Situated in the Pacific Ocean, 860km east of Christchurch, the Chatham Islands is New Zealand’s most easterly region. With a time zone 45 minutes ahead of mainland New Zealand, the Chathams are also the first inhabited place in the world to see the sun rise.
This archipelago of 11 islands has officially been part of New Zealand since 1842, where only its two largest islands are inhabited, Chatham and Pitt Islands.
Chatham Islands is said to have a population of 600 including the 30 on Pitt Island, some 1 to 2 hours away by sea. The remaining smaller islands are conservation reserves with restricted or prohibited access.
The name “Chatham Islands” comes from the ship HMS Chatham of the Vancouver Expedition. It was captained by William R. Broughton who landed on 29 November 1791 and then claimed possession for Great Britain and named the islands after the First Lord of the Admiralty, John Pitt, 2nd Earl of Chatham.
Sealers and whalers soon started hunting in the surrounding ocean with the islands as their base. It is estimated that 10 to 20 percent of the indigenous population soon died from diseases introduced by foreigners. The sealing and whaling industries ceased activities about 1861, while fishing remained as a major economic activity.
Today, the population is mainly of European, Māori and Moriori backgrounds and their incomes are largely reliant on farming, fishing, conservation and tourism.
The islands are generally hilly with the coasts a varied mixture including cliffs and sand dunes, beaches, and lagoons. Pitt is more rugged than Chatham, although the highest point (299 metres or 981 feet) is on a plateau near the southernmost point of the main island.
Waitangi is the main settlement of Chatham Island and its facilities include a hospital with resident doctor, bank, several stores, and engineering and marine services. The main shipping wharf is located here.
Pitt Island lies 22 km to the southeast of Chatham Island.
Scenic Reserves occupy a major part of Pitt Island approximately 827 hectares which provides habitat for for various bird life.
Flora and Fauna
Chatham Islands are home to a rich bio-diversity including about fifty endemic plants adapted to the cold and the wind, of which Chatham Islands forget-me-not (Myosotidium hortensia), Chatham Islands sow-thistle (Embergeria grandifolia), rautini (Brachyglottis huntii), Chatham Islands kakaha (Astelia chathamica), soft speargrass (Aciphylla dieffenbachii), and Chatham Island akeake or Chatham Island tree daisy (Olearia traversiorum) are among the best-known.
The islands are also a breeding ground for huge flocks of seabirds and are home to a number of endemic birds. The best known species are the Magenta Petrel and the black robin, both of which came perilously close to extinction before drawing the attention of conservation efforts. Other endemic species are the Chatham oystercatcher, the Chatham gerygone, Chatham pigeon, Forbes’ parakeet, Fairy Prion, the Chatham snipe and the shore plover. The endemic Chatham Shag, Pitt Shag and the Chatham Albatross are at risk of capture in a variety of fishing gear, including fishing lines, trawls, gillnets, and pots.
A number of species have gone extinct since European settlement, including the three endemic species of rails, the Chatham raven, and the Chatham fernbird.
Also, a number of endemic mammals are found in the waters of the Chathams, including New Zealand sea lions, leopard seals, and southern elephant seals.
Much of the natural forest of these islands has been cleared for farming, but Mangere and Rangatira Islands are now preserved as nature reserves to conserve some of these unique flora and fauna. Another threat to wildlife comes from introduced species which prey on the indigenous birds and reptiles, whereas on Mangere and Rangatira, livestock has been removed and native wildlife is recovering.
Waitangi boasts a range of facilities and small businesses including general stores, petrol stations, cafes, hotel, accommodation, medical facilities, and private tourist operators.
Most shops accept EFTPOS and credit cards, there are no ATMs. There is internet and phone access but no cell phone coverage.
Waitangi wharf is located in the township and is alive with bustling activity of local fishermen and cargo vessels.
- Waitangi Bay
- Kopinga Marae
- St Augustine’s Church
- Department of Conservation
- Admiral Farm
- Nunuku’s Cave
- Henga Scenic Reserve
- J. M. Barker (Hapupu) National Historic Reserve which features ancient Rakau Moriori tree carvings, or dendroglyphs
- The ruins of missionary and whaling stations at Mission Bay
- Seafood cuisine such as fresh fish, paua, kina and crayfish
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