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Holiday Guides for Oceania - Pitcairn

Pitcairn Islands

As a far-flung destination the Pitcairn Islands, lying isolated in the South Pacific, are hard to beat - and they bear the curious, haunting legacy of one of the world's most famous shipping mutinies.

The forsaken island of Pitcairn is a mere dot in the middle of the vast Pacific Ocean, but it is a dot with a chequered and enthralling past which still fascinates the world today.

Britain's most isolated dependency is not on any international air routes and is quite honestly a chore to get to, although this historic yet troubled gem in the South Pacific would certainly be one for the adventurous traveller to scrub off their list.

The Pitcairn Islands are in fact a group of four islands, banished to the middle of the Pacific to sit only on a few shipping lanes halfway between New Zealand and Peru.

Named after the fifteen year-old British Naval crewmember who first spotted them in July 1767, the Pitcairn Islands were finally settled in 1790 by the famous mutineers of the HMS Bounty led by Fletcher Christian.

Captain Bligh's adversaries on board the infamous Bounty went missing for 19 years following the oft-recalled mutiny in the South Seas, although it was later discovered the nine men set up home on Pitcairn to avoid the wrath of the British Navy.

With the assistance of several natives taken for a ride from nearby Tahiti, the original settlers survived by fishing the waters around Bounty Bay and farming the fertile land, though before their leader converted his men to Christianity with the aid of the Bounty's sole bible, the islands were far from a tropical paradise, with alcoholism, murder and disease the leading causes of deaths of the majority of the British seamen.

Following a successful Adventist mission to the islands, the population converted to Adventism, which continues to shape society to this day, with strict moral codes meaning that visitors to the island hoping to drink cocktails whilst sun-bathing topless on the beach are likely to regret their choice of holiday destination.

Although peaking at 233 before World War Two, today's population has dwindled and fallen to below 50, as the younger generation desperately try to leave the island for the shores of New Zealand and Australia.

With a modern labour force of less than twenty, the local economy is solely reliant upon passing trade to support the subsidence farming and fishing lifestyle.

Only very occasionally do genuine tourists pay a visit to the islands, making the day trip from their expedition-type cruise ships, though improved postal communications have helped to feed the global demand for Pitcairn Island stamps and, to a lesser extent, locally-produced honey and handicrafts.

Due to the sheer difficulties of getting to and from the islands, in addition to the complex process of bureaucracy involved, visitors usually stay for months at a time, effectively making them temporary residents, for which they will require a licence from the governor, who actually lives in New Zealand.

Those that do stay for some time will be rewarded with undisturbed peace and quiet, excellent snorkelling and bird watching as well as a solitary museum on the history of the islands, from the Mutiny of the Bounty to the present day.

Despite Pitcairn's undoubted natural beauty, formed from the lush volcanic soil and hilly forested centre, life on the main island is rather out of the ordinary.

But for the determined traveller, life on an almost deserted island with locals who still speak a hybrid language of 18th-century sea-faring dialect and old Tahitian is a once in a lifetime experience.

Pitcairn Island does have many interesting peculiarities and sights of its own to see – including Christian Fletcher's bible (kept in a glass box in the local church), the anchor from the Bounty and some of the most amusing and (un)inventive place names in the world.

Be sure to cross Bang On Iron; Bitey-Bitey; Break Im Hip; Hill of Difficulty; John Catch-a-Cow; Oh Dear and Little George Cocknuts off your list.

While travellers are consistently warned to visit the world's most obscure places before they become flooded with tourists, there seems little danger of the Pitcairn Islands succumbing to modernity or mass tourism in the foreseeable future.

More likely, future visitors will find the islands uninhabited, apart from maybe Mrs Turpin, the Galapagos tortoise who currently resides on the northwest shore of Pitcairn Island.