Chatham Islands: An introduction

The Chatham Islands invoke visions of a remote, ocean-bound wilderness with fascinating marine and wildlife.

The Chatham Islands form an archipelago of 11 islands located 800 kilometres (500 miles) east of the South Island. The largest and only inhabited islands are Chatham and Pitt. These remote islands are a true wilderness of historical, natural and geological wonder.

Peace and solitude reign supreme on the Chathams. The islands are sparsely inhabited, with a population of about 600 people, and there is no public transport. The awe-inspiring views of towering cliffs, pristine beaches and rugged boulders make for an unforgettable visit.

History

Geographically isolated for millions of years, the Chatham Islands were first inhabited by the Moriori. European sealers and whalers were next to arrive, followed by Māori from mainland New Zealand. Descendants of Moriori still reside on the islands today.

Significant historic sites include the Basalt Columns – imposing hexagonal rock formations formed 80 million years ago by cooling volcanic lava, and located at Ohio Bay about 30 minutes' drive from the main township of Waitangi.

In the north-west of the island, you can visit a stone cottage built in the 1800s by German missionaries at Maunganui, next to a volcanic peak of the same name.

The Chatham Islands Museum houses some fascinating displays of relics of life from days gone by, including ancient tools and casts of dinosaur bones.

Wildlife and sustainability

The Chatham Islands’ natural landscapes remain wholly untouched and are teeming with unique species of flora and fauna. There are several albatross colonies around the islands, which can be viewed from a boat. The seal colony at Point Munning is another popular attraction.

Birdlife includes the taiko (magenta petrel, the world's rarest seabird), red-crowned parakeet and shore plover. Oystercatchers roam freely around Chatham and Pitt islands. Conservation programmes have had great success with birds such as the Chatham Island black robin, with environmental efforts increasing its numbers from 5 to well over 250.

Hunting and fishing

The Chatham Islands’ natural sea bounty includes crayfish, hapuka, blue cod and paua. Fishing, rock casting, spear fishing or diving – there’s an abundance of ways to make the most of this marine wonderland, but locals ask that you take only what you need for a meal or the local bag limit to help preserve this valuable resource.

Inland, trophy wild pigs, sheep and cattle can be hunted. Pitt Island is home to the legendary Saxon Merino wild ram.

And by the way...

  • Pitt Island is the first place in the world to see the new dawn.
  • Local time is 45 minutes ahead of mainland New Zealand.
  • The islands have officially been part of New Zealand since 1842.