The Chatham Islands - a jewel in its own crown
Its been an incredible few days on the Chatham Islands and with 24 hours to go i thought i would offer some reflections. First of all the hospitality has been amazing. Instead of staying at the only large scale hotel operation we were booked into a homestay called the Black Robin. Just above the little township of Waitangi it has sweeping views over the bay and has been our base of operations. The host, Lynne, has been incredible. Just the person you want to stay with - chatting, inviting, local and just really nice. Her trusty companion (hope he doesnt mind me saying that) Alby has been our tour guide and shown us things only a local with immense whakapapa could. And dont for a moment believe the long range forecast of wet weather - the weekend has been incredible for this time of year. Then there are the characters we have met a along the way. Glenis Day and her daughter Kerry who tune the Waitangi Cafe are amongst them - but with a deep connection to the community and tireless workers (BTW the food there is awesome). Glenis also happens to be one of my relations who has been on the island, raised her whanau here for a few decades now. Yesterday we were invited to lunch and my goodness the spread was a dream come true. Local blue cod, crayfish, paua and weka. But more than that the korero was insightful of the challenges faced by all small communities such as boredom, alcohol, social issues but also opportunities. The sadness bought through the pain of loss and the aspirations of the young people who so often go to the mainland for school not to return. The wealth the fisheries industry brings but not always back to the locals, of empires and monopolies and the challenge of fixing an anchor to the future - the long term future of the island. No matter who i have spoken to the cost of living remains a massive issue that needs to be resolved. It is inconceivable that power bills per month to run a single household can sometimes be over $1000. On the mainland we would not accept the amplification of these costs - but again, that is the challenge of being so far from the mainland.
Then there is infrastructure - something that many struggle with and the Local Council tries so obviously hard to keep up with. It is, of course, the never ending challenge - interestingly i saw the old radio station and Chatham Islands TV that was once and could be again alongside the future - the internet. There is no stable internet connection on the island and many rely on satellite link ups. But, if the data allocation is gone then so does the internet. And then there is the diesel and petrol. As you can image the diesel cost is through the roof but also reliant on the ship coming in. There have been occasions when the diesel has come close to running dry which in turn means generators in homes are off. In winter I can tell you the stories of energy poverty are just as real on the Chathams as they are on the mainland – but they are amplified.
And yet, set across all of this is an incredible resilience. Everywhere you go it feels like home. The people are welcoming with hospitality through the roof. The kaimoana is as expected -the best in the world (I am now totally biased) and local Iwi have established an array of services from the kohanga to health and social services. If there is anything to come from my journey to the Chatham Islands its this – the people. They are amongst the most hospitable and inviting of any place or country I have been to – and at 114 countries i have travelled to over the years this has to be right up there at 115.