Plus
You are not permitted to download, save or email this image. Visit image gallery to purchase the image.

The Pyramid, home of the Chatham albatrosses. Photo: Neville Peat

The Pyramid, home of the Chatham albatrosses. Photo: Neville Peat

In an extract from the Chatham Islands chapter of Home Is An Island, Neville Peat describes its special place in the New Zealand archipelago.
A capricious kink in the International Date Line, at longitude 180 degrees west, is all it takes to turn yesterday into today.
Unmodified, the date line would ordinarily place mainland Aotearoa New Zealand at the start of a new day and the Chatham Islands in the previous day. You cross this north–south meridian about 200 kilometres west of Waitangi, however, in the interests of national unity and convenience, the invisible line was arbitrarily shunted eastwards to take in the Chathams in the south and Tonga, Sāmoa and Tokelau in the north. The upshot of this: Chatham Islands is 45 minutes ahead of the New Zealand clock (formalised by New Zealand law in 1957). By this mapping marvel, the Chathams welcomes sunrise on the same day as the New Zealand mainland, a promotion that suits the island people just fine.

Special bird: Parea, the Chatham Island pigeon, is larger than its close relative on the mainland...

Special bird: Parea, the Chatham Island pigeon, is larger than its close relative on the mainland. Photo: Neville Peat

Not that a meridian remapping does anything to enhance the climate. It can be summarised as cool-temperate (highest recorded temperature 23.8 degrees Celsius), persistent westerly winds and plenty of rain, often delivered as light and drizzly. Snow is rare. The setting is oceanic, of course, but it’s a special kind of oceanic. The Chathams group, 10 islands spread across a radius of 40 kilometres, sits more or less within a major ocean boundary known as the subtropical convergence, a meeting place for warm-water masses from the subtropical north and cooler subantarctic water. Typically, such a convergence generates upwellings of nutrient-rich water creating heightened productivity in the marine food-web. A supermarket of the sea. It also gives rise to skeins of mist along its length, inspiring the earliest indigenous name for the main island, Rēkohu, Misty Sky or Misty Sun.
Rēkohu and its outliers are perched near the end of a huge submerged peninsula, the Chatham Rise, which extends evenly due east from the North Canterbury coast for almost 1000 kilometres. It has been described as one of the world’s richest fisheries. When New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) was designated in 1978, the Chathams boosted its eastward extent, encompassing, by international decree, all the sea in a radius of 200 nautical miles (370 kilometres) of the coastline, to become the fourth-largest marine realm in the world. The Chathams group, with around 600 residents, is the only such island in the New Zealand archipelago possessing a permanent population. Its location so far out to sea (Napier is the closest mainland port, 780 kilometres from Waitangi) underlines the geopolitical strategic importance of all outlying islands. Their contribution to the nation’s marine assets is way out of proportion to their size.

The author using a sextant on a fishing-boat voyage from Port Chalmers to the Chatham Islands in...

The author using a sextant on a fishing-boat voyage from Port Chalmers to the Chatham Islands in 1974. Photo: Nick Dryden

The advent of the EEZ prompted investigation of new fisheries and minerals potential on the Chatham Rise. Within a year, orange roughy became the new find — a deep-water species of finfish that aggregates at depths over 750 metres. Local and distant-water fleets pounced on it along the northern side of the Chatham Rise; it took over 10 years for sobering scientific truths to emerge: that orange roughy is a long-lived species, slow to start breeding (around 20 years of age), thus vulnerable to mass extraction. Initial catch limits had been set far too high, a classic boom-bust scenario and another example of unsustainable fishing. Chatham Islanders had reason to feel aggrieved, yet again.
The northern half of Chatham is a gentle landscape of extensive peat fields, dotted with low hills. It smacks of a place not-long emerged from the sea, which in fact is the case, uplifted from the sea just three million years ago. The southern half is hillier, with more intact native forest, and the south coast signposts the island’s volcanic history in the form of continuous basalt cliffs for 20 kilometres. To the south-east, 17 kilometres away, is Pitt Island, the only other permanent settlement. It is surrounded by islets and stacks, some of which are nature reserves and rare-bird sanctuaries.
In 1791, the first Europeans called in to Kaingaroa aboard the brig HMS Chatham, an expedition ship named for the Earl of Chatham, whose real name was John Pitt, First Lord of the Admiralty. Chatham’s commander, Lieutenant William Broughton, promptly gifted the name to the land as if it were just newly discovered by humans. On the contrary, people had lived here for some 500 years, the Moriori people, discoverers of Rēkohu, hunter-gatherers who had become isolated from mainland Māori for so long they’d developed customs and a dialect distinct from the tribes of Aotearoa, including a practice of peaceful coexistence, their population estimated to be approximately 2000 at the end of the eighteenth century.

Whānga Lagoon on Chatham Island in 1974. Photo: Neville Peat

Whānga Lagoon on Chatham Island in 1974. Photo: Neville Peat

The pale-faced strangers came ashore in 1791 and were met by a proud people, some in sealskin dress with feathers in their hair or topknots, who pointed at the sun seemingly posing the question, are these strangers Sun People? Then some of the Moriori bearing spears and clubs challenged the landing party at the beach. Meant as just a warning, a musket was fired but, to Broughton’s dismay, it struck a local man, killing him. His name was Tamakaroro. Subsequent encounters were more amicable, and gifts were presented; Broughton wrote: ‘‘They seem a cheerful race’’. In a brief ceremony on the beach, Broughton proclaimed the island for his monarch, King George III, and had his men unfurl the Union flag.
Neville Peat will give an author talk about his new book Home Is An Island at the Dunedin City Library, fourth floor, on Thursday, November 24 at 5.30pm.
SUBSCRIBER
SUBSCRIBER
SUBSCRIBER
SUBSCRIBER
SUBSCRIBER
SUBSCRIBER
SUBSCRIBER

source

Shop Sephari