Nature and wildlife in the Chatham Islands

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The Chatham Islands offer the chance to re-engage with the natural world.

Eight hundred kilometres east of the South Island, the Chatham Islands are part a vast submerged continent known as Zealandia. Around three million years ago, these remote islands were uplifted from the ocean floor. They brought to the surface a fascinating geology of ancient continental rocks, limestone and undersea volcanoes.

A well-stocked ocean

With nothing but ocean at every point of the compass, the Chatham Islands are rightly famous for fresh seafood and fascinating marine life. Daily catches of cod, groper, crayfish (lobster) and shellfish take pride of place on local menus. The resident fur seal colonies are easy to visit and passing dolphins and orca can sometimes be seen from the shore.

Treasure hunting in the lagoon

On the shores of beautiful Te Whanga lagoon, near Blind Jim's Creek, careful fossicking is likely to be rewarded by the discovery of fossilised shark teeth. Around 30 million years old, these teeth are a treasure of the island. Some, from the jaws of prehistoric megaladon, are around 10 centimetres long.

Beaches, birdlife and unique flowering plants

Geographically isolated for millions of years, the Chathams have witnessed the evolution of unique bird and plant species. The Chatham Island black robin is a great conservation success story. Less well-known however are the very rare taiko and shore plover, as well as several endemic species. An outer island albatross colony can be viewed by boat.

The delightful Chatham Island forget-me-not (Myosotidium hortensia) features large blue flower heads that emerge each spring from the glossy dark green leaves. A forest walk near Te Whanga lagoon leads to stands of flowering nikau palms and glades of broadleaf native forest.

Real weather

While the ocean's influence prevents extreme temperatures, it does bring a passing parade of different types of weather to the islands. In winter, rain wear and thermals will keep you cosy while you're exploring outdoors. For spring and autumn, you'll need lighter clothing - but bring the wet weather gear and thermals just in case! In summer, definitely pack your swimming gear.

In wild weather and calm, roaming the island on foot is a great way to relax and shake off the stresses of modern life. Along with the fascinating cloud patterns and seascapes, there’s a special quality to the light in the Chathams which suggests you’ve found one of the rarest places on Earth.

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