Natural Landscape and Wildlife
The rugged Chatham Island landscape is a mosaic of volcanic peaks, remnants of primary forests, rolling pastoral farmland, lakes, sandy beaches and rocky shores. Formed from volcanic activity 65 million years ago the Chatham Islands endemic flora and fauna has evolved unqiue adaptations that make a visit to the islands a must for ornithologists, natural historians, photographers and artists.
Everywhere on this 100,000 hectare island you are never far from the Pacific Ocean and a coastline teeming with marine and bird life.
Visit volcanic outcrops, sand dunes, lagoons and peat bogs, and see for yourself the unique flora and fauna and enjoy the many wondrous walks.
Your guided tours will take you to sites of interest and can be located via the directory on this web page.
Exposures of Southern Volcanics can be seen in north west Chatham at Ohira Bay (Stoney Crossing), where specatacular columnar-jointed lave flows of olivine basalt are exposted to the coast, and at Waitaha Creek. These lava flows erupted on land 85-80 million years agao. The Basalt Columns are on private land so please ask your host to organise permission to visit.
It is a short walk from where you can park your vehicle to the seal colony. New Zealand fur seals (Arctocephalus forsteri) are in abundance here. The earlist commercial "fishery" at the Chatham Islands was for New Zealand fur seals, which were hunted for their valuable hides. Sealing lasted from around 1804 to 1844, by which time local populations were depleted and nearly to extinction. Attention then turned to whales. Other seal species are often sighted around the Chatham Islands such as Leopard seals, sea loins and elephant seals. Again the colony is on private property so please ask your host to organise permission to visit. Te Wakaru and Point Munning has many points of interest such as one of the oldest European cemeteries in New Zealand, remains of the Sunderland flying boat, German missionary site, the house sit of Archibald Shand, the first resident magistrate and these areas are also excellent for birdwatching such as Pitt Island shags and banded dotterels.
Birds form a large part of the Chatham Islands' identity and international profile. Moriori referred to themselves an manu (birds), and many of their tree carvings (rakau momori) show stylized human-bird forms. The Buff Weka was introduced from New Zealand in 1905 and hunting and eating this bird is an important part of Chatham Islands' culture. The rescue of the black robin for imminent extinction during 1976 -89 and the rediscovery of the Chatham Island taiko in 1978 made the Chatham Islands famous among birdwatchers and conservationists. These 2 species have assumed icon status, and have been featured proudly on souvenir clothing, postage stamps, local currency and even beer branding. The Chatham Island red-crowned parakeets occur on the 4 largest islands, but their stronghold is on Rangatira Island (southeast), Chatham Island Warbler is abundant on Rangatira and Mangere Islands and present on Pitt Island and southern Chatham. Chatham Island Tui are rarely seen on Chatham but are common on Pitt Island. Chatham Island tomtit are common on Ranagatira and have been absent from Chatham in the past 50 years, early 2011 approximately 40 juvenile have been transfered from Rangitira and Pitt. The Pyramid Island is the sole breeding site for the distinctive Chatham Island mollymawk. Parea (Chatham Island pigeon) population reached a low of about 40 in 1990 but is now estimated at over 200 and can be seen regulary in the North of Chathams as well as their home areas in the South. The Chatham Island oyster catcher population is now estimated to be more than 320 birds, these birds are very vunerable to predators such as feral cats. The Chatham Island Petrel population was declining towards distinction but are now recovering due to innovative management, chicks have been translocated to predator-fenced sites on Chatham and Pitt. Forbes parakeets are confined to Manage and Little Mangere Islands. A recovery programme for shore plover has restored the populations on Rangatira and Mangere. There is now over 1200 snipe on Rangatira, some on Mangere and they have been reported to be on Star Keys,Little Mangere and Rabbit Islands. There are approximately 18 endemic bird species on the Chatham Islands.
There are about 392 species, subspecies and varieties of flowering plant and fern that are considered indigenous to the Chatham Islands. A further 396 are regarded as naturalised (introducted and growing in the wild). The Chatham Islands has the highest number of endemic plants compared with other outlying islands of the New Zealand archipelago. Some 34 flowering plant species, subspecies, and varieties, and 1 fern are recognised as endemic to the islands, and at least a further 15 undescribed forms may also be endemic. Among the endemic are the two monotypic benera Embergeria (Chatham Island sow thistle) and Myosotidium (Chatham Islands for-get-me-not) there are other endemic plants that a becoming well known including the Keketerehe or Chatham Island tree-daisy, Chatham Island aster and Rautini or Chatham Island Christmas tree. To find out more about Chatham Islands flora please contact the local Conservation Office.