Kōrero: Chatham Islands

Whārangi 5. Since the 1980s

Ngā whakaahua me ngā rauemi katoa o tēnei kōrero

New economic policies in the 1980s had a big impact on the Chathams. The New Zealand government became more sceptical about subsidising economic activity. It also engaged in dialogue with the indigenous population – Māori and Moriori – about grievances dating from the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi (1840).

Chatham Islands Enterprise Trust

The Chatham Islands Enterprise Trust was established in December 1991. The New Zealand government contributed $8 million, together with public assets: wharf facilities, an airfield, the defunct freezing-works buildings and the electricity generating plant. The trust took responsibility for electricity generation, ports and airfield.

The leasing of the annual catch entitlement and investment in forestry became two additional areas of activity for the trust. The trust’s total assets exceeded $46 million in 2014, but it faced challenges in earning enough income to maintain its assets, particularly the wharf and the airport.


A quota system for fisheries was introduced in 1986. Chatham Islanders were unprepared and much of the quota that related to Chatham Island waters was bought up by others. A settlement of fishing quota, which in 2012 was worth some $12 million annually, was made to the Enterprise Trust by the government in the 1990s after an investigation by the ombudsman.

Live crayfish air freight exports, mostly to Asian markets, have thrived in the 2000s. Regulation continued towards achieving a sustainable crayfish yield.


After 2000 returns from sheep farming fell and remained vulnerable to fluctuations in wool prices, and to high farming and transport costs. An attempt to beat high transport costs by establishing a meat works failed.

In the early 2000s the shipping of young cattle to New Zealand shifted many farmers away from a reliance on sheep. Many farmers gained extra income by fishing or in some other way. Farm and animal management lagged behind standard practices elsewhere in New Zealand.

People and government

The Waitangi Tribunal investigated Moriori and Māori grievances in respect to the Chathams and released its report – WAI 264 – in 2004. The Crown recognised Moriori as well as Māori and stated that it would not settle any claims until both could be settled.

A Moriori marae complex, Kōpinga, was opened in January 2005 at a ceremony attended by Prime Minister Helen Clark, Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu (the Māori queen) and other dignitaries.

The Chatham Island Council is the local authority for the Chatham Islands. The islands were formerly part of the Lyttelton general electorate, but in the 1980s they became part of Wellington’s Rongotai electorate. The islands are also part of Te Tai Tonga Māori electorate.

The Chatham Islands health centre at Waitangi, managed by the Hawke’s Bay district health board, provides medical services.

There are primary schools at Te One, Kāingaroa and Pitt Island. The latter two both had fewer than 10 pupils in 2015, while Te One was much bigger.

Frequent fryers?

Up to 44 passengers can be carried in the Convair 580, but usually there is a major cargo component of live crayfish and processed fish that may limit available seating.

Transport and communication

In the 2010s shipping services operated between the islands and the ports of Napier and Timaru. Air Chathams, established in 1984, operated flights between the islands and Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland. It used Convair 580s for these services. There were also special charters and additional unscheduled flights.

Tourism and conservation

In the early 2000s Waitangi had a hotel and several motels that were a good base for tourists, though to gain the most from a visit the use of local guides and transport was essential. Eco-tourism, focusing on the island’s unique landscape, birds and plants, was popular.

Past, present, future

Chatham Islander Alfred ‘Bunty’ Preece said of living on the island: ‘For the past 200 years, though, the story has been one of plunder. First there was wholesale exploitation of whales and seals ... the landscape of our islands is beautiful but now barren. More recently we have had the plunder of crayfish and blue cod, pāua and other shellfish ... we took fish, we never planted trees. Now we are anxious about what we will leave our grandchildren.1

The New Zealand Department of Conservation maintained a well-resourced office at Te One.

In 1996, 440 hectares of private land were protected by conservation covenants; in 2008 that had grown to more than 3,000 hectares.

The black robin and the tāiko (magenta petrel) were both brought back from the brink of extinction through the major efforts of volunteers and officials alike. A sole tāiko breeding site is behind a predator-free fence on a ‘land-island’ known as the Sweetwater reserve.

Other critically endangered species, including the black robin, survive in tightly managed reserves on South East Island (Rangatira) and Māngere Island. Albatrosses that breed on other off-shore islands are also accorded special protected status.

Kupu tāpiri
  1. Quoted in Colin Miskelly, ed, Chatham Islands: heritage and conservation. Rev. ed. Christchurch: Canterbury University Press in association with the Department of Conservation, 2008, p. 12. Back
Me pēnei te tohu i te whārangi:

Rhys Richards, 'Chatham Islands - Since the 1980s', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, http://www.TeAra.govt.nz/mi/chatham-islands/page-5 (accessed 6 December 2019)

He kōrero nā Rhys Richards, i tāngia i te 12 Sep 2012, updated 4 May 2015