Until very recently, I had noooo idea that remote, and I mean beyond-anyone’s-horizon remote, Pitcairn Island in the South Pacific, the home of the descendants of the HMS Bounty’s mutiny, could be accessed by a scheduled passenger-carrying ship. The volcanic island’s rugged tropical beauty is home to a population that numbers just 50. Measuring just two miles (3.2 km) by one mile (1.6 km), the island is the centerpiece to the world’s largest marine reserve, its clear waters home to species that have yet to be all identified.
Snapshot: With its official status as a British Overseas Territory, the UK government subsidies a regular shipping service on specific Tuesdays from the port of Mangareva, French Polynesia, connecting with Air Tahiti flights from Papeete, Tahiti. The New Zealand-registered cargo-passenger ship CLAYMORE II carries 12 passengers in snug double cabins, plus deck passengers. The passage takes two nights and a day (about 32 hours), and disembarkation at Pitcairn is into a long boat. Arriving at the Botany Bay landing, it is then a steep cliff by twisting road up to Adamstown where houses dot the wooded hillside.
Ship, Year Delivered & Passengers: CLAYMORE II (built 1968 & 12 passengers in cabins) had a previous career as a lighthouse tender and then was converted into a passenger-carrying cargo ship. The ship is 160 feet (48.8m) in length and travels at 9.5 knots.
Passenger Decks: Three decks and no elevator.
Passenger Profile: Local islanders leaving and returning home, service providers, and well-heeled adventurers who wish to visit one of the most remote places on earth. The ship’s crew hails from New Zealand.
Price: $$$ Very pricey
Itineraries: The ship sails from Mangareva to Pitcairn in blocks of three consecutive weekly rotations (back-to-back round-trip voyages), four times a year: February-March; May-June; August-September; and November-December. An itinerary example would be: leave Mangareva May 17, arrive Pitcairn May 19, leave Pitcairn May 22, arrive Mangareva May 24. Then leave Mangareva May 24 and repeat with a second rotation and a third. So, the total length of an itinerary with stopovers is 7, 14 or 21 days.
In between the three consecutive round-trip voyages, the CLAYMORE II plies four times a year between Tauranga, New Zealand and Pitcairn Island carrying cargo only to supply the island’s needs.
Additional visitors arrive at Pitcairn by private yacht and on the occasional cruise ship.
Staying Ashore on Pitcairn: The time on the island, while the ship is anchored and handling the cargo, can be 4 days or if staying over and taking the next return voyage, then11 days. Daily home-stay accommodations range from US $70 to $150 and include three meals. Payment is in cash $US (there are ATM machines and currency exchange at the Government Treasury Office). 12 registered accommodations’ providers range from offering private rooms and meals shared with the family, semi-private chalets with optional shared meals, and private bungalows with meals taken separately. Food is available at the general store, a government operation in Adamstown. Apply for accommodations on the website at the bottom of this review.
Included features: On board CLAYMORE II, all meals, non-alcoholic drinks and snacks (alcohol is BYO); plus transfers to and from home stay accommodations on Pitcairn.
Why Go? To visit one of the most remote places on the globe and make first-hand contact with direct descendants from the HMS Bounty who landed here in January 1790. The original population comprised 9 male British mutineers under the command of Fletcher Christian and 18 male and female Polynesians. In the 1930s, the population peaked at 233, and it has since dropped below 50. The island encourages immigration as you will discover on the website.
On the island, activities include self-guided walks through the tropical paradise with maps provided, quad bike tours, visiting the Pitcairn Museum, fishing in longboats, diving to the two shipwrecks (Bounty and Cornwallis), visiting three nearby uninhabited islands, swimming, tennis and shopping for island curios. The island is increasingly dependent on tourism, though numbers are relatively low compared to other South Pacific islands.
When to Go? The climate on Pitcairn is tropical and rain falls year-round; the driest month is August and the wettest June. It is best to avoid June and perhaps the few weeks either side. The roads and tracks turn to mud.
Cabins: Six private cabins with upper/lower berths and washing facilities along the corridor.
Public Rooms: One lounge with HD TV, films and books.
Dining: Locally-sourced fish and vegetables and from overseas (often New Zealand). Food could be described as South Seas, continental and New Zealand served at a long picnic table.
Activities & Entertainment: Reading, watching films, socializing and relaxing.
Special Notes: No visa is required if staying on Pitcairn less than 15 days. You need in XPF 1000 French Pacific Francs (about US $10.50) to pay for the transfer from the Mangareva airport to the ship and then $50 US for a landing fee on Pitcairn. Medical insurance is mandatory, including an evacuation clause, with proof when finalizing the booking. The island currency is the NZ $.
Along the Same Lines: The St. Helena Line to the South Atlantic island of St. Helena plies to an equally remote island. However, the RMS ST. HELENA is much larger with more than 100 passengers, and the voyage between Cape Town and the island takes five days. This service is due to end in the summer of 2017 when the new airport opens to scheduled weekly flights.