New Zealand Walks: On foot on Chatham Is­land

Walking New Zealand - - Contents - By Alex and Jenny Davies

With some de­lay, our trusty vet­eran Con­vair 580 plane landed at Tu­uta Air­port after a flight of 774 km south­east from Welling­ton to the lat­i­tude of Ti­maru.

We were here for a week on Chatham Is­land, by far the largest of the ten or so islands of Rēkohu, the Misty Sun of the indige­nous Mo­ri­ori peo­ple.

Our ac­com­mo­da­tion pro­vided a rental car that took us to the ends of all the roads, and to the start of tracks into the DOC na­ture re­serves. Free­dom to ex­plore off the roads and out­side the re­serves was lim­ited, but with lo­cal help we were able to get per­mis­sion to ac­cess enough pri­vate prop­erty to make the trip worth­while.

Day One

Gloomy skies and show­ers con­firmed the im­pres­sion made by the usual pre­dic­tion for the Chatham Islands at the end of the weather fore­cast on the ra­dio.

We parked our rental car in the small

Above: Maun­ganui and the stone cot­tage. Mid­dle right: Parea, the Chatham Is­land pi­geon Be­low left: Chatham shags at Manukau Point. Be­low right: Chatham Is­land aster at Lake Ran­gi­tai. com­mu­nity of Wai­tangi and fol­lowed the road wind­ing above the cliffs, past a few houses sur­rounded by the para­pher­na­lia usual for peo­ple linked to the sea and fish­ing.

At the end of the road, a short track climbed Tik­i­tiki Hill for an over­view of the Wai­tangi wharf, now in the fi­nal stages of a mas­sive project for an all­weather port for the is­land. We also looked back to the shel­tered bay with the fish fac­tory and ho­tel on the beach and a scat­ter of other build­ings on the low cliff beyond.

Later in the evening, a blaze of colour of the setting sun raised our hopes of good weather for the next few days. And so it was to be.

Day Two

The road to the north coast fol­lows the nar­row strip of peat land be­tween the ocean to the west and Owhanga La­goon to the east, lead­ing to­wards the vol­canic cones at Wharekauri. It then turns east on to sand dunes be­tween the la­goon and the north coast.

Here, there was the op­por­tu­nity for two walks in the Ocean Mail Scenic Re­serve, to see some of the many small fresh­wa­ter lakes on the is­land. They are sur­rounded by wet­lands where, as ex­plained by DOC’s very in­for­ma­tive signs, the plants are vari­ants of species back on the main­land.

The sec­ond walk of 8km took us on a loop to the shores of the largest of the

fresh­wa­ter lakes, Ran­gi­tai. We were lucky to see the Chatham Is­land aster in flower, smaller but with much more spec­tac­u­lar flow­ers than the daisy trees usual on the main­land. This made up for not dis­cov­er­ing the more fa­mous Chatham Is­land for­get-me-not in the wild.

After a snack on a small hill over­look­ing the lakeshore, we headed back to the road. This re­serve was bought by DOC in 1990, fol­low­ing sev­eral in­tinia­tives around the is­land to en­able bush rem­nants to re­cover from dev­as­ta­tion by live­stock.

Driv­ing fur­ther east, we stopped at Kain­garoa Har­bour on the ex­posed north coast. It is a curv­ing sandy bay pro­tected by a reef.

It was here that the first en­counter of Mo­ri­ori with Euro­peans took place. In Novem­ber 1791 the crew of the brig Chatham, head­ing for Tahiti but pushed off course in a storm, were sur­prised to find land. Cau­tiously nav­i­gat­ing the reef, they made land­fall. This first Mo­ri­ori con­tact with Euro­peans ended trag­i­cally.

Then, to what had been a peace­ful set­tle­ment, came the the in­va­sion of seal- ers and whalers, vi­o­lence and law­less­ness, and nu­mer­ous ship­wrecks. To­day, Kain­garoa is a fish­ing port and a small set­tle­ment with a school.

Beyond, at the end of the road, we en­tered pri­vate prop­erty and sought per­mis­sion to con­tinue on to Cape Mun­ning. We were in­vited to in­spect a re­mark­able piece of more re­cent his­tory, all the more in­trigu­ing be­cause its lo­ca­tion.

Care­fully pre­served in a large shed is the fuse­lage of a Sun­der­land fly­ing boat, which crashed tak­ing off from Owhanga La­goon in 1959.

We con­tin­ued to drive along the crest of the penin­sula to­ward the most eastern point on the main is­land. A sign di­rected us to a walk to where a few sheep were graz­ing near the south­ern shore­line. Only mounds of rocks re­main of houses built at Te Whakaru from 1843 by five Ger­man mis­sion­ar­ies.

They soon moved on; then whalers and their wives lived here.

By 1855 this lo­cal­ity was oc­cu­pied by the first res­i­dent magistrate who en­larged the cot­tages to ac­com­mo­date his fam­ily of 14.

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