On foot on Chatham Is­land

Walking New Zealand - - New Zealand Walks -

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.

Day Three

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.

Day Four

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.

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