… and there´s something about those islands, that gives you peace, and that peace starts as soon as you switch off your phone and jump into that plane…

Western for some and Eastern for others. Chatham islands, the first to see the sun, have not always been ahead of all other lands in time. They are geographically on the Eastern side of the date line, but by fact, they are now considered to be on the Western side, mainly by practical issues. On either way, the will set a limit for first or last to see the sun.

There are so many histories and articles written by several so-called travellers, bird lover´s or just a random person who likes remote and isolated places, but the intention of this article is to give an overview from an European perspective, or better said, a spaniard perspective, of what Chatham islands are, giving attention to the people who chose or not to live there, and how is the day by day in this place.

By definition, to an European, Chatham Islands are an idyllic place, or at least they are what it has been presented as the paradise to us: a remote Pacific Island, with mostly only local people, isolated from the civilized world, who live from fishing and farming, some volcanic beaches on the East side and some white sand crystal beaches on the other, with a huge lagoon in the center which is 90% of the territory. This can also match the definition of the paradisiac atolls in the dreamed Micronesia or Polynesia, but nothing further from their “sister´s” definition.

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The Perfect Pacific Island

Chatham Islands have a personality on their own. Far from “Sunday tourists”, the visitors to the island come for many different reasons that are not sun, beach and blue water. They travel to observe birds, to look for their ancestors who were originally from the island, because they just love the island, or because they love someone on the island, to perform a concert or to watch those who perform a concert, just to fly on the Convair 580 or simply for fishing (not as exciting as the previous one but a legitimate reason as well). You know that behind the question “Why are you travelling to Chathams?” on the plane, there´s always a thrilling story.

Among these romantic traveller stories, there are workers as well, as the islands don´t have enough people to have on-site all professions, that a reasonable settlement of people would need. Some workers are contracted to provide their services for some limited period of time. This is the case of some builders, engineers or accountants.

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Welcome to First to See the Sun

When you are on the waiting lounge at the airport, that tiny room on the very back end of the corridor reserved only for short domestic flights, you watch around and you can perfectly see who is going to the Chatham. When you board the Convair 580 aircraft, the only plane that flights from mainland New Zealand to Chatham, on the best scenario 6 times a week during summer and only four during winter, a feeling of the eighty´s come into your soul and mind, and, I must say, a fish smelling that proves the great fishing days that the returners just had.

Traveling to the islands is also a travel in time in both ways, the future and the past. Despite they are the “first to see the sun”, the islands could live in the early 60´s, when facilities and technology come into place, and fully happy, which is a potential source of jealousy on these times.

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Port Hutt artifacts

On the writing of these series of articles, special relevance to people is given, who make the islands what they are. It is amazing how many different opinions you can gather while you are in the island, even tho the majority of the people there are there because of their choice, and in one way or another, they just love the island. It is not the intention of this article to be another piece of history but to focus on the personality of this place. But of course, there´s not a personality if there´s not history behind, or remarkable features, that in a manner, justify this personality, even though it´s not the place, it´s the people.

The people living here have their professions: accountants, electricians, technicians, managers, pilots, artists, etc. among many others on the side. When you live in a community with only 600 people, isolated from the world, you need to be handy and know how to do as many tasks as possible.

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There´s also a little bit of traffic there

The main industry in Chatham Islands (if not the only one) is fishing and farming. They live to and for fishing and their farms, either for tourists, by taking them on their boats, or mainly to export the fish, cuttle or wool to New Zealand and other countries like Japan. Chatham islands are rich in Blue Cod, really precious in other parts of the world, and also Paua, whitebait, crayfish, etc. Kingfish is another common bite there as well as marlin. And this is one of their treasures. Another common activity on the island there hunting, but not as a major activity as fishing, guessing is coming from the ancient, when the sea was too rough to fish. The people in the islands have real clear views of the “catching for eating”, as it used to be in former times.

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The living on the islands is driven by the climate as well. Despite of being an island, the humidity on the ground is low, as the highest peak is only 294 meters, not enough height to trigger the rainfall from clouds. Nevertheless, it´s common to have thick sea fog and low clouds, reducing the hours of sunlight per year dramatically, with an impact of course on the vegetation, and people, specially people.

What really was a shock when travelling to the islands and what I can say from the Chathams, is that people living there are extremely happy for not being part of the word, but from their own world. Life in Chathams is fully independent, they are self sufficient and almost don´t need anything external, even tho on the last day there, the petrol station (obviously THE only petrol station) run out of the golden liquid as the shipping boat was delayed due to the weather for several days. They refer to the mainland as “New Zealand” as if they were not part of the Kiwi country itself, which make them unique. The lack of phone reception makes as well one of the few places around the world to be lost.

… and there´s something about those islands, that gives you peace, and that peace starts as soon as you switch off your phone and jump into that plane…

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