Natural Landscape and Wildlife
The rugged Chatham Island landscape is a mosaic of volcanic peaks, remnants of lowland forests, rolling pastoral farmland, lakes, sandy beaches and rocky shores. Formed from volcanic activity a mere 65 million years ago the Chatham Islands endemic flora and fauna has evolved with unique adaptations that make a visit to the islands a must for ornithologists, natural historians, photographers and artists.
Everywhere on these 100,000 hectares of thriving ecosystems and biomes atop sand and peat covered rocky outcrops, halfway to the Antarctic circle, you are never far from the Pacific Ocean and a coastline teeming with marine and bird life.
You can visit many of the volcanic outcrops and cones, sand dunes, lagoons and peat bogs, and see for yourself the unique flora and fauna and enjoy the many wondrous walks. See some of the world’s rarest plants, or endangered species of plant and insects, many of which are endemic to these islands.
Check in with your accommodation provider for access to sites, tours, and locations on private land.
Exposures of Southern Volcanics can be seen in north west Chatham at Ohira Bay (Stoney Crossing), where spectacular columnar-jointed lava flows of basalt are exposed 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.
Please Note: The seal colony is on private property, so please ask your host to organise permission for you 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 earliest commercial “fishery” at the Chatham Islands was for New Zealand fur seals, which were hunted for their valuable hides.
The sealing industry at the Chathams lasted from about 1804 through to 1844. By then, the destruction of the local seal populations had them on the edge of extinction. Attention then turned to whales.
These days, other seal species, such as Leopard Seals, Sea Lions and Elephant Seals are often sighted around the Chatham Islands.
There are many other sites of interest at Te Wakaru and Point Munning, such as one of the oldest European cemeteries in New Zealand, an active restoration of a Sunderland flying boat, the German missionary site, the house site of Archibald Shand (the first resident magistrate) and of course, these areas are also excellent for birdwatching with the presence of species such as the Pitt Island shag and banded dotterels.
Birds form a large part of the Chatham Islands’ identity and international profile. Moriori referred to themselves as 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 from the brink of extinction during 1976 -89 and the rediscovery of the Chatham Island taiko in 1978 has 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 occurs on the 4 largest islands, but their stronghold is on Rangatira Island (Southeast Island).
The Chatham Island Warbler is abundant on Rangatira and Mangere Islands and present on Pitt Island and Southern Chatham Island.
Chatham Island Tui are rarely seen on Chatham but are common on Pitt Island.
Chatham Island Tomtit are common on Rangatira, but had been absent from Chatham for the past 50 years. In early 2011 approximately 40 juvenile were transfered from Rangitira and Pitt.
The Pyramid (island) is the sole breeding site for the distinctive Chatham Island mollymawk.
The 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 vulnerable to predators, such as feral cats, O’possum and predatory birds like the Skua and Hawk.
The Chatham Island Petrel population was heading steadily towards extinction, but are now recovering thanks to some innovative management. Petrel chicks have been translocated to predator-fenced sites on Chatham and Pitt Islands.
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 over 1200 snipe on Rangatira, some on Mangere and they have been reported to be on the Star Keys, Little Mangere and Rabbit Island.
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 (introduced 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 plants are the two monotypic benera; Embergeria (Chatham Island sow thistle) and Myosotidium (Chatham Islands for-get-me-not)
There are other endemic plants that are also becoming more widely 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.