Island life

Nicole Whaitiri, of Moriori descent, admires a Moriori tree carving in a Chatham Islands forest

Nicole Whaitiri, of Moriori descent, admires a Moriori tree carving in a Chatham Islands forest (click for image credit)

Over a period of almost 10 years we’ve documented New Zealand’s places from top to bottom, and last week we published our coverage of four remote places – New Zealand’s offshore islands (including Stewart Island/Rakiura, which is not so far off shore).

The very notion of an island evokes romantic visions – as Places theme editor Malcolm McKinnon remarked when launching this group of stories, these places ‘conjure up all the images and fantasies associated with desert islands, treasure islands or made-up islands’. And yet images of white sands, turquoise waters and piña coladas on the beach are somewhat off target when it comes to the subantarctic islands, which sit in the roaring forties and furious fifties and are prone to vicious, howling storms – or the Chatham Islands, with their peat bogs and cloudy weather.

Yet the histories of all these places bear witness to humans’ dreams of island life. The human history of the subantarctic islands is largely one of thwarted dreams – a fascinating tale of Polynesian seafarers, European sealers, castaways, shiploads of British settlers (who built a settlement on Auckland Island, but lasted less than three years), wartime coast-watchers, meteorologists and hopeful but unsuccessful farmers. The only group who managed to stick it out longer than five years were Māori and Moriori from the Chatham Islands. The subantarctics remain home to massive numbers of seabirds, seals and sea lions, as well as colourful and eye-catching megaherbs.

Humans have had more success on the Chatham Islands, continuously occupied by Moriori from the 1400s. These peaceable people were devastated after the arrival of Māori in the 1830s, but today are seeing a resurgence of their culture, with Kōpinga marae opening in 2005. The Chathams are the size of greater Auckland, but with a population of just 660.

Stewart Island, the country’s third main island, was named Rakiura by Māori for its glowing skies, and is just an hour by ferry from Bluff. Famous for its tītī (muttonbird) harvest, it’s a mecca for trampers, with Rakiura National Park covering about 85% of the island.

The volcanic Kermadec Islands, at the northernmost reaches of New Zealand’s territory, have a mild subtropical climate – and a captivating (if intermittent) human history. Polynesian visitors came from the 1300s; European whalers plundered the waters; the Bell family farmed Raoul Island from 1878; and Germans used the Kermadecs as a hideout during the First World War. Today the islands are a nature reserve where the only human residents are Department of Conservation staff – but the avian population is booming.

We hope you enjoy the stories of these remote and remarkable places as much as we enjoyed working on them.

2 comments have been added so far

  1. Comment made by Anonafulify || September 18th, 2012

    Imagine being the 200 British settlers in Hardwick – looks like they stayed for just 2 years. Well done Te Ara writers and editors!

  2. Comment made by Caren Wilton || September 18th, 2012

    Yes, the Hardwicke story is remarkable – 200 people came out from Britain to settle on Auckland Island, under the mistaken impression that there was pasture for them to farm and that they could make a success of whaling too. Alas it was not to be… the ‘pasture’ was swamp and scrub, and the whaling didn’t work out either. In the end they stayed about two years and eight months before packing up and heading for Sydney. One of those ‘thwarted dreams’ stories!

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