This article originally appeared on VICE New Zealand
Some 800 kilometres east of Christchurch, Chatham Island—Rēkohu in the language of its indigenous people, the Moriori—sits attacked by the elements. The wild wind, the wilder sea. Stand on its eastern shores, and look east: there’s nothing but the empty expanse of the Pacific between this distant outpost of New Zealand and the shores of South America.
About 600 people call the island home, variously employed on its fishing boats, in its seafood factories, on its rolling farms. Mainland New Zealand—a two-hour flight away when the weather’s good—feels like an absurd abstraction, a distant place where life beats to an alien nine-to-five rhythm. That rhythm makes no sense on the Chathams, where days are defined by the weather. If it’s good, the boats go out and you work; if it’s not, you don’t.
You stand on the hill above the wharf, the water below freckled by the boats of the fishing fleet, the wide yellow curve of Waitangi Beach beyond, the island's main town perched above. Four-wheel motorbikes patrol the beach, some with horses trotting behind them in preparation for the island’s upcoming annual races. Beat-up trucks congregate at the petrol station in town or at the waterfront pub where their owners pull in for a feed. Waves beat violently against Red Bluff across the bay, as if attempting to tear it down, and great white sharks cruise the depths beneath.
You look West, towards New Zealand, and there’s nothing, again, but the empty expanse of the Pacific, and somewhere within it a country that, in that moment, feels entirely hypothetical.