Skip to content
Get early access to all the good stuff!
Join the club

Chatham Islands - fascinating wildlife and outstanding scenery

Chatham Islands
North Island
Jason Granville
Jason Granville
Tour Guide
March 2, 2023
minute read

Be restored by remarkable wildlife and scenery in the 'land of misty skies'

The Chatham Islands are renowned for their unique wildlife and spectacular rugged coastlines. With no cellphone coverage on the islands, these beautiful, remote islands offer the perfect destination to trade the day-to-day hustle and bustle for close encounters with its incredible birdlife, delicious seafood, and fascinating history in a serene and friendly environment. 

Named ‘Rekohu’ (‘misty skies’ or ‘misty sun’) by the Moriori people, who first inhabited these islands over 800 years ago. Descendants of Moriori live on the islands today, and visiting Kopinga Marae at Te Awatea provides excellent insight into their peaceful culture. With its unique albatross design, the marae is an inspiring place of wānanga (meeting together to learn) to revive and grow the Moriori culture and host local community events. In 1835, European sealers and whalers arrived, followed by Māori from the New Zealand mainland. These three cultures have been woven together and shaped by the island’s environment and lifestyle to create today’s “Chatham’s” culture.

Take time to explore the impressive basalt columns at Ohira Bay. Once mined to make Moriori tools, these columnar-jointed pentagon structures formed in a volcanic eruption 80 million years ago, resulting from how the lava cooled. Other amazing geological features include the unique pillow lava formation known as Splatter Rock (or Taniwha Rock) and the incredible ‘Mars’ outlook at Waihere Bay on Pitt Island, comprised of 65 million-year-old Red Bluff Tuff rock.

Basalt columns

In addition to Pitt Island’s unusual rock formations, take the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to be the first in the world to see the sunrise from the ancient volcano, Mt Hakepa. Then, visit Glory Cottage at Glory Bay, one of Chatham's most historic buildings named after ‘Brig Glory’, the earliest shipwreck in 1827. Home to 21 native bird species and 52 plant species and surrounded by clear, unspoilt waters teaming with marine life, Pitt Island offers stunning scenery at every turn.

The Hāpūpū Historic Reserve is one of only two National Historic Reserves in New Zealand, the other being the Waitangi Treaty grounds. Carved into the bark of kopi (karaka) trees of this reserve is the unique rakau momori (Moriori memorial tree impressions). They are highly significant and rare evidence of pre-contact Moriori culture.

Another place of archeological significance is Nunuku’s cave - famous for its Moriori rock carvings of seals and birds. Found on the western part of the Te Whanga Lagoon, the largest waterbody on Chatham Island, this area is highly valued for its food gathering and cultural significance. You may be lucky to discover a 30 million-year-old fossilised shark tooth in the shallows along its shoreline. The teeth from prehistoric megalodon found here are 10 centimetres long! You can also find most of the island’s no less than 43 shipwrecks on the western side of the Lagoon. Port Hutt- HMNZS Thomas Currell is the most iconic wreck, serving the Royal NZ Navy from 1939 to 1945 and throughout World War II.

Be prepared for “four seasons in one day", no matter what time of year you visit. Geographically isolated for millions of years, the unique flora and fauna of the Chatham Islands draw people the world over. Home to many endemic species, including 20% of NZ’s threatened bird species, including the critically endangered Chatham Island Magenta Petrel, Black Robin and Royal Albatross. Visit Taiko Camp, Taiko Trust Base and GAP Sanctuary and work to protect some of our rarest seabirds and plant species. 

Outstanding views and walks

Numerous fur seal colonies are easily accessible along the shore, such as the remote Conservation Covenant site of Point Munning, and keep an eye out for passing dolphins and orcas. In September-October, see the blue blooms of Chatham Island forget-me-not at Kaingaroa Port or Henga Scenic Reserve. In December, Rautini or the Chatham Islands Christmas tree presents a bright yellow floral display. 

The ocean will be your constant friend wherever you find yourself in this wild landscape. Relax on pristine, sweeping white sandy beaches and enjoy the bounties. These waters are famous for crayfish, blue cod, kina, paua and hapuka. The Chatham Islands' combination of exceptional wildlife and scenery, warm hospitality and remoteness guarantee to leave you restored and completely blown away by its beauty.