Jamie Morton

Jamie Morton is science reporter at the NZ Herald.

Mutineers' barren refuge turns tourist paradise

Pitcairn Island visitor numbers have fallen since a shipping lane change rerouted valuable sea traffic. Photo / Supplied
Pitcairn Island visitor numbers have fallen since a shipping lane change rerouted valuable sea traffic. Photo / Supplied

It's bare of white sandy beaches and about as far away as you can get from anywhere - but that hasn't stopped super-remote Pitcairn Island from marketing itself as a holiday paradise in a newly embraced tourism push.

Today, about 50 residents on the lonely island in the South Pacific are celebrating Bounty Day - or the 222nd anniversary of the burning of HMS Bounty - along with a handful of visitors who were drawn in for the festivities.

Islanders hope the official holiday, marked with boat races and the annual burning of a miniature replica of the Bounty, will become an annual tourist-puller as they look to holidaymakers as a way to bolster a flagging economy.

Visitor numbers have dwindled since a shipping lane change slashed the once-large number of ships that would stop by Pitcairn and buy produce and island-made crafts and curios, Pitcairn Islands Study Centre director Herbert Ford told the Herald.

The island's international image had not recovered from the 2004 sex assault trials which resulted in six islanders - including mayor Steve Christian - convicted on 35 charges.

"That's Pitcairn's burden to bear," said Mr Ford, who saw the trials as "just a piece of history now".

Rather, islanders were keen to trade on the history of their mutinous sailor-ancestors who hid themselves away from British justice in 1790, immortalised on the the screen by the 1962 Marlon Brando film Mutiny on the Bounty, as well as the relics of other vessels shipwrecked near Pitcairn.

"There's an awful lot of interest in the Bounty story, especially in Europe," Mr Ford said.

"For tourists, Pitcairn has the smack of adventure to it, the romantic and adventurous story of the Bounty solidly glued to it ... and it's such an isolated place that you get the idea you are going to go as far from the outside world as you possibly can."

But with the quest for seclusion comes the long haul of getting to Pitcairn, where visitors must first fly to Papeete in Tahiti, catch a flight to Mangareva in the Gambier Islands and then spend up to 36 hours on a chartered boat.

"You do have a few cruise ships going by, but these don't quite add up to what you used to have, with a few commercial vessels in one day," Mr Ford said.

"In terms of tourists, on the other hand, it's changed 100 per cent - whereas you might have once had four or five over several months, now they're seeing four or five each month. They'd like to get that up to maybe 20 or 30 each month if they could."

As for things to do, Mr Ford said visitors should not head to Pitcairn expecting another Hawaii or Fiji.

"Before I started the centre, I was seeing a tremendous number of newspaper pieces describing white sandy beaches and lazy islanders lying under palm trees, which was all cloud nine stuff.

"None of that applies to Pitcairn - it's just a volcanic rocky outcrop and the biggest threat is falling off a cliff."

Instead, Pitcairn tourism officials cite "great fishing", quad bike tours, snorkelling, hiking and bird-watching among numerous other "fun spots" in a Pitcairn vacation package.

HIGHLIGHTS

Fishing: With pristine waters teeming with fresh fish, visiting fishers can head out with locals in a boat, fish off the rocks or get their catch underwater.

Snorkelling and scuba diving: An abundance of marine life can be found around the island - especially amid the wrecks of the Cornwallis and the Bounty.

Bird watching: The island boasts the endangered Pitcairn Island warbler, while Henderson Island, 193km away, is home to a range of birds including the flightless Henderson crake.

Walking: The island is well signposted and offers an eco trail and unique flora and fauna along the track to local landmark Christian's Cave.

- NZ Herald

© Copyright 2014, APN New Zealand Limited

Assembled by: (static) on red akl_a1 at 02 Sep 2014 21:44:36 Processing Time: 885ms