lesser known, no less remarkable (part 1)

New Zealand (Aotearoa), is mostly imagined as comprising two islands: the North (Te Ika-a-Māui), and the South (Te Waipounamu). And though I recently set foot on both, this post is about two of the country’s many other islands, Chatham (Rekohu, or Wharakauri), and Stewart (Rakiura).

Stewart Island is an hour by ferry south from The Bluff outside of the South Island's southernmost city, Invercargill, whereas Chatham Island is an hour east of the capital, Wellington, aboard a Convair 580; a plane older than me! Stewart Island is just over twice the size of Chatham, though at 400, its inhabitants number 300 fewer. Stewart Island has one township, Oban. Chatham Island is sparsely populated over five hamlets, the largest of which is Waitangi.

The highest elevation on the almost entirely forested Stewart Island is Mount Anglem (979m). The highest point on Chatham Island, which is almost entirely pastoral (peppered with sheep, cattle, wild boar, Monterey pine, and an occasional patch of intensively managed remnant vegetation), is Maungatere Hill (294m). Stewart Island has 24km of mostly sealed road whereas Chatham Island has 180km of mostly unsealed road. Like so many other island economies, theirs are largely driven by surrounding fisheries and increasingly, tourism. Each island has one pub.

Descendants of the islands’ indigenous people steadfastly maintain their presence. Much has been written about the near-total annihilation of Chatham Island’s Moriori (check here for an overview). Indeed, the island’s weathered austere landscapes remind me of the Midlands of Tasmania―another island with a genocidal history in relation to its indigenous population.

Earlier this month, I journeyed to both islands during still and mostly clear weather, which, I was assured by locals, was a rarity. And I don’t doubt them, since the islands lie within the 'roaring forties' (Chatham at 44°S; Stewart 47°S).

Regrettably, with limited time on both islands, my photographs offer only a glimpse of what’s in store for any would-be visitor. What I regret is not having the time to join a Chatham Island abalone (paua) fisher for a day, or helping kākāpō conservation efforts on one of Stewart Island’s offshore islands, Codfish. Or hiking the length of each island’s major bays; Petre on Chatham, and Mason on Stewart. I could've hitched a lift on a fishing boat to Pitt Island had I not waited in vain for repairs to Air Chatham’s Cesna.

In fact, if I'd known in advance just how much there is to see and experience on these ‘lesser’ New Zealand islands, I’d have spent more than a week on each. I hope that the images below (and in my follow-up post) whet the appetites of fellow travellers. I imagine that at some point I’ll return to both islands to experience more!