Pitcairn Island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean is an unlikely tourist trap.
But all that could be about to change under plans drawn up by the British government and funded by the taxpayer, to make the former imperial outpost, which is one of the most remote locations on the p
But all that could be about to change under plans drawn up by the British government and funded by the taxpayer, to make the former imperial outpost, which is one of the most remote locations on the planet, into a new holiday “hot spot”, with visitors attracted by its unusual history and unique wildlife.
The Department for International Development (DFID) is co-ordinating a scheme to encourage tourism on the island, which is most famous as the refuge of the mutineers from HMAV Bounty. They settled there in 1790 with a group of Tahitians and their descendants still live there.
Tourism is seen as the “last chance” to secure the island’s future, after years of population decline and an economic collapse. It has suffered from decades of emigration, mostly to New Zealand, with the population falling from 233 in 1937 to just 50 now, made up of nine families, making it the least populous jurisdiction in the world.
Until 2004, the island had financed itself, mainly through the sales of stamps. However, that income has dwindled and Pitcairn fell into deficit four years. Since then, Britain has subsidised it to the tune of about £1.2 million a year – about 90 per cent of the island’s budget.
Experts have predicted that the current generation could be the last to live on the islands as it will become impossible to sustain public services. But in a bid to safeguard its future, the islanders and DFID are creating a tourist infrastructure to increase the numbers of visitors, with new attractions and transport links being created.
A new tourism website for the islands has been launched – the tourist board itself was only formed last year – and a new shipping service to the island is to double the number of passenger trips to Pitcairn from four to eight – with capacity for more trips, if there is enough demand.
Four of the new services will be from New Zealand and four will be from Mangareva, a 30 hour voyage away in French Polynesia and home to the closest airport to Pitcairn. Previous sailings to the island were far less predictable in their timings.
The island is located between Easter Island and Tahiti, which are visited by around 40 cruise ships a year. It has traditionally been bypassed by many of these vessels, although the number of those visiting has already started to increase.
In recent years, Pitcairn has started to receive around ten ships a year. This year there will be 14 but the island is keen to attract more. One problem has been difficulties in landing passengers. Pitcairn has no deep sea harbour and a very rugged coast, lined for most of its length by cliffs up to 300 metres in height.
Visitors reach the island in one of two longboats which motor out from the island to pick them up from larger vessels. They then return through the surf, landing in Bounty Bay. In bad weather, it is not possible to land.
The British Government is considering building a new harbour, costing up to £10 million, on the other side of the island, which would greatly increase the number of visitors. Meanwhile, it is funding a £195,000 improvement works in Bounty Bay, to strengthen the jetty and make it safer for tourists.
A museum and eco-trail have already been built on the island, while the main road has been concreted. The islanders are also bringing a people carrier van to Pitcairn, to replace the quad bikes which are currently used to convey tourists around.
There are no hotels on the islands and accommodation for visitors is currently limited to “home stays”, where tourists are housed and fed in islanders’ homes, at a cost of £45 a night. However, some islanders are planning to construct special holiday chalets.
Leslie Jaques, Pitcairn’s commissioner, said: “The future will depend on tourism. There is a huge amount of people wanting to come to the islands. The numbers of cruise ships will go up and the introduction of regular shipping will make a big difference. There is a lot to attract people. The island has history, mystique, nature and is also a beautiful, tropical South Pacific island.”
Located, 2,170km (1,350 miles) from Tahiti, just over 6,600km (4,100 miles) from Panama and 5,310km (3,300) from New Zealand, Pitcairn, together with three other surrounding islands, Henderson, Ducie and Oeno, Pitcairn is the last British Overseas Territory in the Pacific and is administered by the British High Commission in New Zealand.
Michael Foster, international development minister, said: “Tourism development is important for Pitcairn’s future prosperity. We are considering plans to improve landing facilities, particularly for cruise ship passengers, and will work with the community to help develop more professional tourist services and standards.
“We fund through the Pitcairn Government a small loan scheme which some Pitcairners have used to start up tourist and other small businesses. External business interest is more limited but we have encouraged fishing, tourist and trading opportunities where they exist.”
Herbert Ford, director of the Pitcairn Island Study Centre at Pacific Union College in California, said: “The island is doing a lot of work to its infrastructure to make itself more presentable. It has built a museum and created an eco park. There is a real effort to brighten up the island with paint and to create stairways and pathways to overlooking areas.
“People love the unusual and Pitcairn is certainly unusual, in its remoteness and its history.”
However, a public-relations campaign will be needed to overcome some negative perceptions about the islands. After being settled by mutineers, its early history was bloody, with many feuds and violent deaths. More recently, the community has been subjected to allegations of a long history and tradition of sexual abuse of girls as young as seven.
In 2004, eight men from the island were convicted of offences. One of the men jailed for the abuse was former island mayor Steve Christian, a descendant of mutineer Fletcher Christian.
A jail was built by the British Government to house to convicted men. All have since been released to serve the remainder of their sentences under house arrest on the island.