Friday, February 28, 2020

February 26th – Stepping Foot on Pitcairn Island

Today we achieved something very rare – we actually got ashore at Pitcairn Island, one of the most remote inhabited places on the planet. We had a fantastic day meeting the islanders (many descended from the Bounty Mutineers) and exploring this beautiful little tropical island. 

Pitcairn isn’t exactly on the way to many places, so they don’t get many visitors here – plus, the strong swell of the Pacific means that almost all cruise ships that anchor in Bounty Bay just can’t get ashore. Fortunately the waves were fairly kind to us, plus we had the ship’s highly manoeuvrable zodiacs, so we were able to clamber ashore and experience an island that’s home to just 50 hardy islanders.

The thing that strikes you immediately about Pitcairn, is just how mountainous it is – there’s very little flat land, and from the pier you’re greeted by the appropriately-named Hill of Difficulty, a very steep road that takes you to the island’s one settlement, Adamstown. On a hot and humid day, we were dripping with sweat by the time we got to the top, but the thrill of visiting one the most unique places in the world made it all worthwhile.

The islanders are a friendly bunch – I got the feeling that they were just glad to have some outsiders to share their little haven with. We had some great chats finding out what it was like to live in a place where everyone knew everyone (and was probably related to everyone), where they have to be largely self-sufficient, and where they have to deal with the intense isolation – they tend to get a supply boat every 3 months.

They only have 15 hours of electricity a day, from 6am to 9pm – “we tend to go to bed pretty early here”, we were told. There’s a school on the island, but once it’s time for secondary school they are sent to stay New Zealand – I was surprised to hear that they often go away for 5 years without coming back once in that time! One young lady who had just returned from New Zealand told us, “until I went away, I thought Pitcairn was big. Then I went to New Zealand and it was massive!”. It was fascinating to hear the different perspective of the islanders.

We went for a hike to visit Fletcher Christian’s Cave – the spot up in the hills where Christian would scan the horizon checking for Royal Navy ships on the hunt for him and his fellow Mutineers. The trek was rough but beautiful – we passed through thick forests, wild and rocky landscapes which looked like something out of Jurassic Park, and open cliff-faces. It can’t be easy to grow up here, but when you have a playground like this it can’t be too bad.

Somehow the islanders managed to cook a lunch for the 200 or so passengers who came ashore here – really tasty and a cold beer has never tasted so good. Before it was time to go, one of the kind islanders offered to take us up to the highest point of the island on one of their ATVs. Looking down on the island, it felt bigger than I’d imagined – so much space for such a small community; but it also brought home how small their world was – this was the only land (apart from some uninhabitable islands) for hundreds and hundreds of miles. 

To deal with this complete isolation, the islanders have developed a unique community spirit, and they have put their well-documented troubles behind them. I absolutely loved my time on Pitcairn, and had a real sense of poignancy as we took our boat away, as I wondered how will this precariously small community cope in the coming years? I wish them all the best – unique places like Pitcairn deserve to survive.