Pitcairn Island



Although not part of French Polynesia, Pitcairn, 1,300 mi/2,100 km southeast of Papeete, Tahiti, is nearer that territory than anywhere else. And the island's history is directly linked to Tahiti. Politically, the island is a dependent territory of the U.K. and is administered from New Zealand.

Pitcairn's inhabitants are descendants of the HMS Bounty mutineers and the Tahitians who accompanied them to the island. Remote, verdant and characterized by steep cliffs that make a ship landing difficult, the island was chosen by the mutineers as a hideout from the British Navy in 1790. Their plan worked, though only one of the mutineers survived past 1800. The others, including their leader Fletcher Christian, were killed by a combination of violence and disease. Their descendants became fervent Christians and later adopted the Seventh-Day Adventist faith. Today, the hardy islanders speak in a strange, old-world English dialect.

Getting to Pitcairn is not easy. There is no runway for planes, so visitors arrive by boat, often on one of the few cruise ships that call there when weather conditions allow. Those wishing to spend more than a few hours on the island can join one of the yacht and research vessel cruises from Mangareva in the Gambier Islands of French Polynesia. There are no hotels or guesthouses, so the organizers of the Mangareva trips accommodate their passengers with local residents. These companies also arrange the required permits.

Adamstown, the only settlement on Pitcairn, has a Seventh-Day Adventist church. The Bible from the Bounty is on display there, and a few other items from the famous ship, including the anchor and a cannon, are displayed around town.

Radio antennae and a satellite receiver decorate the island's highest point and provide the only communication link with the outside world besides the occasional passing ship. When a boat is sighted on the horizon, the church bell is rung 10 times, regardless of whether the ship stops at Pitcairn or not. The locals often come out on longboats to greet ships and sell wood carvings, baskets, needlepoint and the famous Pitcairn Island postage stamps.

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