Lee Mylne visits one of the most remote places on Earth

The world spins golden under puffy clouds as dawn breaks. In every direction there is nothing but sea and sky.

It's quiet on the ship's bridge. After days of travel and 32 hours at sea, the anticipation is palpable as we wait for the first sight of our destination, one of the most remote places on the planet.

An indistinct smudge on the horizon, and then the craggy profile of Pitcairn Island takes shape. I exchange grins with 20-year-old Aucklander Bradley Brown, one of my 12 fellow passengers aboard the Pitcairn supply ship that is carrying us towards the home of his forebears. We're the only ones up to see this remarkable sight; the other passengers (some suffering the dreaded mal de mer) are tucked up in their cabins.

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We feel, perhaps, just a little of the elation that a ragged group of English sailors felt centuries before when they too first saw the rugged island that would become their home and hideout. Notorious as the landing place of the nine Bounty mutineers, led by Fletcher Christian, who set Captain William Bligh and his loyalists adrift and took the ship for their own in 1789, Pitcairn is now creating a new name for itself as a destination for adventure travellers.

Pitcairn Island. Photo / Lee Mylne
Pitcairn Island. Photo / Lee Mylne

Getting there is an integral part of the experience. From Auckland, the first stop is Tahiti, the place that seduced the mutineers and gave them their wives and companions. From there, it's a three-hour flight by small plane to the Gambier Islands, in the far east of French Polynesia.

Pitcairn's supply ship, MV Claymore II, en route from New Zealand, waits for passengers at the closest inhabited island, Mangareva. The ship has already been at sea for 12 days, laden with goods for the island. From Mangareva, it's another two nights and 480km at sea before reaching Pitcairn.

Nearing the island under vivid blue skies, there's another spectacle to see. Speeding to meet us is the island longboat; so treacherous is Pitcairn's coastline that the ship must anchor offshore. Strong arms help us clamber into the longboat for the last leg of the journey.

On the dock at Bounty Bay, islanders welcome the visitors into their homes; there are no hotels here. My hostess, Darralyn Griffiths, is — like most of the 50 residents of Pitcairn Island — a direct descendant of one of the Bounty mutineers and the Tahitian women who travelled with them. Her Cook Islander husband Turi is one of the exceptions.

Pitcairn Island postmaster Dennis Christian. Photo / Lee Mylne
Pitcairn Island postmaster Dennis Christian. Photo / Lee Mylne

Darralyn's family are descendants of mutiny leader Fletcher Christian and during my four-day stay, I meet her siblings, parents, aunt and grandmother, sharing meals and learning about the stark realities of their isolated life, along with a few words of the Pitkern language, a blend of 18th century English and Tahitian.

The island's only township is Adamstown, named for John Adams, who by 1808 when the tiny colony was discovered was the only man still alive — along with 11 women and 25 children. His grave, carefully tended and planted with lilies, is just out of the township.

The only paved road runs for about 800m, tracing the "Hill of Difficulty" the mutineers took when they first landed, a steep track from Bounty Bay to The Edge, 150m above sea level.

Adamstown centres on The Square, home to the community hall, post office, administrator's office and church. Just up the road is the general store, which over the next few days became a hive of activity as supplies from the ship are off-loaded by longboat: fresh fruit and vegetables, freezer-loads of meat, groceries and dry goods, and larger items including quad bikes, water tanks, and a small tractor. Postmaster Dennis Christian sells stamps and postcards (the ones I send take three months to reach New Zealand), once the island's major source of income, now overtaken by tourism.

Pitcairn Island long boat. Photo / Lee Mylne
Pitcairn Island long boat. Photo / Lee Mylne

The Bounty anchor and cannon are reminders of the island's history, and the small museum behind The Square is home to smaller relics. There are ship's bells from other wrecks too, testament to the treacherous waters that kept the mutineers from discovery for 18 years. It helped too, that the island was incorrectly charted when first discovered in 1767 by the British ship HMS Swallow, and that the mutineers burnt Bounty to the waterline to ensure it would not be spotted by passing ships. "It would be like astronauts deliberately destroying their spaceship," says a fellow visitor, as we contemplate the loss of that lifeline.

Visitors walk or hire quad bikes — the only form of transport — to the island's scenic spots.

An "eco trail" leads from Adamstown past the four-pupil Palau School through bushland to Sailors Hide — a rocky overhang that provided shelter for sailors who jumped ship in 1880 — before turning upward to Christian's Cave, where Fletcher Christian was said to have kept watch for passing ships.

John Adams grave, Pitcairn Island. Photo / Lee Mylne
John Adams grave, Pitcairn Island. Photo / Lee Mylne

On the easternmost point of the island, the clear blue-green ocean swirls into the rocky St Pauls Pool, where the brave take a dip. With local guides, you can also scramble the aptly named Down Rope to see Polynesian petroglyphs believed to date from around AD800.

Apart from its natural attractions, most people come here either to "tick the box" of visiting the most remote spot on Earth, or because they've been fascinated by the Bounty story.

On departure day, Pitcairners turn out in force to farewell visitors and islanders leaving.

Aboard the ship, we watch until the returning longboat is a dot in the distance and as the island recedes against the horizon. It's easy to see how it stayed undiscovered for so long.

The writer on Pitcairn, Lee Mylne.
The writer on Pitcairn, Lee Mylne.

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