Culture shock

Culture shock for Chatham Islanders seeking their driving licenses on the mainland

No traffic lights, no tar seals and a speed limit of 80 km/h. Driving in the Chatham Islands is as laid back as the way of life, but it still requires a permit – which means a trip to the mainland for a rigorous and condensed testing process.

Over the past few days, 29 Chatham Islanders have done just that in Palmerston North, retaining their full and restricted licenses through a scheme that began last year.

Colin Maxwell is one of 29, and he passed his restricted test this week.

“It was for work and mostly for dropping my son off at kōhanga. Now I can do it legally without having to look over my shoulder,” he said.

Colin Maxwell, right, prepares to take the wheel.
Photo: RNZ

After a few days behind the wheel with VTNZ tutors, Maxwell passed his test in busy morning traffic with commuters.

“It was quite difficult. Everything that could go wrong went wrong. I had a van in front of me and it was parked on the side across the road, but I had a good instructor with me and she just shook her head at them.”

Maxwell said his time in New Zealand ironed out bad habits, such as not checking blind spots and cutting corners.

He had to keep his cool while driving in Palmerston North, a town of 90,000 people – 89,400 more than at home.

“It’s not too bad,” he said of the Chatham Islands roads.

“Even though we have gravel roads and stuff like that, they’re pretty up to snuff. It can get a little loose, and you slip when it’s wet and stuff, but other than that you can handle it. “

There are police on the islands though, so those driving without a license could get caught.

The Chatham Islands

The roads in the Chathams are much quieter than those in Palmerston North.
Photo: RNZ/ Matthew Theunissen

It’s hard to get one as there’s nowhere in the Chathams to take practice tests.

The program to bring residents of the Chatham Islands to New Zealand to sit their licenses is funded by the Mayors’ Task Force for Jobs and the Department of Social Development, and organized by the Chatham Islands District Council.

About 100 people have come since the beginning of last year, including 20 truckers, who recently passed their approved permits.

Iain Morrison, chief executive of Kiwi Can Do, an organization that helps people develop skills and find jobs, said these were vital to the Chathams economy.

“A lot of these guys are fishermen so they have class two trucks. They get their catch out of their boats. They haul their fish to the fish market.

“You also have stocks that are moved around the island.”

Morrison says they even sat a driver with a dangerous goods permit, so he could haul fuel from the port.

“There is a big project at the moment, the extension of the airport.

“They have to bring in labor from the mainland to work there if they don’t have enough drivers, for example, with class four licenses or endorsements appropriate to the job they’re doing.”

Devon Ogilvie missed his full license this week.

He found the drive at Palmerston North a bit uncertain at first compared to what he was used to on the Chathams.

“You’d be lucky to see two or three vehicles going into town and back shopping. These are gravel roads. There are no marked lines. It’s very different from here.”

Ogilvie said the roads in Palmerston North were busy by comparison.

The 27-year-old Paua commercial diver from Te One jumped at the chance for a few days in Manawatū.

“I just took the opportunity to do the full license. With travel and accommodation, it’s quite expensive for us to come here and do this stuff on our own, so it’s a great opportunity. for us to be able to do that.”

Rachael Jobson, VTNZ’s operations support manager, said it was hoped the program would expand to include isolated North and South Island residents who are unable to pass driving license tests easily.

  • Chatham Islands ramps up Covid-19 response as first cases detected
  • Chatham Islands businesses hope reopening borders won’t curb tourism
  • Work begins on a new housing project in the Chatham Islands
  • Chatham Islands businesses hope reopening borders won’t curb tourism