Grand Lifestyle

Life on the Chathams: Pitt Island

Di Gregory-Hunt has lived on Pitt Island which is the second largest and only other inhabited island within the Chatham Island group for almost 60 years. Di tells us how she travelled to Pitt Island her first time visiting the area in the 1950’s.

Kia ora and greetings folk – my name is Di and I live on Pitt Island, but to begin my story I will start with how I came to be here in the first place.

I was born and brought up in South Canterbury and my parents sent my two older sisters and myself to a Catholic boarding school in Timaru about 30 to 40 miles from our home. While at boarding school which was run by the Mercy Sisters I met and became good friends with Veronica a girl from the Chatham Islands. She came to our home sometimes for free Sundays and term holidays. She invited me to come home with her for the Christmas holidays December / January 1958/1959 about a six-week time from memory.

My father travelled with us from Timaru to Wellington and again I think we stayed overnight up there. I was 16 and Veronica about 14 1/2 . The mode of transport in those days was by Sunderland flying boat which took off from Evans Bay. The plane was very basic, no inner capsule so draughty and cold and when it revved up to get airborne sometimes some water would seep in at foot level which made for very cold feet. I can’t remember how long the trip took but probably about 3 hours or so.

We landed on Te Wahanga Lagoon on Chathams which we on Pitt refer to as the ‘main island’. As the plane revs to get power and speed to lift off everything rattles and shudders and you almost expect it to blow to pieces with the noise and movement happening around you but no it didn’t!

Again from memory going into Waitangi which was the centre we possibly went by land-rover or more likely in those days a large truck with a sort of make shift top which carried people, baggage, mail and any freight. You crossed the lake to get out and onto the road / track, again my memory is not clear and at 16 years of age I probably didn’t really take much notice.

We stayed with friends of Veronica’s family overnight and were to travel to Pitt Island from Owenga by fishing boat when the weather allowed. The fishing boat was old and very rocky and rolly and took forever to me as I was really not a sea person. I’m sure I would have been sea sick and that sometimes still happens. Again folk I am trying to remember as it is a long time ago, but we rowed to shore in a dingy, which was how you got from boat to shore in both Owenga and Flower Pot our Pitt Island harbour.

We stayed of course with Veronica’s parents in their home a few hundred yards from the beach. Most of the people living on Pitt, who were mostly Veronica’s married sisters and brothers all got about on horses and I don’t recall there being many vehicles then, possibly a couple of land-rovers. We went out and about on horses or walking and I got to meet other members of the family. Veronica was the youngest of 12 children and some of her sisters and brothers owned and worked on the land then, perhaps the odd one was also a fisherman.

Sheep farming was the farming type then as wool prices (cross bred wool) were very good and only a few cattle were kept to eat the rough stuff and ranker pasture was not suitable for sheep. Wethers were the sheep of choice (male sheep castrated before sexual maturity) because they produced a good sized fleece and they were big sheep.

Because I was brought up on a farm it wasn’t difficult for me to enjoy that holiday life. Veronica had 2 older brothers above her in age Steve who was also at boarding school in Masterton and Bill who was about 18 and worked on his father’s farm. I don’t remember any great details about the holiday apart from we wandered about and enjoyed being young and roamed the island.

I don’t recall there being anywhere we couldn’t go on Pitt Island. Pitt Island is the only other inhabited island (and the Chathams) and at that time there were probably about 40 odd living on Pitt again from memory, which isn’t very good.

Veronica’s mother and brother Bill went back out to New Zealand with us on their way to visit a married daughter / sister in Australia. We girls went back to boarding school in Timaru, myself for 1 more year and Veronica did 2 or maybe even 3 more years. I left school at 17 years and went home for a few months.

You can read about Di Gregory-Hunt’s return to Pitt Island here.

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