travel and life with lee mylne

Going the distance to Pitcairn Island

There’s an old saying about the journey being more important than the destination. This story is about one of those times when that saying really rang true for me, when the journey to get there was (almost) as interesting as the place I was going to.

When I was offered the chance to visit Pitcairn Island, I knew it would be a once-in-a-lifetime trip. Pitcairn is one of the most remote places in the world, a tiny speck in the vastness of the South Pacific and famous as the hiding place of the Bounty mutineers.

In 1789 a sailor called Fletcher Christian led a mutiny on the British naval vessel HMS Bounty, taking the ship and setting the captain, William Bligh, and his loyal crew members adrift in a small boat.  

Several months later, the nine mutineers and 19 Polynesian men, women and children, landed and settled on Pitcairn Island, one of the most isolated islands in the world, about half way between New Zealand and Peru. It is roughly 2170km (1350 miles) east south-east of Tahiti,  just over 6600km (4100 miles) from Panama, and 5310km (3300 miles) from Auckland, New Zealand (around the distance from London to New York).

To avoid detection, the ship was burned, an act which marooned the men and their families but kept their secret until 1808 when a passing ship discovered them. By then, the only survivors were one mutineer, John Adams, 11 Polynesian women and 25 children. Today, almost all of the 50 or so inhabitants of Pitcairn are direct descendants of the Bounty mutineers. 

To get to the Pitcairn Islands (there are four islands, only one inhabited) these days is a long and expensive journey. Pitcairn has no airport, so a sea voyage is the only way to get there.

From Australia, the first step is to fly to New Zealand, where flights from Auckland connect to Papeete, the capital of French Polynesia, on the island of Tahiti, where the Bounty story began.

The lure of French Polynesia.

After arriving at midnight, I found the next day was a public holiday, with most things closed, so spent a day relaxing at the Manava Suite Resort Tahiti.

Taking a ferry to the island of Moorea for two nights, I stayed in a gorgeous bure at Manava Beach Resort & Spa. The next day, I picked up a rental car and explored the island.

Bures at Manava Beach Resort & Spa, Moorea.

There were lots of lovely little surprises and flashes of colour along the way as I drove Moorea’s one and only road, taking 60km to circumnavigate the island.

Roadside fruit stall on Moorea.

I chanced on a traditional umu (earth oven) Sunday lunch at Pineapple Beach (which only happens once a month) and lingered for a while enjoying the sea view and laid-back atmosphere. 

Preparing an umu at Pineapple Beach, Moorea.

The next day I was up at 6am to start the next leg of my journey.  From Papeete, it’s a four-hour flight to Mangareva in the Gambier group, the furtherest east of the French Polynesian islands, around 1600km from Tahiti.  Mangareva is one of four main islands that surround a huge lagoon – a wonderful sight from the air as we flew in. The airstrip is on an atoll, and from there it’s a 40-minute ferry ride to Managreva itself. 

Looking down on the lagoon in the Gambier Islands.

The ship departures to Pitcairn are timed to meet the weekly flight to Mangareva. Before boarding, there was a bit of time to wander around Mangareva’s main settlement Rikitea, which proved more interesting than I had expected. Mangareva has a population of around 1200, but there were few people around as I wandered around.

The quiet main street of Rikitea, Mangareva.

St Michael’s Catholic Cathedral is the dominant building, impressive but simple on the outside, but with an ornate altar decorated with shells. 
There were other interesting buildings too, but their origins remain a mystery to me, as there was nobody around to ask (and anyway, I learned later very little English is spoken here). 
The supply ship to Pitcairn takes only 12 passengers (in six cabins), and with rough seas from time to time, all of my fellow passengers took to their beds or lay prone in various parts of the ship, fighting off seasickness. Not suffering at all, I spent most of my time on the ship’s bridge in the company of whichever crew member was on watch duty. All New Zealanders, they were an interesting bunch of blokes, well-read and well-travelled and great to hang out with (the cargo service has since changed to Norwegian shipping company).
It was an interesting experience for me, as someone who’s seldom been on a long cruise on the open sea. For the whole journey, there was no land in sight, few birds and no other traffic on the ocean. Pitcairn’s remoteness came into sharp focus over those 32 hours.
As dawn broke on our second day at sea, I was in the watch-house to get the first look at Pitcairn Island as it appeared on the horizon. As we drew closer, and established radio contact with the island, daylight gave a better look at this rugged piece of rock that the mutineers and their descendants have called home for centuries.

Pitcairn Island, one of the most remote places in the world.

Pitcairn has no safe harbour, so the only way ashore is aboard a 13-metre longboat, sent out from the island to carry passengers shore from the ship anchored in the bay. The islanders are skilled seamen, and the longboats are also used to transfer cargo ashore, in an exercise that takes several days.

Taking the longboat ashore to Pitcairn.

As we sat in the longboat, looking up at the stark island rearing from the sea, the visitors among us exchanged excited grins, feeling perhaps a little of the elation that those English sailors felt centuries before.

There’s no doubt in my mind that Pitcairn Island will remain the most remote and isolated place I travel to in my life. It was an unforgettable experience, both for the journey and the destination. To read more about my time on the island, go to this article I wrote for Vacations & Travel magazine.

NOTE: Pitcairn Island is currently closed to visitors during the coronavirus pandemic. At other times, the only access is aboard the supply ship MV Silver Supporter, by private yacht, or cruise ship (which generally only stop for a few hours, weather conditions permitting). For details and updates, check the website.

A Glass Half Full travelled to Pitcairn Island as a guest of Pitcairn Islands Tourism. 

2 Responses to “Going the distance to Pitcairn Island”

  1. Sartenada

    Hello.

    Wow. I have heard the name, but it is all what i know. Very interesting post and wonderful photos. Thank you.

    Have a good day!

    Reply

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