Ardern makes rare NZ PM visit to Chathams

Jacinda Ardern has become the first sitting prime minister to visit the Chatham Islands in a decade, venturing to New Zealand's easternmost point on a day trip.

The windswept archipelago, New Zealand's most remote populated outpost, is home to about 800 Chatham Islanders.

Given the rare occasion, much of the community downed tools for the day with the sole cafe, store and hotel shutting their doors.

After a traditional welcome at the main settlement of Waitangi, Ms Ardern addressed hundreds of locals, saying it was "such a delight" to make her first visit.

On the same day, a local Maori tribe - Ngati Mutunga o Wharekauri - announced it had reached an agreement in principle with the government on a long-stalled treaty talks, first initiated in 2016.

The agreement will include a formal apology, with the Crown expressing a "profound failure" to respect the dignity and sovereignty of the tribe.

Ms Ardern said her government was determined to "preserve and share the unique history of this place", opening a centrally-funded Chatham Islands Museum.

"Being able to capture that history and see it in this place, it's really important," she said.

The Chathams is both a stunning and peculiar place.

Few from North or South Island visit, though the local tourism industry benefitted hugely during COVID-enforced border closures when more Kiwis chose to visit.

It is best known in New Zealand for the 'Chathams wave' - the friendly local custom for all drivers to wave at each other while passing on the largely gravel roads.

Despite its rugged beauty, the Chathams is hugely contrained by its geography, around 850km east of Christchurch.

The isolation brings extraordinary costs for freight and logistical difficulties in delivering projects.

Diesel powers much of the island's electricity, with hopes to shift to renewables through wind, or even a hydroelectric project as mooted by locals.

The visit is Ms Ardern's last major piece of travel in a jam-packed 2022.

After two COVID-19-affected years stuck in New Zealand, the prime minister has visited 13 countries - including Australia and the United States twice - and Antarctica last month as she resumed business-as-usual diplomacy.

"It has been part of our strategy for this year, making sure it's known the borders are open which is important for our tourism," she said.

"It's also important for our trade. We've had six trade upgrades or new agreements which help open the door. Now we want our business to walk through."

Ms Ardern said the visit left her just two of New Zealand's other populated islands to visit: Great Barrier Island, found north of the Coromandel, and Stewart Island, off the base of the South Island.

The last sitting prime minister before Ms Ardern to visit the Chathams was John Key in 2012.