Party Like It's 1997

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Winter Travel Guide 1996

Party Like It's 1997
Jeff Williams

If you want to be among the first in the world to ring in 1997, you'll have to go far out of your way to do it-to the Chatham Islands, some 475 miles east of New Zealand, to be exact. (The International Dateline, which roughly follows the 180th meridian, makes a peculiar blip just to the east of the islands.) Only two of the ten islands are inhabited, including the main one, Chatham, with a population of 700. It's a rugged, windswept landscape of moors and peat bogs, shallow lagoons, and limestone pinnacles and cliffs.

With so much wind, boardsailing has found a new pilgrimage spot; the favored sites are Petre Bay and Port Hutt on the west side of the island, right in the path of the prevailing westerlies. There's no place to rent equipment, but a few locals have boards and will probably lend you one (you can always bring your own). You can fish for flounder in the lagoons (perhaps with a borrowed rod), dive offshore for crayfish and paua (abalone), and spot a taiko (magenta petrel), one of the rare bird species that have evolved in isolation here. The island (about 25 miles across at its widest point) also has several designated hiking trails; for maps and information, stop by the Department of Conservation at Te One (011-64-3-305-0098) just north of the island's only real settlement, Waitangi.

The Chatham Lodge (doubles, $65; 64-3-305-0196) is the pick of the places to stay, but the grottier hotel and pub, Hotel Chathams, in Waitangi (doubles, $58; 64-3-305-0048), has far more atmosphere. The two-hour flight from Christchurch or Wellington on Air Chathams (64-3-305-0209) costs about $285; byo champagne.

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