Anyone who casually drops into a conversation “I’ve had 19 great white shark encounters” immediately gets my respect.
This is a yarn I had with Floyd from Hotel Chatham, in the Chatham Islands, on my recent visit to New Zealand’s eastern-most extremities, which I revelled in.
I loved the locals and listening to their insight on life in these wild and windswept, but beautiful, islands.
Floyd went on to tell me that if you’re entering their terrain as a professional diver (of which he had 30 years experience) you are taught this as lesson one – respect the terrain and be prepared and trained to deal with such shark encounters.
I guess 19 over 30 years isn’t one every day, but he assured me it gets the blood pumping every time.
“Don’t panic, maintain eye contact, don’t swim or gain/lose elevation in the water” were the key takeaways from that conversation, just in case you have a shark encounter, by the way.
Regardless of this, you are at their whim, as Floyd’s cousin can testify to, after an attack on Pitt Island resulted in him losing an arm. He survived to tell the tale thanks, in no small way, to Floyd and a team of others donating blood to cover the huge losses he had following the attack.
The Chathams have a unique charm to them. Sitting on the 44th parallel, 870km from Christchurch, they are indeed isolated, but still accessible via regular flights to and from the mainland – six per week in the summer, shared between Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.
The Chatham Islanders are Kiwis, but there is also no doubt a divide to the rest of the country.
The connection to Oamaru is alive, with many Islanders having attended St Kevin’s or Waitaki Girls’ and Boys’ High Schools. Names such as Gregory-Hunt and Lanauze will be familiar to many.
Today there are Chatham Islanders boarding at St Kevin’s College and Waitaki Boys’ High School – and hostel staff will tell you that they are lovely kids who appreciate the small town feel of Oamaru, which they wouldn’t necessarily get in bigger schools and cities. They tend to see everyone as their friend, just like on the Island, and hence Oamaru is a much better fit for them.
They will generally stay through to Year 13 and contribute in all aspects of school.
I’m already looking forward to another visit to the Chatham Islands.
I have not even touched on the history, the landscapes and the fishing. Oh, and the seafood! There is certainly a chapter or two to tell on this subject.
At present, the Islands are going through a boom in tourism. Last weekend was the busiest ever on the island, in terms of numbers of tourists.
I am looking to take a trip in mid-winter to celebrate the shortest day and take on the Chathams at its wildest – which is possibly when it is at its best.
Thanks, Chathams – and see you soon, Floyd!
- Ralph Davies is the general manager of Headfirst Travel.