Chatham Islands tourism booming with visitor numbers doubling pre-COVID levels

If you're looking for a summer getaway to the Chatham Islands, you'll have to wait until winter to find a room.

Visitor numbers have doubled on pre-COVID levels, putting pressure on the main accommodation provider.

Even before landing, passengers were glued to their first glimpse of the Chatham Islands.

For many, it is the first taste of travel in two years.

"You've got nowhere else to go and I'm a bit of a gypsy. I like exploring," one passenger said. "Do something different, do something new New Zealand you know," another person said. 

When you arrive there's no duty-free, just a big wide world of wilderness and that's exactly why visitors are coming.

"Most people have been to most places in New Zealand but not the Chatham," Hotel Chathams owner Toni Croon told Newshub.

"We always used to be busy, really busy for two months of the year. Now it seems to never let up."

They're coming in numbers the island hasn't seen before - doubling on pre-COVID visitors.

Hotel Chathams is one of the very few places to stay and is struggling to cope with demand.

Croon said the next time they can take a booking is towards the end of May or the beginning of June. 

Despite the borders being shut, there's still an international flavour.

Passengers can often find themselves jammed in with live seafood bound for the local and international markets.

"The economy out there has been really strong, especially the seafood export economy with high prices into Asia," Air Chathams chief operating officer Duane Emeny told Newshub. 

One of those businesses benefiting is the Chatham Island Food Company which was on the brink of collapse when the pandemic hit.

Now it's built a sustainable home delivery business of fresh seafood to the mainland while also catering to the international market.

"A big international export market for the island as a whole," Chatham Island Food Company managing director Delwyn Tuanui told Newshub.

"Live paua, rock lobster is the mainstay up into China."

And right now, that's the closest those overseas will get to the Chathams before they can one-day battle Kiwis for a place to stay there too.

Watch the full story above.