The Pitcairn Islands are a loosely grouped handful of tiny islands in the remote South Pacific, farther from any continent than any other inhabited island. The islands are the last British colony in the South Pacific and most isolated British dependency. The rugged main island was settled by the infamous mutineers of the HMS Bounty and their Polynesian companions, and most of Pitcairn's mere four dozen current inhabitants are their descendants. They are one of the least-populated entities given an ISO country code (PN).
- Pitcairn Island - the only inhabited island of the group
- Henderson Island - the largest island, a UNESCO World Heritage Site with several endangered bird species
- Oeno Island, Sandy Island - a close pair of islands, the locals' "holiday" spot
- Ducie Island - distant from the others, with lots of exotic bird life
- Adamstown, the capital and sole settlement containing the entire population of the Pitcairn Islands - a scattered village of households on the main eponymous isle, up the Hill of Difficulty from Bounty Bay.
Pitcairn was either inhabited or frequently visited by Polynesian peoples in earlier centuries (they left glyphs etched in the rocks), and was visited briefly by Portuguese and British explorers (one of whom gave it his name), but it was deserted when in 1790 the infamous mutineers of the Royal Navy ship Bounty and their Tahitian companions settled there under the leadership of Fletcher Christian. They burned and sank the ship in what is now called Bounty Bay (there was nowhere else to hide it), and founded a village on Pitcairn. At first a rather lawless community of violent drunks, it was "tamed" when John Adams, the last mutineer to avoid accident or murder, converted the women and children to Christianity. They lived there for 24 years before being rediscovered by the British, who allowed the community to continue. Pitcairn was the first Pacific island to become a British colony (in 1838) and today remains the last vestige of that empire in the South Pacific.
Emigration – first to Norfolk Island and mostly to New Zealand in the last century – and a nearly-prohibitive approach to immigration have thinned the population from a peak of 233 in 1937 to less than 50. The island was rocked in 2004 by accusations of chronic and ubiquitous sexual abuse of the community's young female members (including pre-adolescent girls), and the subsequent investigation of much of the adult male population (including several who were no longer living there), six of whom were sentenced in New Zealand to terms in prison.
The prison building in Adamstown is currently unoccupied, but there are plans for it to house the library and small tourist office, and possibly some tourist accommodation.
The climate is humid and tropical (the Tropic of Capricorn lies a short distance to the north), with average temperatures ranging from 60°F (16°C) on winter nights to 85°F (30°C) on summer days. Rainfall is moderate with no strong seasonal pattern, just a bit wetter in the winter. The island is subject to infrequent typhoons during the season from November to March.
The islands are each unique, with differing origins.
Pitcairn is distinctly volcanic, jutting steeply out of the ocean with a peak of 1106 ft, seemingly a stone's throw from the shoreline (in any direction). As such it has very little of what would be called a "beach" – however the word "cliff" gets used a lot – and harbours are hard to come by. Bounty Bay hardly deserves the name, consisting of a small indentation in the shoreline with water deep enough only for small boats without keels and a small sea-level landing area... connected via the Hill of Difficulty to Adamstown. It is the only island of the group with fresh water sources.
Henderson is by far the largest island with an area of more than 14 square miles (37.3km²) - more than eight times larger than Pitcairn but with a largely inaccessible interior. It's a flat coral formation, but raised 50-100 feet above sea level by volcanic activity. There are caves along its shoreline which served as either tombs or ill-fated residences to an ancient people (remember: no fresh water). It might be suitable for building an airstrip if it weren't for all the endangered seabirds that find it an ideal spot to land.
Oeno is a small, flat island (accompanied by another sandy island known as "Sandy Island") surrounded by a circular reef, a typical South-Pacific paradise with palm trees, lovely beaches, and a sheltered lagoon.
Ducie is distant from the others (over 100 miles from Henderson and well over 200 from Pitcairn), a circular reef and island, popular with seabirds.
The remoteness and ruggedness of Pitcairn's geography, the insularity of its bureaucracy, and the scarcity of its resources conspire to make it a very difficult place to visit.
Visitors staying on the island for any length of time require a license from the governor, because the irregularity of transport means they're effectively residents of the island for the next several weeks or even months. These licenses require proof of good health, the means to leave at the end of the visit (eg, passage on an upcoming ship), at least NZD300/week to cover your cost of living on Pitcairn, various other conditions, and a NZD100 fee; they are valid for six months. email@example.com
There is no airstrip in the islands, and it's out of range of land-launched helicopters, so flying is not an option. (The largest flat area on Pitcairn would offer a very short runway, and level Henderson Island is both a UNESCO-listed bird sanctuary and inconveniently located.) The nearest airport is on Mangareva in the Gambier Islands, 330 miles away. You can catch a charter vessel from Mangareva.
Pitcairn Island is accessible to tourists via the island’s dedicated passenger/shipping vessel, the Claymore II, which provides passage from Mangareva to Pitcairn every 3 months. A small number of commercial cruise ships and private ocean-traversing yachts also visit the island. Sailing from French Polynesia is relatively practical; from almost anywhere else (e.g., New Zealand, Chile) it requires crossing thousands of miles of the Pacific Ocean.
The best and most reliable way to get to Pitcairn Island is to fly to Mangareva via Tahiti. Air Tahiti offers the only domestic flights to Mangareva. Air Tahiti flights occur once a week (every Tuesday). You then catch the airport taxi ferry to Rikitea village on Mangareva (in the Gambier Islands). The cost is XPF500 one way. The crew of the Claymore will meet you at the wharf in Rikitea and transfer you to the ship. 32 hours later you’ll be at Pitcairn.
- For travel enquiries or bookings you can go to Pitcairn's government Tourism site at 'VisitPitcairn' or contact firstname.lastname@example.org or the Pitcairn Island Office in Auckland on email@example.com or phone +64 9 366-0186.
- Pacific Expeditions can also arrange visits to Pitcairn Island aboard their vessel the SV Discovery previously known as Bounty Bay.. Voyages run between January and March each year. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org
Since October 2005 there is now one short paved road on Pitcairn (up the Hill of Difficulty from the landing at Bounty Bay to Adamstown), but most routes around Pitcairn Island are dirt trails, generally very rugged. Walking and personal all-terrain vehicles (3- and 4-wheel "motorbikes") are the main ways to get from one place to another, and a bike is usually available for rent.
English is the official language and spoken by everyone. Pitkern, a mixture of 18th century English and Tahitian with a bit of sailing jargon thrown in (e.g., "all hands" means "everyone"), is spoken by the residents amongst themselves.
- The remains of the Bounty are in Bounty Bay. The ship was deliberately burned and sunk by the mutineers, and it's been well picked over by divers in the meantime, but there's still an allure to seeing (what little is left of) the vessel of the true tale that made "Captain Bligh" and "the Bounty" household names.
- The Bounty's anchor is on display in front of the Public Hall in the town square, where the library/post office building, and the Adventist church can also be found.
- The new museum in Adamstown contains artifacts from the Bounty (including Fletcher Christian's Bible), stamps, issues of National Geographic featuring the islands, and other items of local interest. One of the ship's four cannons is planned to be displayed here.
- The island's school lies up in the western "suburbs" of Adamstown.
- The grave of John Adams, the last surviving mutineer who first Christianised the community, the only one with a preserved grave.
- Fletcher Christian's cave, past the school and further up, is where the lead mutineer is said to have watched for approaching ships and/or hid from his ruthless fellow settlers when necessary.
- A Galapagos tortoise named Mrs Turpin was left on the island in the early 20th century, and now lives in Tedside on the northwest shore of the island.
- Taro Ground in the south of Pitcairn is the largest flat area on the island and site of the island's traditional link to the outside world: its ham radio station.
- Flatland is a smaller plateau at the upper extent of Adamstown, with a tennis court, volleyball, and picnic facilities.
- Garnet's Ridge, at 300 m one of the highest parts of a tall island, offers great views to both the west and east.
- Highest Point is the... highest point on the island, at 337 m.
- Down Rope, a cliff on the southeast edge of the island, has ancient Polynesian petroglyphs in its face and an isolated sandy beach at its base.
- Gudgeon is a sea-level cave on the southwest side of the island, which hides a sandy beach in a large, wide space carved by the waves.
- If the ocean is calm enough, go swimming in St. Paul's Pool, a picturesque tidal pool nestled among the seaside rocks in eastern part of Pitcairn. (Swimming in the ocean itself generally isn't safe due to the rocky shoreline.)
- Sail yourself or perhaps travel with the locals to another of the islands. Oeno has sandy beaches suitable for swimming, Henderson offers rare opportunities for birdwatching and exploration of ancient caves (dwellings?), and both are good for snorkeling or scuba diving among coral reefs and a few shipwrecks. Ducie is over 300 miles away, out of range of the islanders' boats, and therefore rarely visited, but is also good for seeing rare birds.
- Every year on January 23, "Bounty Day" is celebrated with a huge community dinner and the burning of a model of the Bounty.
The internal economy is based primarily on barter, with residents producing much of their own food and sharing supplies from passing freighters or large fish catches communally. When money is used, the New Zealand dollar is the standard currency, but easily-exchanged currencies such as US or Australian dollars or UK pounds will be accepted.
The main locally-produced items for sale are handicrafts (especially woven baskets, models of the Bounty, and carvings of local wildlife out of miro wood harvested from Henderson Island) and honey, and the island's postage stamps (also available by mail overseas) are of interest to philatelists. Anything else has to be imported, and is priced accordingly.
In Adamstown village you will find the Post Office, General Store, Museum, Public Hall, Seventh Day Adventist Church, and the Pitcairn Island Medical Center and Doctor. You can get cash on credit cards in the Government Treasury. Generally, all facilities are open in the morning on Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. Saturday is the sabbath and you are welcome to attend the local church for the interdenominational service, where you'll enjoy meeting local residents and off island professionals.
There is a small co-op general store which stocks imported foodstuffs from New Zealand or French Polynesia, mostly ordered by customers in advance. It is open 3 mornings/week, an hour each. The local cuisine relies heavily on seafood. Deep-fried nanwi (bluefish) is a local favourite, with red snapper, tuna, whitefish, grouper, wahoo, and others also being common. Pilhi is made from puréed fruit (such as banana, sweet potato, or breadfruit) with sugar and milk, then baked to custard consistency. Food staples grown on the island, include arrowroot, sweet potatoes, beans, tomatoes, cabbages, pineapples, melons, citrus fruits, bananas, and breadfruit. Some families keep poultry or goats.
Other places on island:
- Christian's Cafe owned by Steve & Olive Christian. It is open every Friday from 6:30pm till late. A bar is also provided for customers.
- Browns Bakery; In the square every second Thursday at 5pm, selling freshly baked goods.
- Bounty Delectable; Takeaway meals is open on Wednesdays. They make the largest Burgers on the Island!
- Betty’s Bakery; Freshly baked goods made to order.
- Fletcher Cafe is available for coffees, snacks and lunches to order. Dinner can also be provided on request.
Alcohol was prohibited on Pitcairn prior to 1991, It was then legalised and a license was then introduced to purchase and consume alcohol on the island.
In 2009, the alcohol licence was abolished. The Islanders and visitors are no longer required to purchase a licence for consumption.
The Government now offers a Commercial License for Bars, Clubs, Restaurants & Cafes to sell alcohol.
There is one Cafe and Bar, Christian's Cafe open on Fridays from 6:30pm till late.
The Government Store on the island sells alcohol and tobacco at duty free prices.
There are two types of accommodation on Pitcairn.
- "Home-stay" style. This is arranged prior to your arrival on the Island. Accommodation rates start at US$70 per person per night. This includes all meals and Laundry. Check with your host about rates for Telephone and Internet access.
- Private self contained bungalows
For all travel, bookings and accommodation enquiries go to Pitcairn's official travel website or contact the Pitcairn Island's Tourism Coordinator (email@example.com).
If you are staying longer than 14 days, visa requirements dictate that you have your accommodation organised before arrival.
- Jacq's Place; offers accommodation and professional polynesian massage and acupuncture treatments.
There are no jobs per se available to non-residents, only a few professional services (e.g. teacher, nurse, social worker) hired by the government in New Zealand, and a pastor assigned by the international Adventist church. On the other hand, anyone taking up temporary residence on the island is expected to be self-supporting, and to help with community needs such as crewing the longboats to reach supply vessels.
At present there is a New Zealand GP on the island. Previous medical practitioners have come from Canada, New Zealand and Australia. The island has a small health clinic with dental and X-ray equipment and emergency medications, but is not equipped to deal with major problems, which may require waiting days or weeks for a nearby passing ship to provide evacuation to a medical facility. The island is out-of-range of all evacuation helicopters. Needless to say, this is no place to have a heart attack, stroke, and so on. A full medical check-up back home a couple weeks before arrival is strongly recommended.
The population are mostly members of the Seventh Day Adventist church, following mission work in the late 19th century. Although religious observance has declined, church doctrine strongly influences both public practice and civil law. For example, alcohol was legally prohibited until recently; dancing, public displays of affection, and cigarette smoking are frowned upon; and the Sabbath (Saturday) is consistently considered a day of rest (if not worship). Reasonably modest, climate-appropriate western clothing is worn.
The recent trials of several Pitcairn men (including the former mayor and much of the island's workforce) on sexual abuse charges have been very difficult for the close-knit island community, with everyone being a friend or family of at least one of the victims, the suspects, or the convicted. The incident has also brought to the surface tensions over Pitcairn's sovereignty (such as unfamiliar UK laws being tried by New Zealand courts). Strong feelings should be expected, and statements expressing any opinions beyond an acknowledgement of how difficult this has been for the islanders stand a high probability of upsetting someone in your audience.
Don't bring bees or beekeeping equipment. The island's bee population has been certified as disease-free and Pitcairn honey has become an important economic activity.
Each household now has their own private telephone and most have internet also. The country code is +64 like New Zealand.
Electricity (240V/50Hz) is available only for 5 hours in the morning and 5 hours in the evening.
Although there is no broadcast radio or television in the region, most homes are equipped with televisions and VHS/DVD players. If you bring any recordings with you, be sure they are PAL format and DVD region 4 (or bring your own DVD player), as the locals' equipment supports those standards (not NTSC or other DVD regions). That said, some PAL DVD players will play region-free NTSC, though it's better not to take a chance on anything important.
If you'll be sailing your own vessel, the nearest islands are in French Polynesia, roughly to the WNW: the isolated Gambier Islands are 330 miles away, the Acteon Group of the Tuamotu Islands are 450 miles away, and Tahiti and the rest of the Society Islands are a mere 1,300 miles off. Easter Island is about the same distance in the opposite direction.