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Pitcairn Islands

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Travel Guide Oceania Polynesia Pitcairn Islands

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Introduction

The Landing

The Landing

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Halfway between New Zealand and South America are the Pitcairn Islands. Of the four islands, Pitcairn Island is the only inhabited one. It is one of the most remote inhabited islands on earth. The island is home to descendants of the HMAV Bounty mutineers, who settled on the island in 1790, although nowadays there are also quite a few other people living on the island.

This small island has few exports apart from the famous pure honey and miro-wood carvings, although tourism is on the rise. Visiting the island though is not for the time pressed traveller, although quite a few cruise ships stop here so you can get a relatively quick look around.

Among the attractions on the islands are a rare bird life, historic artifacts from the mutiny which are housed in the museum, a sign posted eco trail that leads up to Christians Cave, and other historical landmarks. You’ll have plenty of time to explore the island and most importantly get to know the locals.

As the official religion is the Seventh-day Adventist Church, Saturday is the official day of rest.

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Brief History

Pitcairn was probably inhabited or otherwise frequently visited by Polynesians and was visited for a short while by Portuguese and British explorers. Still, afterwards it was deserted until 1790 when the mutineers of the H.M.A.V. Bounty and their Tahitian companions settled there. The leader was Fletcher Christian. They burned and sank the ship in Bounty Bay (the current landing spot for very small boats) and founded a village on Pitcairn. Alcohol, murder and other problems meant that not many people survived. John Adams, the last mutineer which survived, converted others (mainly women and children) to Christianity. They lived there for 24 years before being discovered by the British. They allowed them to stay on the island though and Pitcairn was the first Pacific island to become a British colony (in 1838) and remains so up until today.

Sign at the Highest Point

Sign at the Highest Point

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In 2004, a major sexual abuse scandal brought negative global attention to the island resulting in a series of legal proceedings taking place on the island and in New Zealand. Six men from the island received sentences ranging from community service to six years in prison.

During the night of 3 February 2012, torrential rains caused land slides around the island, seriously damaging the small harbour and the access road to the harbour. Also, some boats were damaged but houses and people were safe. It was the worst natural disaster the island had seen for decades, as there was over 400 mm of rain in 24 hours!

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Geography

The main island of Pitcairn is volcanic with a peak of 337 metres above sea level. The island has (almost) no beaches, but is mainly surrounded by cliffs. It is the only island with fresh water sources. Other islands are generally flat. Henderson Island is the largest island, a coral formation, raised 15-30 metres above sea level by volcanic activity, and has caves along its shoreline. It's on the Unesco list and has some rare and endangered species of birds, 4 of which are endemic to the island. Oeno is a small and flat island with great beaches and is surrounded by a circular reef. It's paradise and the holiday destination (so to speak) of the Pitcairners, with palm trees, lovely beaches, and a sheltered lagoon. Ducie is the island further to the east and is a circular reef and island. This island is rarely visited.

St. Paul's Rock and Natural Pool

St. Paul's Rock and Natural Pool

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Islands

The Pitcairn Islands are made up of 4 main islands. All but Pitcairn Island are uninhabited.

  • Pitcairn Island is the second largest island and home to the island's population.
  • Henderson Island is the largest island, home to several endangered birds, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is located around 160 kilometres northeast of Pitcairn Island.
  • Oeno Island is a coral atoll used as a private holiday site by the population of Pitcairn Island, 128 kilometres northwest of Pitcairn Island.
  • Ducie Island is another coral atoll located some 475 kilometres east of Pitcairn Island. Due to its remote location, it is very rarely visited and is not considered as beautiful as the others.

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Towns

  • Adamstown is the capital and only village. At the square you will find a post office, the treasury office, and the Bounty cannon. There is a regular market at the square as well. The post office and treasury are generally open 3 days a week for an hour. They can also be opened by special request out of regular hours. At the post office and store, New Zealand dollars are generally taken, but American dollars are also welcome.

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Sights and Activities

Henderson Island

Henderson Island

Henderson Island

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Henderson Island is Pitcairn's largest island and on the UNESCO World Heritage List due to its rare bird life. It is one of the few islands in the world that consists of a raised coral atoll. As UNESCO puts it, it is one of the few atolls in the world whose ecology has almost been untouched by human influence. The island is less than 40 square kilometres big, but there are no less than 10 endemic plant species and 4 land birds which are endemic as well. It was also made a UNESCO site in 1988 because of it large untouched phosphate reserves. Some areas are off limits to travellers and you usually have to go ashore at the north beach. But wear sturdy shoes because there is coral everywhere just below the sea level. Visiting the island requires special permission from the Pitcairn Island Council.

The Pitcairn Island Museum

The Pitcairn Island Museum houses a collection of artifacts from the Bounty, and many interesting items from the Bounty mutineers and the Polynesian settlers. Other items of interest include stamps and even issues of National Geographic featuring the islands. It is located in the centre of Adamstown. The Bounty Bible is now located in the Seventh-day Adventist Church.

Oeno Lagoon

Oeno Lagoon

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The Bounty Remains

The remains of the Bounty, which was burned in 1790 lie some 3 metres underwater in Bounty Bay. Divers are able to access the wreck. The Bounty's anchor and a small cannon can be seen in front of the Public Hall in the town. square. A larger cannon can be seen about a hundred meters east from the square along the main road.

The grave of John Adams

John Adams was the last surviving mutineer, and the capital was named after him. The grave is a little east from the central square, a short walk up a hill.

Other sights and activities

  • Acadia Island which is an islet of the main Island Ducie, is home to a plethora of seabirds and the wreck of the Acadia, a British shipwreck from 1881.
  • St. Paul's Pool, a natural pool for swimming down the cliffs.
  • Watching an old Galapagos turtle named Miss T.
  • The other islands you can theoretically visit, apart from Pitcairn and Henderson Island, are the islands and atolls of Ducie and Oeno. Remember though that visiting both islands require you to have a small rubber boat (dinghy) to pass the reef. There is a gap for entering the Oeno lagoon, but visiting Ducie requires you to wait when it is high tide, which can be extremely dangerous.
Oeno Atoll

Oeno Atoll

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Events and Festivals

  • On January 23, Bounty Day is celebrated. On this day, there is a large community fish fry at the Landing, weather permitting, and the burning of a model of the Bounty, combined with other festivities.
  • On July 1, the island celebrates Pitcairn Day - Sports activities are planned, and a public meal is enjoyed by the inhabitants.
  • On December 25, Christmas is celebrated by putting up small harvested trees, sometimes the jessamy tree, in the square. The the islanders either tie their presents for one another to the trees, place them around the base, or put them onto provided tables. At a pre-agreed time, islanders then walk around the trees either cutting down the presents, or picking them up, and calling out the recipients name.

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Weather

The Pitcairn Islands have a moderate subtropical climate with rarely any real cold nights or hot days. The lowest temperatures ever recorded are around 10 °C, the highest 34 °C. On average, August is the coldest month (19 °C) while February is the warmest (24 °C). The slightly cooler months of June to September are also the driest. From November to March, there can be heavy downpours and as a result the roads on Pitcairn become muddy slides. There has been concreting of some of the main roads, while the vast majority remains dirt. Occasionally, hurricanes can strike the islands in this period, but mostly they are not more than heavy tropical storms, rarely causing severe damage.
During summer the island can become tinder dry and very dusty.

Crabs at Oeno

Crabs at Oeno

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There is a high fire risk in dry weather. All care must be taken when extinguishing cigarettes. Pitcairn’s fresh water catchment is dependent on rainfall. In dry weather consideration must be given to water conservation.

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Getting There

By Plane

There are no options of getting to the Pitcairn Islands by plane.

By Boat

You can travel to the islands on the Pitcairn Islands government chartered passenger shipping vessel the Claymore II which departs Mangareva for Pitcairn, in as many as 4 rotations, 4 times a year. Currently, each rotation enables visitors to stay for either 4 or 11 days on Island. You can also get to Pitcairn via passing cruise ships or privately chartered yachts.

The MV Claymore II visits several times each year. Ships depart from Mangareva, one of the Gambier Islands, a remote outpost of French Polynesia which has the airport closest to the Pitcairn Islands at about 500 kilometres.

The boat stays at the Pitcairn Island for 4 nights before heading back. This first trip is then followed by another one shortly after, which you can catch back if you want a slightly longer trip. After that second trip, it's a couple of months until the next boat arrives.

Ocean Voyages, Pitcairn Travel and Soren Larsen have occasional charter trips as well, but are more expensive sailing trips.

Other options are to find a place on a yacht (landing fees apply), book on one of the occasional cruise ships that stop by the islands, or via private charters. All visitor arrivals must pay a US$35 landing fee, payable to the Pitcairn Island Office, prior to arrival or to the Pitcairn Police and Immigration Officer on arrival.

Colorful flowers

Colorful flowers

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Getting Around

By Ship

The remoteness of Pitcairn Island, as well as its unique history and dramatic landscape, is part of the Island’s attraction as an adventure destination. But these features also present certain risks.

Pitcairn is one of the most isolated islands in the world. When you travel on board the Pitcairn Government’s dedicated Passenger/Shipping vessel, ‘MV Claymore II’, you will be at sea for at least two nights before arriving at Pitcairn Island. There is no airport on the Island, so when on the Island you will be at least two days sail from the nearest airport – back in the Gambier Islands (where you will have boarded the Claymore II). Go to the Pitcairn Islands tourism website at www.visitpitcairn.pn for more information. Apart from Henderson and Oeno, you might even be able to visit remote Ducie island.

By ATV

All Pitcairn Accommodation hosts welcome their guests at the Bounty Bay Landing on arrival providing free transfers, generally via 4 wheel Quad Bikes. Quad Bikes are the primary means of transportation on the island. While islanders are skilled riders in all types of weather and road conditions, quads bikes are not designed to carry passengers and accidents can occur. Visitors should be aware that travelling on quad bikes is undertaken at the passenger’s own risk. Local safety standards require that no more than 2 passengers per vehicle may be carried at any one time.

By Foot

Of course, you might be able to walk around the main island Pitcairn and several of the other islands. You can practically walk around the Oene atoll for example which has some really nice beaches. Note that parts of Henderson are not easy to get to and because of its status as a UNESCO protected island you can not just walk everywhere.

Pitcairn roads

Pitcairn roads

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Clothing and footwear
Clothing should be comfortable and light weight. Visitors are advised to bring trousers, a warm jumper and light rain coat for wet weather and cooler winter nights. Hats, sun glasses and sun-block are essential in the summer months. You will need comfotable, strong walking shoes when exploring Pitcairn Island. Many roads and walkways to the island’s historic and natural attractions are steep and gravelly. All care must be taken regardless of weather conditions.

Be mindful and ask for help
Most Pitcairn households will have a sturdy handmade Pitcairn walking stick to purchase. Don’t be afraid to ask for one as they work wonders, going both up and down hill, and make a wonderful keep sake. There are many remarkable, must see, natural attractions on Pitcairn Island. Some are not easily accessible. It is strongly recommended that you use local guides when visiting these sites and that you are prepared and able to deal with Pitcairn’s sometimes rugged environment. Be sure to always let your hosts know where you are going when you explore the island independently. In hot weather always carry drinking water.

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Red Tape

You do not have to apply for a visitor visa if your intended stay on island is less than 14 days. If you wish to apply for a long term visitor visa (up to 6 months) or a business visa please go to www.pitcairn.pn or contact admin@pitcairn.pn for an application form.

Visitor applications for children under the age of 16 years
There are currently restrictions in place regarding visits and settlement by children under 16 years of age. If you wish to apply to visit Pitcairn, on behalf of a child, please contact the Deputy Governor’s Office at Kevin.lynch2@fco.gov.uk before submitting any application.

Government chartered passenger travel - terms & conditions
To view the Pitcairn Islands government chartered Passenger Travel Terms & Conditions go to www.pitcairn.gov.pn or contact admin@pitcairn.gov.pn. Any enquiries concerning visiting Pitcairn, please contact at tourism@pitcairn.pn, or take a look at www.visitpitcairn.pn.

Fishing and swimming at the Landing

Fishing and swimming at the Landing

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Money

See also Money Matters

The official currency of the Pitcairn Islands is the New Zealand dollar (NZD). 1 dollar is divided into 100 cents. There are 10c, 20c, 50c, $1 and $2 coins. Bills are issued in $5, $10, $20, $50 and $100.

Other currencies, mainly US dollars and Euros, are widely accepted though.

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Work and Immigration

Pitcairn is a British Overseas Territory and is currently in receipt of budgetary aid. The population of Pitcairn has gradually reduced from a peak level of over 200 people in the 1930's to a relatively static level of 50 locals since the mid 1980's. Today, the population is an aging one. Therefore the labour force is dwindling, while the burden placed upon it is increasing. Traditionally Pitcairn is a seafaring nation, dependent on physical work such as unloading supply ships, maintaining roads, operating machinery, and producing crops from gardens. As the social economy of the island evolves so too do the requirements of the island's workforce.

If you're fit health and strong and interested in the lifestyle on a small remote island, with a comfortable climate, and rich in natural resources, including abundant marine life, send an email to immigration@pitcairn.gov.pn for more information.

During 2013 Pitcairn is going through infrastructural developments. This may provide employment opportunities. Pitcairn also welcomes immigrants who are self-supporting. Immigrants seeking residence and settlement are required to complete and submit the application form for settlement found at www.pitcairn.gov.pn

Lonely palmtree at Oeno atoll

Lonely palmtree at Oeno atoll

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Study

The school provides primary education, based on the New Zealand syllabus, and correspondence courses in post-primary education were introduced in 1957. Overseas secondary education is encouraged by the grant of bursaries and a number of students have received secondary education in New Zealand. The teacher is contracted for two year terms. The teacher is assisted by a Pitcairn culture teacher, a pre school teacher, and staff include a cleaner and grounds person.

The equipment is modern and includes a 7.5 kva generator, video conference equipment, sound system, computers, television, VCR/DVD, photocopier and a range of woodwork tools. The school library is kept well stocked.

The average attendance at the school in the early 1950s was 20 pupils, increasing to 28 in 1959 and 36 in 1962. Since then the roll has gradually decreased. In 1999 there were 10 pupils.

The pattern of education on Pitcairn keeps pace with curriculum changes in New Zealand. The island, traditionally a land of smallholders and handicraft traders, has developed new markets for the export of dried fruit and honey products. Tourism is developing into a more significant local industry both with visits by cruise ships and with those who visit to stay a few weeks on the island.

The education policy therefore aims to provide a broad range of skills to enable adaptability in a changing environment. In 2012 there are 8 children attending school.

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Language

Pitcairn is a bilingual island, with English predominating. Pitkern is a mixture of 18th century English and Tahitian with a bit of sailing jargon and is spoken by the residents amongst themselves.

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Eat

There is one general store on Pitcairn Island, usually open during 3 mornings a week for an hour or so. You will most likely have full board at your local host's home. Locals offer a variety of of home cooked meals.

Residents produce much of their own food and share supplies from passing freighters or large fish catches which they do themselves when sailing towards other islands as well.

Seafood is popular with deep-fried nanwi (bluefish) being a local favorite. Others include red snapper, tuna, whitefish, grouper and wahoo. Poultry or goats are sometimes kept by locals to provide some extra food on top of seafood.

Pilhi is made from grated fruit (banana, sweet potato, or the famous breadfruit) with sugar and milk. It is then baked to custard. Food grown on Pitcairn Island includes arrowroot, sweet potatoes, papayas, beans, tomatoes, cabbage, pineapple, melons, citrus fruits, bananas, and breadfruit.

Deserted beach at Oeno

Deserted beach at Oeno

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Sleep

Pitcairn Islands maintains a list of registered accommodation providers (as of Oct 2012, there are 14). The full list and prices can be found on the Visit Pitcairn website. Prices range from $70-$120 per person, per day. Options vary from homestays where all your meals are included to private chalets.

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Drink

Alcohol and cigarettes are sold at the general store. No license is required for either.

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Health

See also Travel Health

Pitcairn is not the kind of place you should visit if you have any known health issues and it is worth doing a full medical checkup before heading for Pitcairn. The island has a functioning medical centre and qualified resident doctor, medical assistance is necessarily limited by the island’s isolation. The island itself is steep and rugged in parts. Medical insurance is mandatory and staying on Pitcairn is at your own risk. By s 22 of the Immigration Ordinance (Laws of Pitcairn, ch 12), liability on the part of the United Kingdom Crown, the Pitcairn Islands Government and officials (and other persons performing statutory functions) is excluded for personal injury or death. Travel insurance is also strongly advised.

There are no vaccinations legally required to travel to the Pitcairn Islands. There is one exception though. You need a yellow fever vaccination if you have travelled to a country (7 days or less before entering the Pitcairn Islands) where that disease is widely prevalent.
It's a good thing to get your vaccinations in order before travelling to the Pitcairn Islands. The general vaccination against Diphtheria, Tetanus and Polio (DTP) is recommended. Also a hepatitis A vaccination is recommended and when travelling longer than 2 weeks also typhoid. Vaccination against hepatitis B is also sometimes recommended for stays longer than 3 months. Finally, other possible health issues include diarrhea and other general travellers' diseases like motion sickness. Watch what you eat and drink and in case you get it, drink plenty of fluids (to prevent dehydration) and bring ORS.

For more information please go to www.visitpitcairn.pn, under the visas & legal info, then under the tourist info heading.

Sunset at Pitcairn Island

Sunset at Pitcairn Island

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Safety

See also Travel Safety

The Pitcairn Islands are one of the safest areas in the world and there is relatively no crime. Probably your biggest problem (if at all), would be the natural environment. Be careful where you walk on the main island, as there are several steep cliffs. Also, getting on land on the outer islands (Oeno, Henderson, Ducie) can at least be called an adventure, though it is generally safe.

Travel insurance is also strongly advised. Bad weather and sea conditions can unexpectedly lengthen travelling time and there are generally only two flights per week from Mangareva (in the Gambier Islands, French Polynesia) to Tahiti.

Being physically fit and aware of your limitations is important when considering Pitcairn as a travel destination. If you have recently experienced injury or illness please ensure your doctor has given you medical clearance before you make your travel plans.

If you take regular medication, we strongly advise that you seek extra supplies from your doctor prior to travelling.
If you are prone to sea sickness please ensure you travel with appropriate medication.

As with most Islands throughout the Pacific, mosquito repellant is strongly advised.

Pitcairn’s night skies are incredibly beautiful. Remember to bring a torch if you enjoy an evening walk and a bit of star gazing.

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Keep Connected

Internet

Internet access is available on the island, inquire through the tourism department for availablility. The country's top level domain (tld) is .pn.
When staying with people at their homes, you will highly likely use their internet connections, either for a fee or for free.

Phone

See also International Telephone Calls

Individual homes now have outside telephone connections. Inquire through the tourism department for availability. Locals communicate with ships via VHF radio.

Post

Due to reliable shipping happening on a 3 monthly basis, the postal service via New Zealand is infrequent and can take months for delivery. The post office is open 3 days a week for an hour each day.

Voltage

Local voltage is 230-240Volts. For electrical travel adaptors - Pitcairn’s plug/socket system is the Australia/New Zealand standard.

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Quick Facts

Pitcairn Islands flag

Map of Pitcairn Islands

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Capital
Adamstown
Population
67, of which 53 permanently
Government
Overseas territory of the UK
Religions
Christianity (7th Day Adventist)
Languages
English, Pitkern-Norfolk
Calling Code
+64
Nationality
Pitcairnese
Local name
Pitkern Ilan

Contributors

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Pitcairn Islands Travel Helpers

  • Utrecht

    Although independent travel to the Pitcairn Islands is impossible without your own yacht, I am probably one of only a few members here on travellerspoint that has been there. To the main island (Pitcairn) as well as both Oeno and Henderson Island (not to Ducie unfortuntely, the fourth one). The article in the travelguide is pretty complete, but if you have more questions, please don't hesitate to ask me personally.

    Ask Utrecht a question about Pitcairn Islands
  • erodrigo

    With ways how to get there and where to stay

    Ask erodrigo a question about Pitcairn Islands

This is version 168. Last edited at 2:47 on May 31, 13 by Peter. 15 articles link to this page.

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