When you're at the first place in the world to see the sun rise every day, you know that each day is going to be pretty special. The Chathams will surprise you with its stunning landscapes, deserted beaches, unique flora and fauna and a rich cultural and historical heritage. We promise it's not like anywhere else on the mainland.
Nearly 1000 sq km in area, Chatham Island is a bigger place than you may think. And we've got specific regions on the island with their own striking landscapes. You can explore them all: rocky shorelines, sandy beaches, volcanic cones and features, primeval forests, wildlife reserves and lakes. There are ship and aircraft wrecks, fishermen and farmers, artists and artisans, legends of the past and and larger-than-life local characters.
860km east of Christchurch, the Chatham Islands are an archipelago of 11 islands with around 650 islanders living on the only the largest islands of Chatham and Pitt.
The islands sit on the Chatham Rise, a large, relatively shallow (no more than 1000 metres deep at any point) part of the Zealandia continent that stretches east from near the South Island. The Chatham Islands, which emerged only within the last four million years, are the only part of the Chatham Rise showing above sea level.
The geography of the Chathams is intriguing. The highest mountain on the island is 299m and the extinct volcanoes in the north are fascinating. It can feel like you're on another planet. The vast 180 sq km Te Whanga Lagoon is a huge contrast.
The indigenous Moriori people arrived around 1500 and developed a peaceful way of life which was interrupted in 1835 with the arrival of Maori from New Zealand's North Island. Other European settlers also came to the Chathams and affected island life. There have been sealers, whalers, traders, farmers, fishermen and missionaries come, go and stay on the islands ever since.
There are many stories to uncover about the people and their lives: Tommy Solomon, believed to be the last full blooded Moriori, who died in 1933, the rakau momori Moriori living tree engravings and Moriori rock carvings. The rakau momori can be viewed in the JM Baker National Historic and Taia Bush Historic Reserves. A guided visit to Kopinga Marae, the base for Te Imi Moriori is essential.
The Chatham Islands Museum is next door to the Forget Me Not Suites in Waitangi. It's well worth a visit for its display of Moriori and Maori tools, the unique Moriori waka-korari canoe, relics from the whaling days, casts of dinosaur bones found on the islands, plus exhibits and displays of early life on the islands.
Many Chatham Islanders are descendants of Moriori, Maori and European ancestors. It takes unique individuals to live and work on an isolated island so the people of the island can be described as hardy and authentic with a generosity of spirit. We're a welcoming bunch who take the time for a smile and a yarn.
Contemporary life on the Chathams is dominated by fishing and farming with developing tourism. Our tours will introduce you to the locals and the places they live and work.
Formed from volcanic activity 79 million years ago unique flora and fauna has evolved on the islands, making the Chathams a haven for ornithologists, natural historians, photographers and artists. And, there's the dark skies for keen astronomers too.
Bird life abounds with species that are unique and endemic to the Chathams – Chatham Island Shags, Pitt Island Shags, Chatham Island Taiko, Chatham Island Oyster Catchers, Chatham Petrels, Black Robins, Parea (Chatham Island Wood Pigeon), Chatham Island Warblers, Chatham Island Fantails, Chatham Island Tui and Chatham Island Tomtits. Sightings of rare species such as the Black Robin and the Chatham Island Taiko along with red-crowned parakeets and others, means the Chatham Islands have become world famous among birdwatchers and conservationists. Many of the rarer species have rescued from near extinction by conservation projects. Wildlife photographers come to the island for its albatross, penguin and seal colonies.
The unique oceanic environment and weather of the Chatham Islands has influenced the development of plant life here. Of the nearly-400 plant species on the Chatham Islands, 47 are endemic, meaning they can't be found anywhere else in the world. Chathams plants display a much higher proportion of coloured flowers than on mainland New Zealand, the most famous – the Chatham Island Forget-Me-Not.
The visitor's bible
This is a great guide for any visitors coming to or leaving the Chatham Islands. Historic information, contemporary information – every bit of information you need to find almost everything here. By Cherry Lawrie and Jocelyn Powell.
NZ$45 plus P&P