PITCAIRN: Even today, a visit to Pitcairn is not plain sailing

Sunday, August 22, 1999
Page 1A

Even today, a visit to Pitcairn is not plain sailing


Getting to Pitcairn today isn’t much easier than it was for Fletcher Christian. There’s no airstrip for planes. There’s no regular passenger service of any kind, air or sea. And if you do find a way to get there by boat, it’s entirely possible that the unpredictable South Seas weather will make reaching land impossible for a week or more.

In other words, it’s not just a matter of calling your travel agent. When the mutineers were searching for a place to hide, they did a darned fine job.

The easiest way to get to Pitcairn is to hitch a ride on one of the supply ships that serve the island several times a year. You can join the ship in Auckland, New Zealand; from there, it’s a seven-day ride to Pitcairn. Passage is usually $750 one way.

But that’s how to get there, not how to get back. Once on Pitcairn, you just have to wait for the next ship willing to take you away. It can take weeks; it can take months.

That’s not the only problem. If the seas are too choppy, the ship might not be able to stop and unload, including you. If that happens, you wave good-bye to Pitcairn, then stay on the ship until its next stop, Panama. Then, you wait a few months, fly back to Auckland, and try again. And most of the spots on supply ships are usually filled by Pitcairners returning home from New Zealand.

But you can try: contact the island’s New Zealand government offices (British Consulate General, Pitcairn Island Administration, Private Bag 92014, Auckland, New Zealand).

If you’re willing to accept just seeing Pitcairn, without setting foot on it, a number of around-the-world cruise ships pass by. But their prices – sometimes $20,000 or more – usually aren’t worth it for the average Fletcher Christian groupie. A travel agent can tell you more.

The most reliable way of getting to Pitcairn – the way The Blade chose – is to charter a boat. You can fly from Toledo to Tahiti, then catch Air Tahiti’s once-a-week flight to Mangareva, a small island (population 600) in southeast French Polynesia. Mangareva is as close to Pitcairn as you can get by air. From there, it’s usually a two or three-day sail.

Ocean Voyages, a travel agency in Sausalito, Calif., is the only company that regularly sends charters to Pitcairn, usually once a year. It serves as a broker for yachts and other vessels willing to take people to far-flung locations.

Be prepared to pay anywhere from $5,000 to $8,000 to stay from two to 10 days on Pitcairn. And that doesn’t include $2,000 for airline tickets and other costs. But it’s just about the only way to arrange a short, defined stay. You can contact Ocean Voyages at (415) 332-4681.

If you plan to stay on Pitcairn for more than a few hours, you need the permission of the Island Council. You may have to write to explain why you want to visit. Questions? Contact the island government in New Zealand.

Once you get to Pitcairn, be prepared to walk. The hills are steep, and some of the most interesting places, like the cave from which Fletcher Christian watched the sea, require serious athleticism to reach. (Even some islanders think anyone who goes to Down Rope – a small beach reachable by a few slippery goat trails down a 700-foot cliff – is a bit crazy.)

While there, you’ll pay an island family the absurdly low price of around $25 a day for a bed and three huge meals.

And if you love Pitcairn so much that you want to live there? You can apply for a visa to stay up to six months, which must be approved by the Island Council. You can rent space in someone’s home, or ask for permission to build your own, which can cost $10,000 to $20,000. If you get along with the islanders and prove you are not a drain on the society, you’ll be allowed to renew that six-month visa several times, and eventually you might be granted a seven-year residence visa.

After those seven years, you’re a full-fledged Pitcairner, and the whole world will think you’ve got Fletcher Christian’s blood coursing through your veins.