Reporter Liz Wylie joined a tour from Whanganui to the Chatham Islands and discovered a part of New Zealand with a wealth of wonders, but found it was the locals who made her visit so memorable.
We left Whanganui on a rainy, blustery afternoon and arrived at Tuuta Airport on Chatham Island to a clear, sunny evening.
The landing afforded wonderful views of the island's unique coastline with its two bays and the 16,000-hectare Te Whanga Lagoon.
Our accompanying guide Margie Wyatt (a Chatham Islander now resident in Waiouru) had provided us with copies of Cherie Lawrie and Jocelyn's Powell's comprehensive Chatham Islands guide book which made good reading during the flight.
Inside the terminal, we were greeted by Toni Croon, our local guide and owner-operator of Hotel Chathams.
She would prove to be an excellent guide with extensive knowledge, coupled with great repartee.
On our way to the hotel, we stopped to look out over Petre Bay and Toni pointed to our destination which she described as the "Waitangi CBD". As we passed the recycling centre, she referred to it as "Mitre 9".
At her side was her little dog Pipi – a spoodle with the heart of a mastiff who loves to chase the pesky wekas that inhabit the island in vast numbers.
When we arrived at the hotel, our bags were in our rooms.
My single room was very comfortable and although I did not have an ocean view, I looked out on a thriving plantation of beautiful, blue Chatham Island forget-me-not.
Fellow guests who had booked double rooms with en-suites told me they were excellent.
Our first dinner provided a foretaste of the delicious kai moana to be had on Chatham Island.
It was a great start to four days of discovery that left me wanting more, while at the same time giving me far too much to write about.
It is believed that the first people to arrive on the Chatham Islands were Polynesian brothers Rongomaiwhenua and his brother Rongomaitere around 800 years ago.
While Rongomaitere sailed on to Aotearoa, his brother stayed on and founded the Moriori civilisation on the two main islands named Rekohu (Chatham) and Rangiauria (Pitt Island).
Until recently, it was believed that the culture had died along with the last full-blooded Moriori, Tommy Solomon (Tame Horomona Rehe) who died in 1933, but there are still many people of Moriori descent.
We visited Tame Horomona Rehe's statue at Owenga and the beautiful Kopinga Marae on the hilltop at Te Awatea where kaumatua Tom Lanauze welcomed us warmly and shared his knowledge of his Moriori ancestors.
There is so much to say about life on the Chathams – its unique landscapes and wildlife and the work being done by locals and Department of Conservation staff to preserve it and eradicate plant and animal pests.
There's also the fishing, the horse racing, the annual pig hunt, the numerous ways that people entertain themselves, but it really is about the inhabitants.
He Tangata – The People
There are about 600 permanent residents on the Chatham Islands and those I met during my short stay give the impression of being busy multi-taskers who are well adjusted to their unique environment.
The most senior Chatham Islander I met was Eric Dix.
The 90-year-old is a descendant of a Portuguese great-grandfather named Joseph who jumped ship on Chatham Island and never left.
He has been a fisherman, a farmer and still runs 60 sheep on his land.
He loves racing and was the clerk of the course for 11 years.
"I have lived off the island and worked as a shearer in South Canterbury for a while.
"I reckon I've visited every part of New Zealand except Whanganui," he says.
I tell him he must come – for the Boxing Day races and to ride on the riverboats.
He says he just might do that.
The best thing about living on the Chathams is the lack of crime, he says.
"At one time we had a policeman here who was a bit too strict and things went a bit haywire.
"It's good now."
Floyd Prendeville is the general manager at Hotel Chathams and has also been a commercial diver for 27 years.
"I used to surf but when I encountered a great white shark in the bay that was the end of my surfing career."
Floyd tells me he spent most of his school years off the island and when he came back he worked at the now-closed freezing works.
"It was during the scallop boom and we processed them at the freezing works at night.
"We would wash everything down and process the scallops.
"The beds were depleted but hopefully they are starting to come back now."
He has hosted a number of TV crews on the Island and appeared in Māori Television foodie shows.
Floyd was married to Toni's sister Simone and remains close to the Croon family.
The Croons and the Silberys were the two family groups we got to spend time with during our stay.
Valentine (Val) and Lois Croon were not born on the island but moved there with their four children, Toni, Monique, Simone and Valentine.
Lois' mother was a Chatham Islander who moved back there from mainland New Zealand and inspired her daughter and family to follow.
Lois and Val ran Hotel Chathams before Toni took over and they now run the beautiful Admiral Gardens where Lois' sheltered gardens produce a myriad of plants to attract "birds, bees and butterflies".
They treated us to a delicious barbecue dinner on our final night on the island.
Toni tells me she left the island for 14 years and pursued a career as a horse trainer and jockey in Auckland and Cambridge.
Horse racing is big on Chatham Island and there is a long history of track racing and annual beach races.
A childhood spent riding and watching the racing inspired her love of the sport but now she's happy to be "retired sound" and says she loves being a tour guide.
What she doesn't tell me (but I discover for myself) is that she has also been a diver and was, in fact, the first female diver on the Chathams.
I didn't meet Toni's siblings but Monique, I'm told, is on the council and running for mayor in the current election; Simone brews craft beer among other things; and Valentine, I gather, is something of an entrepreneur having recently instigated scrap metal recovery on Chatham Island.
The Silberys are relative newcomers to the island and they were led there by Hotel Chathams chef Kaai who went there to fill in for a short stint and never left.
Her partner – Italian marketing manager Francesca Bonventre - joined her there, followed by her parents and her sister Matilda.
Matilda is our part-time guide and also helps out in the kitchen, at the tables and, when she's not doing those things, she works as a fencer with her dad and partner (yes, she convinced him to move to the Chathams as well).
"I was a truck driver based in Auckland and life was very stressful," she tells me.
"The pace here suits me and my parents love living here."
Kaai, who previously worked at Auckland's Viaduct Restaurant, impressed us with her menus built around the local produce.
There is a burgeoning honey business on the Chathams where hives are free of diseases like American Foulbrood and there are plenty of good pollens.
A local apiarist has a queen breeding programme and Kaai has developed a freeze-dried honey product which she uses in her recipes. Her Chatham Island Freeze Dried Honey is entered in the 2019 artisan category for the NZ Food Awards.
Kaai also invited Bill Manson to bring his Local Wild Food Challenge to Chatham Island where locals excelled and young Valentine Croon (the 3rd) won the Kids Can Cook category before going on to become the overall New Zealand winner.
On our last day on the island, we visited Helen Bint in her 1870s cottage at Maunganui.
She lives off the grid in her seemingly-isolated spot but she is not short of visitors.
With a number of magazine and television features under her belt, she is happy to welcome all visitors.
"I had the Archbishop of Canterbury here when I was fitting a new door on my toilet and he helped put it on."
Then there were the two "handsome men from Colorado" who turned up while she was taking her outdoor, solar-heated shower.
"Their trimaran got stranded on the beach and they were lost."
Born on the island, Helen returned to the cottage she lived in as a child.
"It had been derelict for 30 years and needed a new roof but I've always loved a challenge."
Challenges are something that all Chatham Islanders seem to tackle with gusto and I highly recommend going to meet them for yourself.
Merv's Chatham Island Tours has another flight scheduled to leave Whanganui on December 31.
Liz Wylie travelled courtesy of https://chathamislandtours.nz/ .