The in-land wrecks of the Chatham Islands


It’s somehow out of the ordinary for the over-populated countries to see (ship)wrecks above the water. When there is a marine disposal of any kind, whoever is responsible of it, they will treat it or take care of, so rubbish don’t accumulate in harbours or marine areas. The same applies to old any old machinery.

This is not a worry for very remote islands, or places where the population density is not that high, as the case of the Chatham Islands, in New Zealand. Some of the vessels that are not in operation anymore are just left on the shore, or in shallow waters, until they may rust completely and collapse, or until the council itself decides to clean it.  I’ve observed this in other Pacific islands as well, like Eua (Tonga) or in Solomon Islands.

On the Chatham islands, also related with the culture of a remote place of not to dispose anything until you make sure it is completely rubbish, keeping all parts of everything as much as you can, at the end of the day, you never know when are you going to need them, and there is no shopping mall around the corner!

Port Hutt –  HMNZS Thomas Currell

This has become an iconic wreck in Chathams, and everyone visiting Port Hutt has a photo of it, probably because of its dimensions. The HMNZS Thomas Currell was an auxiliary minesweeper, of 204 tons gross trawler, that served to the Royal New Zealand navy between 1939 and 1945. It functioned throughout the World War II, and it is currently beached and deteriorating on the coast of Chatham Islands. Some references mention her as being a “freezer” on its last years, meaning that being a refrigerated vessel on the fishing fleet.

Thomas Currell – Port Hutt (Chatham Islands)

Kaingaroa – The unknown I

Probably this wreck doesn’t have as much history as the previous one, or yes, but only some locals would know, and probably just the owner. This wreck was a fishing vessel that was decommissioned for fishing and left of shore.

The unknown I – Kaingaroa (Chatham Islands)

Kaingaroa – The unknown II

The next one on the list I found it by chance, it was wrecked close to one of the boat ramps in Kaingaroa. As the previous one, it was probably way more expensive to tow it and dispose it rather than just leave it there. It seemed to be one of the many fishing boats on the island.

The unknown II – Kaingaroa (Chatham Islands)

Owenga – The unknown III

Also found by chance, I spot this wreck on one of the dive trips, while we were coming back, and I decided to have a look at it some days after. For the position and the location, this wreck may have been washed off the sea on a very rough conditions day. It is not even close to any boat ramp or easy access from the inland. It seems it is emerging from the amounts of washed seaweed roots. Again, the history of it will die with the owners.

The unknown III – Owenga

Kaingaroa – The Sunderland (Short Sunderland MK V)

Is this a plane or a wreck? technically, it can be both, as it flies and sails, and it is know as the flying boat. The NZ4111 was with the Royal New Zealand Air Force (RNZAF). Its first flight between New Zealand and Chathams was in 1942. It would carry up to 16 passengers, for $20 adults and $10 children.

The Sunderland – still flying!

Just about to take off on a passenger flight returning to New Zealand, it struck some rocks in the Te Whanga lagoon. The crew had to ground the craft in shallow water, only 250m from the shore, and the only 3 passengers were successfully evacuated.

After landing in the Te Whanga Lagoon in the Chatham Island in November 1959,  it struck submerged rocks whilst taxying and sank in shallow water. Recovery was deemed impracticable and it was sold locally after removal of useful items, as RNZAF decided not to salvage it. It spent a lot of years with the fuselage used as a shed. Nowadays is in the Air Museum in Kaingaroa, in Chathams.

It had an endurance of 13.5 hours, range of 4768 km. Its dimensions are 10 meters tall, 26 meters long and 34 meters span. It had 4 Pratt & Whitney R1830 engines with 1200HP each.  

The Sunderland – Kaingaroa (Chatham Islands)

I has the hull shape of a boat, ready for sailing on the Chathams Te Whanga lagoon.

Back view of the Sunderland – Kaingaroa (Chatham Islands)

Do you think all these wrecks would be better fully underwater?



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