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Browse the 1966 Encyclopaedia of New Zealand
Graphic: An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand 1966.


This information was published in 1966 in An Encyclopaedia of New Zealand, edited by A. H. McLintock. It has not been corrected and will not be updated.

Up-to-date information can be found elsewhere in Te Ara.



Climate and Population

The Chatham Island climate may be described as “windy, damp, and cool”, with the mean annual air temperature around 51.6°F (July average, 45.4°F and January average 57.6°F). Mean annual rainfall ranges between 20–40 in. over most of the area with 50 in. in the higher south-west. Skies are often overcast, humidity is high, and the winds blow mainly from the south-west. Dry spells, however, are fairly common and may last throughout a month. The cool moist climate and peaty soils supported a thick cover of indigenous forest (with Dracophyllum dominant), but much of this has been destroyed by fire and grazing livestock. Only the forest on the southern half of the island is now dominated by Dracophyllum. The karaka (known locally as the kopi) was formerly widespread, and is now found in small patches, in which it is the dominant species.

Most of the present population lives in or about Owenga and Waitangi and along the narrow strip of lowland that encloses the western side of the Te Whanga Lagoon. The three schools are sited at Owenga, Te One, and Te Kairakau. About 90 sheep farms, large and small, are scattered over Chatham Island, with one or two on Pitt Island, and these are the main support of the people. A small fishing industry has been based on Owenga and on Kaingaroa in the north-east.

by George Jobberns, C.B.E., M.A., D.SC., Emeritus Professor of Geography, University of Canterbury.

  • Trans. N.Z. Inst., vol. 59 (1929), “Chatham Islands – the physical features and structure”, Allan, R. S.
  • N.Z. Geographer, vol. 12 (1956), “Chatham Island – a study in arrested development”, Elliott, Eileen, L
  • N.Z. Geographer, vol. 6 (1950), “The Chatham Islands”, Falla, R. A.
  • N.Z. Soil Bureau Bulletin 19 (1959), “Soils of Chatham Island (Rekohu)”, Wright, A. C. S.