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Pitcairn Islands Travel Profile

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 the most isolated British dependency, apart from Tristan da Cunha. 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).

Regions

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

Settlements

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.

Understand

History

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 until 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.

Climate

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.

Landscape

Pitcairn is distinctly volcanic, jutting steeply out of the ocean with a peak of 1,106 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 miles from Pitcairn), a circular reef and island, popular with seabirds.

Talk

The local languages are English and Pitkern.

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 Norfuk language spoken on Norfolk Island is a dialect of Pitkern. Nevertheless, everyone on Pitcairn speaks standard English fluently.

See

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 which is in the southern part 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 337m.

Do

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 snorkelling or scuba diving among coral reefs and a few shipwrecks. Dulcie 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 23 January, "Bounty Day" is celebrated with a huge community dinner and the burning of a model of the Bounty.

Eat

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.

Drink

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 offers a commercial license for bars, clubs, restaurants and 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.