Kōrero: Chatham Islands

For 400 years Moriori lived on the Chatham Islands without contact with other peoples. They developed their own way of life, including the outlawing of war. This was disrupted by the arrival of European sealers and whalers, and by invading Māori in 1835. Many Chatham Islanders are descendants of these ethnic groups. The islands’ rugged landscape and unique plants and animals attract tourists.

He kōrero nā Rhys Richards
Te āhua nui: Moriori tree carvings

He korero whakarapopoto

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

The Chatham Islands are east of New Zealand – 862 kilometres from Christchurch and 772 kilometres from Napier. They are 45 minutes ahead of New Zealand time.

The island group includes many small islands, but only the two main ones are inhabited: Chatham Island, also called Rēkohu or Wharekauri, and Pitt Island, also known as Rangihaute or Rangiāuria.


The Chatham Islands are connected to mainland New Zealand by the underwater Chatham Rise. The islands’ rock is both volcanic and sedimentary. The soil of the main island is mostly peat.


The Chatham Islands have no large trees. The vegetation has changed extensively since the arrival of European settlers.

Birds and animals

The sea around the Chatham Islands is rich in fish. There are huge flocks of seabirds on the islands. Native birds on the islands include some rare and endangered species – the tāiko (magenta petrel), the black robin and the huge parea (Chatham Island pigeon).


The people who became the Moriori arrived on the islands from Eastern Polynesia and New Zealand around 1400 CE. They had no contact with other people for 400 years, and developed their own distinct culture. They were hunter-gatherers with strong religious beliefs, and outlawed war and killing.

In 1791 an English ship, the Chatham, was blown off course and found the main island. Later European sealers, settlers and whalers arrived.

In 1835 two Māori groups, Ngāti Tama and Ngāti Mutunga, invaded the Chatham Islands. They had left northern Taranaki due to warfare, and were seeking somewhere else to live. Moriori greeted them, but the Māori killed more than 200 Moriori and enslaved the rest.

Māori grew vegetables and traded with the Europeans. By 1870 most of the Māori had returned to Taranaki. Some of the whalers stayed on the islands and there was intermarriage between the different ethnic groups.


Sheep farming has been carried out on the island since 1842, but by the 21st century it was not profitable. A wharf was built at Waitangi in the 1930s, and roads were built in the 1940s. A flying-boat service operated between 1940 and 1966, when it was replaced by conventional aircraft.

In the early 1960s the government considered encouraging people to move from the islands to the New Zealand mainland. Then there was a crayfish boom which lasted until the 1970s.

The Chatham Islands Enterprise Trust, set up in 1991, manages the islands’ wharf, airfield and other assets.

In the 2010s fishing was still a major economic activity, along with tourism.

Chatham Islands places

Waitangi is the main settlement on the Chatham Islands. It has a wharf, hospital, post office, shops, police station and accommodation. Nearby Te One has the main primary school, an Anglican church and the Department of Conservation headquarters.

Fossils have been found on the north-west peninsula. Kāingaroa is on the north-east of Chatham Island. Ngāti Tama were based there between 1835 and 1868.

Te Whanga Lagoon is more than twice the size of Wellington Harbour. It was once a bay, but the entrance has been enclosed by sand dunes.

Manukau Point, in the south-east, is an important centre for Moriori. Ōwenga was probably the first place settled on the main island. Launches go from there to Pitt Island (Rangihaute or Rangiāuria).

There are several other small islands, all of which are uninhabited nature reserves.

Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Rhys Richards, 'Chatham Islands', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/chatham-islands (accessed 26 July 2024)

He kōrero nā Rhys Richards, i tāngia i te 12 o Hepetema 2012, updated 1 o Mei 2015