New Zealand - Chatham Island - Notes - January - February 2019

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On Saturday 26th January Lyndsay and I joined our tour to the Chatham Islands at Auckland airport with a small group of 13 of us plus the guide. The flight to the islands was uneventful, with our party taking up most of the plane which had only 24 seats, (plus a large cargo section).  Although relatively noisy and slow compared to modern aircraft it was comfortable enough and we arrived  on the island after a flight lasting just under 2 1/2 hours.

Once we had deplaned around 4pm, our bags were taken to the Chatham Islands Hotel in the main town of Waitangi (another one, not the treaty one) and the bus took us on our first tour. This culminated in a dinner hosted by the Kaingaroa Social Club in a village at the opposite end of the main island from the hotel. There we indulged in our first taste of the seafood for which the islands are justly famous as well as other dishes which neither of us had tried before: mutton bird, black swan pate, and other delicacies. Importantly there was no shortage of crayfish (like lobster) or blue cod so we did not starve.

I will limit my comments here to our general impressions of the islands. There were trips each day and my photographs illustrate those, although I fear I there is not much description since most of the information covering them is included in an excellent book about the islands written and illustrated by two local authors. In addition there is an excellent book on the history of the people and islands by Micheal King "Moriori: A People Rediscovered" available from Amazon in a Kindle edition. The wikipedia page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chatham_Islands gives a lot of background information.  It is interesting that not many NZers have been there and I was the only person from overseas in the group. We were very lucky with the weather - 24 - 25 degrees and only one slightly wet day!

The islands are much larger than either of us had anticipated - about 950 sq km total although with a population of only 600 spread rather thinly over them. (Compare this with the Isle of Man which is 572 sq km with a population of 83000!)  They are 800 km off the east coast of the South Island.    There are few public roads and all but a couple of km are unsealed. The bus we used for the entire week was tested every day by the potholes and ridges but survived the course.  Nearly every trip we took ended up passing through gates marked private but our local guide, "Massive", was not going to stopped by that. (In fact the Chatham Hotel where we stayed had standing arrangements with the appropriate land owners for all trips originating with them.)

We took the optional day trip to Pitt Island which involved a short 20-30 minute flight each way. We found Pitt Island significantly different geologically and historically from the main island, but not in the overall arrangements (guide, transport, food etc) which were outstanding as well.

Unsurprisingly, everyone we met was friendly. (presumably if they were not friendly we would not be introduced!!!) But the good nature of all of them shone through. It is a close-knit community of course, like those of all small islands, but it is a long way from the mainland (which they refer to as New Zealand - although the Chathams are part of that country!) and this engenders both self-sufficiency and the need for cooperation.

We were also treated to a history lesson by the impassioned leader of the local marae.  Although not Morirori, Susan, an archaeologist, is married to a member of the tribe (iwi) and knows their background well.

Pukekohe Travel who had arranged our trip surpassed themselves in their  choice of hosts/accommodation, travel arrangements, guides and eating establishments!

After a week, we returned home much impressed by the islands and the people we had met.

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