The Chatham Islands, at the eastern end of the Chatham Rise in the South-west Pacific, are the emergent part of a Late Cretaceous to Cenozoic stratovolcano complex that is variably covered with limestones and fossiliferous tuffs. Most of these deposits accumulated in relatively shallow, high-energy, tide-influenced palaeoenvironments with deposition punctuated by periods of deeper-water pelagic accumulation. Carbonate components in these neritic deposits are biogenic and dominated by molluscs and bryozoans – a heterozoan assemblage. The widespread Middle to Late Eocene Matanginui Limestone contains local photozoan elements such as large benthonic foraminifera (especially Asterocyclina) and calcareous green algae, reflecting the general Palaeogene sub-tropical oceanographic setting. More localized Late Eocene to Oligocene deposits (Te One Limestone) as well as Pliocene carbonates (Onoua Limestone) are, however, wholly heterozoan and confirm a generally cooler-water oceanographic setting, similar to today. Early sea floor diagenesis is interpreted to have removed most aragonite components (infaunal bivalves and epifaunal gastropods). Lack of aragonite resulted in the absence of intergranular calcite cementation during subaerial exposure, such that most carbonates are friable or unlithified. Cementation is, however, present at nodular hardground–firmground caps to metre-scale cycles. Such cements are microcrystalline or micrometre-thick isopachous circumgranular rinds with insufficient definitive attributes to pinpoint their environment of formation. The overall palaeoenvironment of deposition is interpreted as mesotrophic, resulting in part from upwelling about the Chatham volcanic massif and in part from nutrient element delivery from the adjacent volcanic terrane and coeval volcanism. Biotic diversity in tuffs is two to three times that in limestones, supporting the notion of especially high nutrient availability during periods of volcanism. These mid-latitude deposits are strikingly different from their low-latitude, tropical, photozoan counterparts in the volcanic island–coral reef ecosystem. Ground water seepage and fluvial runoff attenuate coral growth and promote microbial carbonate precipitation in these warm-water settings. In contrast, nutrients from the same sources feed the system in the Chatham Islands cool-water setting, promoting active heterozoan carbonate sedimentation.