The Chatham Islands were almost a surreal experience. This tiny group of islands is about 500 miles off the coast of New Zealand, and about as close to the definition of “middle of nowhere” as you can get. With a roaring population of 600, this isolated community makes its living on fishing, mutton and wool.
The history of the Chatham Islands is a sad one. The native people, the Moriori, were wiped out, cannibalized, and enslaved by a Maori group who came from New Zealand. Most of the people living there are of Moriori and Maori descent, because Moriori were forbidden to marry each other, and most had children by their Maori masters.
Modern day Chatham island is a rich fishing ground and a well-managed resource that supports most inhabitants of the island. The biggest town there is Waitangi, and the town consisted of the local bar, and a couple small shops. Our tour guide drove us through dirt roads, dodging sheep and even a few emu as she whisked us off to see a unique formation of basalt columns and a hike up one of the tallest peaks on the island.
It appears that the island is somewhat of a small gene pool. Our bus was given a more than warm greeting by the Chatham bachelors who were hanging out at the bar, as our bus driver announced our arrival with “I’ve got a bus full of American chicks!” Our bus driver herself was quite friendly with our assistant engineer as well, taking many ecstatic photos with him. Everyone joked that we were all more than welcome to marry into the island community, but as these jokes were told time and time again, it seemed like they were maybe a little more than just joking.
On our way back to the ship, our bus driver stopped suddenly on the side of the road with a rousing cry of “MUSHROOMS!” There, she herded us all out of the bus, over an electrified fence, and into a field where fine culinary mushrooms grew. Slightly more electrified, toting mushrooms, we returned to our ship, Mama Seamans, to prepare for our long voyage. It would be twenty five days before we saw land again.