On foot on Chatham Island
From a few chimney ruins, an old trypot and a few weathered akeake trees, who could imagine the life of these first pioneers?
A short drive further at the end of the farm road, a sign indicated the start of private conservation covenant land, and the start of a short track through some bush remnants to the coast at Point Munning. From the top of a small hill of schist rock we could look out over a seal colony on the shore to an empty horizon. We were looking at the most empty ocean on the planet — the next landfall is on the coast of Chile 8622 km away!
On the way back to Waitangi, we diverted along the road to Hapupu to meet the narrow strip of land between the sea and the eastern shore of Te Whanga Lagoon. Here are some of the last remaining Moriori tree carvings, in a grove of kōpi, trees that are the same species as the karaka on the mainland. The carvings are estimated to be 200 years old, but both the carvings and the trees are declining.
This was a 20 minute loop walk. Fortunately, we were able to see patches of Chatham Island forest in better condition later on.
Today, we headed for the northwestern end of the island. First, we had permission and a gate key to visit the result of ancient volcanic activity on the coast. Just a short walk from the road, an extensive field of black basalt columns spread out along the shoreline. The result of ancient volcanoes, this type of rock is found all round the world, but not often on the shoreline. The surge of the sea swirled the yellow kelp between the black outcrops with a striking contrast in colour and form.
Back to the car and on past Port Hutt, over high peat land we headed towards distant volcanic peaks. Just beyond a saddle where the road descended steeply, we found a sign “Stone Cottage, Private Property, prior permission required to enter”. This we had arranged.
We parked the car and set off across paddocks past a few horses in the general direction indicated by the sign, beneath a ridge heading towards a
prominent rocky crag. The Stone Cottage is tucked in behind the sandhills of Maunganui beach, at the foot of this crag. Its presence continues the story of the five German missionaries.
By 1866 only two, with nine children of the original families, were left on the island. They began to cut stone blocks from volcanic tuff to build accommodation and a lasting memorial, and one of them, Johann Engst, farmed here till he was 80.
The cottage not only still stands, it is still occupied. Helen Bint greeted us warmly, made us a cup of tea on a gas hob, and spoke enthusiastically about her life here. With only a telephone wire to connect her to the outside world and her family in Nelson, for six years she has enjoyed the solitude and the company of several cats, dogs, goats and chooks.
The forest that used to surround the cottage has gone, but Helen is planting lots of trees that she intends to see grow tall.
By this time we had visited three of the four fishing ports on Chatham Island.
Today we set off to the fourth port, Owhenga. This region is historically the heartland of Chatham Island’s tangata whenua, the Moriori. Especially at Te Awapatiki where Te Whanga Lagoon occasionally breaches to the sea, there are special associations with Moriori.
Manukau Point, beyond the little harbour of Owhenga, was a thriving Moriori settlement at the end of the 19th century. Where the road ends is a small reserve with the statue of Tommy Solomon, a prominent Moriori personality whose descendants still farm the grassy slopes here.
From here, permission is needed to walk around the shore to Manukau Point. We passed extensive plantings of native trees, and a small cluster of Moriori gravestones from the early 20th century.
As we followed the shoreline of black volcanic rocks, we were lucky to see a flock of the critically endangered Chatham shag, as well as a pair of torea, the endemic species of oystercatcher. These two are a significant proportion of the 400 individuals left.
It was a fine clear day, so from the end of the point we had the only opportunity during our stay to see Chatham Island’s largest neighbour, Pitt Island. Beside it,to the west, Mangere Island’s sheer cliffs were very dramatic to see.
Another view of Pitt Island would have been possible from a DOC reserve, Rangaika, on the south coast, accessible by a track leaving the road near Owhenga.
Above: Waitangi from Tikitiki Hill. Below: Huge sandhills at Henga Reserve.
Above: Akeake trees and the remains of cottages at Te Whakaru. Below left: Pitt, Mangere and Little Mangere Islands seen from Manukau Point.