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Episode 13: Chathams Challenge

On the next episode, screening 4 June at 7pm on TV ONE:

Chathams Challenge

Greg Horler went to the Chatham Islands for three months' work shearing sheep and ended up staying for over 30 years. 

Greg, who was born in Waimate, left Canterbury for New Zealand's most remote rural community in 1977, aged just 16. The island was short of shearers and Greg, who was fresh out of shearing school, leapt at the chance for an adventure.

The Chatham Islands are approximately 800 kilometres east of Christchurch and include two inhabited islands - Chatham and Pitt - and a number of smaller islands.

The four-hour trip to the Chathams on a Bristol Freighter was Greg's first-ever flight.

Back then, the Chathams were said to resemble mainland New Zealand 40 years earlier and Greg reckons that was true.  "There was a party line - a manual phone exchange - and everyone knew everyone's business."

But life there suited the young shearer and wool presser and he took on other work once the shearing ran out.

"I really like the lifestyle, the outdoors, the fishing, and there was a female attraction!"

She was Rosemarie Tuanui, a 6th generation islander who was working as a rousie in the family wool shed when Greg turned up with the shearing gang.

The couple married in 1981 and these days run a farm and farmstay business on the southwestern coast of Chatham Island.  Greg, like many others living in the islands, also has fishing quota to supplement the farm income.

Two of the couple's three children have returned to the Chathams and started families of their own.     

Greg says the Chathams have come a long way in the last 30 years. There are now regular flights from Wellington, Christchurch and Auckland, party lines are a thing of the past, and many islanders have broadband internet connections and Sky television. 

The only thing they don't have is a cell phone network and Greg says "you could argue that's not missed".

But on the flip side, many islanders feel they have been cut loose from New Zealand as the community of around 600 is left to foot the bill for services that were once subsidised. Electricity, which is powered by a diesel generator, costs about five times what people on the mainland would expect to pay. 

There is also growing frustration among the islands' farmers about delays at the main port of Waitangi, where stock are loaded from the wharf. With no breakwater, ships can wait for days for the weather to be calm enough to berth.

Despite the challenges, Greg has no regrets about settling in New Zealand's most remote rural outpost.  "Where else could I have what I have here?  Amazing views, fishing, and hunting literally out my back door. It's magic."

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