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Chatham Islands – Guide for Backpackers

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Get ridiculously far off the beaten track!

New Zealand’s fourth populated island is about 788km away from the North Island! The only way to get there is by bottlenose dolphin. We jest, of course.

The approximately 600 people who live there were mostly born on the island. The rest of the population are seals, the two island icons: Chatham Island taiko, the Buff Weka and a whole lot of native birds. If you love wildlife, wild places and wild scenery then the Chatham Islands is the place for you.

If you make it to this island, you’ll be one of the few and you’ll deserve a drink.

Things you can’t miss in the Chatham Islands

  • Stay with a host to give you a local’s perspective of this isolated island
  • See the unusual Basalt Columns
  • Walk to the ancient Moriori tree carvings.
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Unique hospitality experience!

Staying at the Chathams means you are instantly mixing with the locals, as the island operates a ‘host’ system. You book accommodation ahead so that your accommodation host will pick you up from the airport (as there is no public transport or taxis on the islands) and look after you for your stay.

In addition, a lot of attractions are on private land so you have no choice than to be guided by a host to get to the sights.

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The sights on the Chatham Islands

The Chatham Islands were not first inhabited by the Maori but the Moriori. The Moriori has similar Polynesian origins like the Maori. The Maori did eventually follow and a marae (Maori meeting house), Te Kopinga, recognises the first settlers on the Chatham Islands.

The bizarre Basalt Columns are lava flows that are perfectly-shaped hexagonal prisms fitted together. They were formed around 80 – 85 million years ago.

Get a token photo of the Maunganui Stone Cottage, built by a couple of Moravian Missionaries between 1866 and 1868.

A boat ride over to Pitt Island will bring you to the first inhabited place in the world to see the sunrise! That’s right, it isn’t the North Island’s East Cape that sees the sunrise first (that’s just how far people are willing to travel).

LawrieM on Wikipedia

The Walks on the Chatham Islands

Take long walks on the beach at Waitangi Bay past seals, Chatham Island oystercatchers, and giant petrels. Hike over dunes and along a lagoon on the Ocean Mail Scenic Reserve. Then, if you have time after that, walk among the islands’ intriguing history on the J.M. Barker (Hapupu) National Historic Reserve. Here, you can see the rare Moriori tree carvings. Lastly, nothing is complete in New Zealand without a bushwalk. The Chatham Islands has the 1-hour Nikau Bush Walk.

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How to get to the Chatham Islands

Not by kayak or dolphin, but 4-6 times a week flights land in from Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch. The flight is still classed as a domestic flight with Air Chathams. It is an easy 90-minute flight on Convair 580. However, the flights are pretty hefty from NZ$786 to NZ$1310 for a return.

Alternatively, take a 2-day voyage from Napier on a shipping container that leaves every 10-12 days…

Getting around the Chatham Islands

Once on the island, there are no public transport services. However, rental cars are available if booked in advance. Otherwise, you will need to organise transport options with your accommodation hosts.

If you have more time in the Chatham Islands…

  • Take a “flora tour” to see the best of the island’s wildlife
  • Buy some souvenirs or gifts for all your friends back in New Zealand’s mainland
  • Mix with the locals at the only bar: Hotel Chathams Public Bar. Catchy name…
  • Have some seafood! 60% of the islands’ income comes from its fishing industry, so of course, they have a couple of seafood restaurants.
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Where to stay in The Chatham Islands?

Awkwardly enough, there are no backpacker hostels on the Chatham Islands. There is a selection of farmstays, homestays, B&Bs, two hotels, two motels, and rural accommodation.

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