A sign at the airport at the Chatham Islands says, "Maximum parking one month", which sort of sums up the place. You almost need a month, such is the hospitality.

As one of our eight-strong group commented when he awoke to look out over a sea shimmering like molten silver in the early morning sunlight blazing in through the bedroom window: "I think I am in heaven." A big call when you usually wake every morning to look out over Lake Tarawera.

The Chathams is a place which draws you back.

The first day is spent driving around the main island, casually lifting a finger from the steering wheel in "the Chathams wave" at every passing vehicle. They all do the same. It is like going back in time, to a time when roads were all gravel, occasionally rutted and potted, passing trees beaten to a 45-degree angle by relentless winds.


"The stock are in good shape," was the verdict of a King Country farmer in the back of the van. So are most of the fences and the pasture, but then the landscape changes to an endless vista of gorse and scrub. A weka darts across the road, head bent low and long legs pumping. It was revealed later that some local hunters had bagged 200 weka with their dogs, spending half the night plucking the catch.

Then they are salted, ready for the pot. You can still hunt weka on the Chathams.

But it is fishing and tourism as well as farming that supports the 600 residents of these islands, which lie 800km east of Christchurch. In fact, they are so far east that there is a different time zone — 45 minutes ahead of New Zealand, as the locals fondly call the mainland.

When you go out on one of the local crayfishing boats to catch the fabled blue cod you see only a couple of rods which look strong enough to handle one of the great white sharks which roam these waters. They used to hunt the "whiteys", as they call them, but now they are protected. The skipper stops the boat close to black rocks topped with spray and spume as waves crash over them. It is only about 5m deep, but the first drop with a long pencil jig nails a 3kg cod which is immediately cut into bait-sized chunks. This is blue cod fishing. You use cod to catch cod. Imagine trying that with snapper!

Then the skipper hands out bundles of thick rope, with an iron window sash on the end. He clips on two short traces with large hooks, threads on baits and heaves it over the side. This is fishing, Chathams-style. And it works. The visitors soon learn how to jerk back on the rope then wait for a second fish to suicide.

The cod are bled with a quick slash across the throat and the pile of fish soon fills the first bin.

When three bins are filled with fish, time is called and back at the ranch the locals demonstrate how they fillet the cod and remove the bones in a couple of movements.


The next day it is a hunt for groper, which are found on the edge of patches of foul in just 15 or 20m of water. The technique is the same, but larger baits are used, perhaps half a small cod or a fillet.

Local rules limit the amount of kai moana visitors can take home, which is a sensible approach. And they jealously guard their paua, as generous limits and greed would soon dent the population.

One daily limit of 10 paua is ample, and with local help and access through private land it doesn't take long to fill a bag just by walking around the shallows at low tide.

But it is the crayfish for which the Chathams is known. When discovered in the 1960s it was like a gold rush, and crays were sawn in half on the boats and the tails shipped back to the mainland in huge quantities. An airline was established in 1984 to fly the high value crayfish and paua, and the introduction of the quota management system in 1986 saw some level of control.

In those days 700 tonnes of crayfish left the airport annually. Today the cray fishery is one of the healthiest in the country, and a unique closed season over March and April allows it to thrive. Today the annual quota is 360 tonnes, and this may be increased in the future.

With blue cod, paua, groper and crayfish ticked off, the mainlanders were keen to join locals in setting flounder nets in the huge lagoon which covers the centre of the main island. A hinaki (eel pot) in a stream might produce some eels to add to the variety. Sure enough, on the last morning the nets yielded over 60 fat flounder, and while several large eels were pulled from the hinaki. A gas ring under a large pot was set up to fry fresh flounder coated in flour. These were served on the beach, on a flap from a beer carton with a slice of lemon and a buttered bun.

And a month for parking was not really needed. Four days was enough to tick all the boxes. Well, not quite all. Hunting wild pigs, wild sheep and wild cattle remain on the bucket list.


Fish and Game have recorded 530 trout through the trap on the Te Wairoa Stream at Lake Tarawera since the end of April.

It took until the end of June last winter to reach this number, although some fish would have bypassed the trap because of high water levels.

The biggest weighed this winter was 3.65kg, and the fish are reported to be in top condition.

Bite times

Bite times are 3.30am and 4pm tomorrow, and 4.30am and 5pm on Sunday. More fishing action can be found at GTTackle.co.nz.