Wednesday, 23 December 2009


Several generations on my father's side of the family are from the Chatham Islands (Wharekauri). My father is one of seven siblings, and his mother was one of twelve, all of whom were born and bred on the Chathams. You don't need to do the maths to realise that this makes for a very big family. This year, about 40 of my cousins, aunties, uncles, and immediate family flew in to the Chathams from various locations around New Zealand, as well as Sydney, London, and Canada, to celebrate a whanau reunion at Christmas. It was one of the rare occasions when all 18 of my first cousins were together, apart from at my grandparents' funerals in 1998 and 2001.

Having very limited internet access on the island has meant that I've prepared this series of blog posts offline and will progressively post them during the next week. Hopefully they will give you a glimpse into a whole new lifestyle, where everyday goings-on are both laid back and unorthodox, yet they are a part of who our family are. We took a few hundred photos, some of which I will share here, but the majority which I will keep offline as personal memories.

The Chatham Islands are a group of 10 islands approximately 800km east of Christchurch. The aging Air Chathams planes fly daily to either Wellington, Auckland, Christchurch, or Napier. Our flight from Wellington to Chatham Island took 1 hour 45 minutes, an average flight time between the two airports. Of the 18 passengers on board, 16 were directly related to us and our whanau reunion. As with everything on the Chathams, many aspects of the flight were unorthodox, including one of my cousins having to retrieve her stray netball from the runway before departure. We were also preparing for my brother's wedding while we were away, and our carry-on luggage included a wedding cake, wedding bouquet, and my sister-in-law's wedding dress. Just before takeoff, the air hostess grabbed her camera, excited to see a wedding dressing hanging up in the cargo hold before! Check out how small the runway on Chatham Island is - luckily the pilot knows where to look!

We stopped off at the urupa (cemetery) to visit our grandparents' grave on the way from the airport to the marae where everybody was staying. The last time I had visited the island, along with most of my extended whanau, was for the unveiling of their headstone in April 2003. The perimeter of their double grave is inlaid with beautiful paua shell fragments and it was lovely to spend a few moments there with everybody. Oh, we also had some curious onlookers observing us from the adjacent farm:

Chatham Island is small, with nothing more than an hour or two's drive away. Waitangi is referred to as town; it takes all of a minute to look around. However, it houses all of the essentials. My sweetie found this sign really funny: where else would you see a bottle store, Catholic church and hospital all given equal billing? Our panoramic photos of the bay and wharf didn't quite stitch together correctly. I'll see what we can do with them in Photoshop.

Our first night on the island saw us cooking dinner for about 25 people. One of my cousins had been out catching crayfish in the morning and we enjoyed the first of many fresh seafood feasts, accompanied by my aunt's famous Chatham Island doughnuts. Here is a small sample of our dinner. The crays in the bucket are draining after being boiled in a big pot on an outdoor gas ring, and the second picture shows one being cut open, ready for eating.

Day One drew to a close, having seen the arrival of 16 of us from Wellington and anticipating the influx of 16 more from Auckland the next day. It was exciting to be back at my family's homeland, and also to introduce my sweetie to Wharekauri, but I was under no illusion that this was going to be a relaxing holiday.

1 comment:

Sab said...

Sounds incredible! WOw, what a trip!