If there is ever a way to show gratitude to those who invest in our district, then surely supporting those people must be the best approach. I think we are incredibly lucky to have Air Chathams in our midst and mindful of this good fortune, plus their friendly and efficient presence in mind, my hubby and I decided to trek out to the Chatham Islands to see for ourselves where this remarkable little airline started. Some folk did mention we were mad, that winter would not be the most hospitable time to be 800kms out in the Pacific Ocean, with the very next stop being Chile! However, undeterred and up for a bit of wild weather, away we went.
The flight on the Air Chathams Convair was pleasant, convivial, easy and we were at our destination in seemingly no time at all, actually about one hour 30 minutes from Wellington. On arrival there were people meeting others off the plane, everyone was relaxed and happy. We were met by Toni, the owner and manager of the Hotel Chatham and she was to be our main host for the next few days. She took us back to the hotel, stopping briefly in a farm paddock so we could see across Petre Bay to the “CBD of the Chathams”, the small settlement of Waitangi. We were shown to and settled into an extremely comfortable and large room at the hotel. The view out from the balcony was glorious, across the bay and over towards the north-west corner of the island. Dinner that night was simple, but fresh and tasty blue cod and chips. Toni sat with us for awhile and talked us through what we do for the next few days.
Our first day started with a rental car, a map and instructions on where to go and what we could expect to see. Our impression of the island was that we were on a very large farm. The land is all in cattle or sheep, the land is undulating, the roads are gravel and well maintained, the wind – well, she blew! Every few kilometres or so, hubby would get “Stop” called out to him and I would battle my way out of the car door, brace myself to take a photo and then scramble back inside as fast as possible! The vistas were great. Large areas of green paddocks leading down to the rather rough seas. Akeake trees bent over almost double in some places and the farm animals all seemingly impervious to the blustery conditions. It was in fact, quite invigorating and as the day progressed, we could feel the happy smiles staying longer on our faces. In the afternoon we headed south-east to the small settlement of Owenga. Out here we stood before the statue of Tommy Solomon, the last full-blooded Moriori and wandered around a long abandoned wooden church. We also visited the art studio of Chatham Island artist, Eva-Cherie Tuck. What a wonderful lady she is, her art is vibrant and tells a story of the area. Her cheeky and lively kids entertained us with their stories and a box filled with million year old fossilised sharks teeth. Some of the island’s beachcombing treasure. Mostly we were on our own, there were very few people to be seen anywhere and how refreshing that feeling was. Luckily it would be nigh on impossible to get lost!
The next day we boarded a coach as part of a group tour. The island is currently having its main wharf redeveloped and the contractors who are on the island as part of the construction crew were the main group on the coach. We went first to the Moriori Kopinga Marae. What an amazing place. We were greeted and went through marae protocols and given a brief and wonderful history of the Moriori and the marae building. There is an almost overwhelming peace in this place that I cannot describe and it totally took our breath away. We drove through some private land past the very large Te Whanga Lagoon (this is where the shark’s teeth can be found) and on to the Kopinga Forest. In here are the remaining trees still exhibiting the last of the Moriori tree carvings. This is such a pretty forest, with the kopi trees giving great protection from the wind. After this we were all ready for the lunch that was provided by Toni. Plenty of filled croissants, pizza, home baking and a very welcome hot beverage.
Our last day was spent back in the rental vehicle, this time we headed north west. Our main destination was to visit the Stone Cottage at Maunganui and Toni had phoned ahead so we were expected. This involved a reasonable drive, with us not quite knowing where we were going or how long it would take. There are a few road signs on the island, but no distances stated! Chatham Island is much larger than we had expected. We eventually came across the Stone Cottage sign, headed into the paddock and across to the next set of gates. Too much mud and bog here to take the car into, so we walked the kilometre or so to the cottage, hoping we were on the right path. Yes, it was still very windy! The cottage sits under a huge and dramatic rock bluff and we were very pleased to finally get it in view. We were met here by Helen, the lady who now occupies this cottage, built back in the 1850’s by German missionaries. We were taken inside and sank into chairs by the roaring fire and thought we might just stay forever! Helen was a delight. She chatted about herself, the cottage, the area and was great to listen to. She had baked fresh cheese scones and I was starting wonder how I would manage to leave. Helen lives here without running water and electricity, three dogs, four cats and she loves it. We finally dragged ourselves back into the wind and off to the car, having had a delightful couple of hours here. We stopped and ate our packed lunch at the Basalt Columns, overlooking the now pounding waves and white-capped sea. These granite columns are intriguing and the same as in the area of the Giant’s Causeway in Northern Ireland.
Very briefly, that sums up our few delightful days. We didn’t mind the weather at all, it was refreshing, kept any rain away and made the photos look great. It was too windy for us to go out fishing, but that is always a distinct possibility as is a day trip to Pitt Island. We simply didn’t have enough time. The locals are wonderful people, all friendly, interesting, so casual and relaxed, they are delightful to be around. We were treated royally and from what I can gather, this is the case for all visitors. Nothing appeared to be too much trouble and we had everything we needed. We came away feeling so much better than when we had arrived and as there are still many corners left to explore, we will return! I have heard many people say they would love to visit the Chatham Islands and having now done so ourselves I would thoroughly recommend the trip. I’m sure Air Chathams would agree!