Ardern makes rare NZ PM visit to Chathams

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Jacinda Ardern has become the first prime minister to visit the Chatham Islands in a decade, venturing to New Zealand’s easternmost point.

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, the local Maori tribe – Ngati Mutunga o Wharekauri – announced it had reached an agreement in principle with the government on a long-stalled treaty settlement.

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 the government was determined to “preserve and share the unique history of this place”.

On her one-day visit, the prime minister formally opened the government-funded Chatham Islands Museum.

“Being able to capture that history and see it in this place, it’s really important,” she said.

The domestic 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.”

The Chatham Islands was a great beneficiary of the COVID-19 border closures, with many Kiwis opting to visit for the first time.

Ms Ardern said she had yet to visit two other populated islands – Great Barrier Island and Stewart Island – but hoped to do so.

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


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