Chatham Islands gets 'critical lifeline' all-weather wharf

  • 14/03/2018

Four years of planning and construction and about $55 million later, the Chatham Islands has a new wharf.

More than 10 politicians past and present flew over for the opening, recognition of the hundreds of millions the tiny community contributes to the economy.

The seas around the Chatham Islands have been called the most turbulent waters in the world.

The wharf has always been a link to the outside world for islanders, but the new wharf is a lifeline hoped to last 100 years.

Deputy Prime Minister Winston Peters, internal affairs minister Tracy Martin and a range of politicians who have been involved from the start attended the opening of the wharf.

It's expected to make shipping more reliable, working conditions on the port much safer and has a special area to house cattle before they're put on the ships.

The old wharf was dilapidated and lacking the efficiency needed for getting their seafood - worth $300 million each year - to the market.

The biggest difference about the new wharf is the breakwater. In the past, ships couldn't berth 70 days a year, but the new breakwater will allow the wharf to be used 98 percent of the time.

"It means a great deal for the island. It's an all-weather wharf, it means the ship will be able to reliably come in and out," said local Craig Emeny.

Georgina Tuuta left when she was six but even as a child she remembers what happened when ships couldn't berth.

"They said Santa couldn't make it... and I was waiting for this Christmas present," she said.

The breakwater required 3500 blocks weighing 1.8 tonne each, which were built on the island from materials sourced from a specially established quarry.

Minister of Civil Defence Hon Kris Faafoi says the wharf is "a critical lifeline for the Chatham Islands".

"This upgrade will provide greater security for the supply of vital supplies, such as diesel for the electricity grid, fuel for air services, and regular transport of basic essentials such as food," he said.

"This means that when an emergency strikes, the Chathams will be better placed than ever before to get the supplies and help they need."

Project manager Hugh Milliken says it was the hardest project they've ever done.

"It's a small community so you feel like an invading force sometimes, you know we brought a lot of people here," he said.

"It's a very challenging environment in terms of the weather conditions, winters here can get pretty tough the locals here will tell you about that."

The next on the Chatham Islands wishlist is a new runway and more efficient aircraft, which they want by the end of 2020.