New Zealand Walks: On foot on Chatham Island
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.
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.
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.