is the Chathams oldest building and is on private land and actually occupied by someone, however you can still go and visit and it costs $10 (same with all the other sights)
Port Hutt was next on the itinerary, for a cuppa tea with one of the locals. It is a fishing village, with a fish factory and a few houses dotted around. The crayfishing season closes over March and April, so all the cray pots were out of the water being repaired. Port Hutt and the surrounding coast line has a number of wrecked boats either up on the rocks or sitting in various states of decay on the bottom in the bay.
We carried on across the northern end of the island stopping to see the basalt columns – unusual rock formations jutting out of the rough sea.
Then we arrived at the Admiral gardens for lunch. We had brought our own picnic, but Val Croon, the owner, made us some more tea. They have a weekly BBQ here for the tourists and the gardens really are beautiful.
From there we continued on towards the north Eastern corner and unsuccessfully tried to find some Tuatua shellfish in the sand at Ocean Mail – the most stunning beach I have ever seen.
Next stop was to check out the remains of an old flying boat which used to land in the lagoon before it crashed. It is being kind- of restored in a huge shed. It is a big project, as parts of the plane are apparently being used all around the island on various other things such as chook houses…
As with many island communities I have visited, there appeared to be a lot of ‘stuff’ laying around. I commented to Jo our guide and she explained that as there isn’t a huge department store just down the road, and the cost of freighting anything out here is huge, people like to save and reuse things.
Where I saw mess, they see opportunity. Where I saw piles of rusting rubbish, they see valuable parts, or the next project. Perhaps I have been living in a throw away society for too long.
Regardless, if you are a scrap metal dealer, then you might want to visit the Chathams some time!
Keen to catch some fish we went to Kaingaroa Harbour, a near by fishing town, and dropped our rods in the water. Catching nothing we went to the Kaingaroa club for a beer and a chat to the locals instead.
As the sun was going down, we were keen to get back to the house. The shingle roads were in better condition than I had expected, however the completely black cows that wander all over the roads are apparently almost impossible to see until you crash in to them, and we didn’t fancy that.
We had hired the Lookout Lodge and our rental cars via the Hotel Chatham. It was great for our group of eight, with three bedrooms, two bathrooms, and a large living & dining area, opening out to a large deck overlooking Waitangi. It is a short walk to the pub and shop – and that is about all that you need!
The next morning, we got up and tried fishing from the wharf in Waitangi and didn’t get a single bite. So we hit the road and went about 30 mins out of town to Owenga, on the South Eastern corner of the island. Again the fishing was unsuccessful but we did manage to get some paua for our lunch before our flight to Pitt Island.
We also visited the Tommy Solomon memorial. Tommy Solomon was the last ‘full blooded’ Moriori.
The Moriori people are thought to have arrived in the Chathams around 900AD. Similar to Maori people – possibly they were part of the original New Zealand ancient settlers in a waka that was blown off course. Their language and culture was different to the Maori and they were a peaceful community until the European sealers & whalers arrived in the early 1800’s and many died from the new diseases they had no immunity too. Then later in the 1800’s a tribe of Maori from Wellington arrived in the Chathams. They slaughtered many Moriori and kept the rest as slaves. Their bloodline eventually watered down. There are still people from Moriori descent, but no full blooded people left. Now Tommy Solomon has a fantastic view out over Owenga and the ocean.
This article featured in Boating New Zealand Magazine in January 2016