The coastal moss [i]Tortella mooreae[/i] was long regarded as endemic to the islands of the Hauraki Gulf. However it is now known from Western Reef and Waitangi West on the Chatham Islands. Image: J. R. Rolfe and P. J. de Lange

The mosses of the Chatham Islands

Until the close of the last century very little was known and next to nothing published about the mosses of the Chatham Islands. Although the first moss gatherings were made by Henry Travers in the 1860’s it was not until 1997 that Landcare Research staff visited the islands to specifically […]

[i]Caloplaca maculata[/i] - the only lichen known to be endemic to the Chatham Islands seen here growing on hard tuff. Image: Peter de Lange/DOC

Chatham Island lichens

Lichens are by definition any fungus and alga (or a cyanobacterium – oft known as blue green alga) living in symbiotic association. This overly simplistic description serves to explain away a vast amount of New Zealand’s biodiversity. There is an estimated 2000 different kinds of lichen in New Zealand of which formal descriptions exist for no less than 1706! As a rule most people ignore lichens, often mistakenly confusing them with the very different mosses and liverworts “as just lichens”. This is unfortunate, and increasingly we are beginning to appreciate that we do this at our peril. Lichens are proving to be the botanical equivalent of the canary in the cage, often providing the first warning signs of deteriorating air quality, pollution and temperature changes. Lichens too are proving useful in dating geological phenomena such as landslides and earthquakes, and lichens are major nitrogen fixers, contributing for example, 10 kg N per ha per year in the average New Zealand temperate rainforest ecosystem.

Typical clears vegetation of bamboo rush and swamp aster. Image: Amanda Baird/DOC

The South-West

The south-west of Chatham Island encompasses dramatic coastal scenery, a fertile farming belt and forested catchments rising to a moorish tableland containing lakes and low peaks. The south-west supports the most extensive forest on Chatham Island, expanses of upland bamboo rush & Chatham aster and important populations of threatened plants and animals. It is the only breeding sites in the world for taiko and the Chatham Island mudfish. The largest protected area occurs here with the Tuku Nature Reserve and adjoining South Chatham covenant at about 2,500 hectares.

The tableland is highly distinctive. The flat to undulating topography belies the fact it is the highest region of Chatham Island at 250-280m altitude. The island’s tallest peaks occur on the tableland’s northern edge.

Weka on the hunt

What’s the story with weka?

Weka are part of the Chatham Island identity. Indeed, people born on Chatham Island call themselves “Weka”, as opposed to “Kiwi” for people born on the New Zealand mainland. And so it is a surprise to many people that weka are not native to the Chatham Islands and that they can be hunted.

Weka belong to a group of birds called rails. The Chatham Islands originally had seven species of rail but now (following the arrival of humans) there are only 3 surviving species – pukeko, spotless crake and marsh crake.  The three surviving species are widely distributed throughout New Zealand and the southwest Pacific, reaching the edge of their range on the Chatham Islands.

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Chatham Islands location

Visiting the Chatham Islands

The Chatham Islands lie 750km east of New Zealand’s South Island. AccommodationChoose from Hotel, Motel, Lodge, Bed and Breakfast or Backpacker accommodation – see for details. Getting thereAir Chathams fly to the Chatham Islands four to six times a week depending on the time of year, departing from Auckland, […]

Chatham Islands

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750km to the east of New Zealand’s South Island lie the Chatham Islands, home to New Zealand’s most remote communities.  Around 600 people live on two of the 11 islands that make up ‘the Chathams’, with incomes largely reliant on farming, fishing, conservation and tourism.  The Chatham Islands community is […]